More women opt to have children later in life these days than in the past, and so more newborns have older siblings, who then have to adjust to having babies and toddlers around the house. Many parents don’t know how to introduce the idea of having another baby to their teens.
Gwen Cherne writes on Scary Mommy.com about the scenario in which a daughter is starting high school while the parents are taking care of a toddler and an infant.
It’s a life circumstance that easily affects many, many families today, and it can be very difficult for the high school students who, despite promises to the contrary, will often have to babysit, arrive late for school because of baby drama, and miss the attention they desperately need from parents during changing times in their own life.
“I am sorry that instead of actually watching your football games, our attention is split between watching you, running after a toddler who wants to jump in muddy puddles or cover herself in dirt, and feeding the baby,” Ms Cherne writes in the persona of a parent of three kids who range in age from an infant to a teenager.
I am not sorry that nothing in this world makes your little brother and sister smile like they do when you walk through the door.
I am not sorry that your sister asks me once every five minutes where you are, and that she always knows—work, school, football, training, rowing, or whichever friend’s house you are at.
The student newspaper, The Oracle, at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Ill., a north-shore suburb of Chicago, recounted the story of a high school junior who had a 2-year-old younger brother.
“At first, I wasn’t really looking forward to [having a new sibling] because we’re in high school and I didn’t want to have to babysit all the time or be woken up by crying at night,” the paper quoted the high school student as saying. “But it was easy transitioning after the first couple of months.”
And another student said she had discovered a wonderful new life with her much younger sister: Despite the challenges a large age difference has brought, the paper wrote, she could not imagine a day without her younger sister.
“Every time I am down, she puts a smile on my face,” the student was quoted as saying.
The Raising Children Network in Australia writes, “When you have a new baby, school-age children and teenagers might have many different and mixed feelings,” and then presents a few practical ideas for helping children and teenagers adjust to having a new sibling: For starters, try to set aside some time each day to talk with your child without interruption, the website recommends.
Organizing some fun activities alone with your child, like going to a movie, shopping, or one of their events, could also help make the transition a smooth one. Family mealtimes can also provide a great time to talk about their day.
Another way to look at it is that having a baby late in life is a good way to introduce sex education concepts to teenagers. So, there can be a huge upside to this trend.
Sage advice, in the New York Times 26 years ago, says, “One major factor that influences how siblings relate to each other is the size of the age gap between them. Studies have shown that children who are close in age view their brothers and sisters quite differently than those separated by a half-dozen years or more.” This article also offered some advice for parents:
- “Don’t make an older child the caretaker of the much younger one,” advised Dr Lucille K Forer, a clinical psychologist in Malibu, Calif. Forcing an older child into that role often breeds resentment toward the younger child instead of a sense of responsibility. Encourage your older children to try out the roles of teacher and caretaker, but let them assume those roles on their own terms, within reason.
- “When there’s an age gap of 6 years or more, it’s harder for the youngest child not to be treated like a baby,” said Dr Carol J Eagle, an associate professor of child psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. Make sure you and your older children give that child a chance to grow out of that role.
- If your children are close in age, be careful not to lump them together when you speak to them or about them — “the kids” or “the older boys.” Instead, pay special attention to their individual identities and differences.
- “There’s an advantage to having enough of an age gap that the children feel that they’re distinct individuals,” said Dr J Wesley Sanderson, a retired professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, now living in Bakersfield, Calif. “There can be more of a problem with sibling rivalry when children are less than two years apart.”
- There’s a practical advantage to having children who are not too close in age. “It’s a lot easier when your kids are going through college if they’re spaced four years apart,” Dr Sanderson said.