Sibling Rivalry: What do you mean there’s a new baby coming? (Gestation: 21 weeks)
|Whaddaya mean you’re giving me a sibling?|
Today I lifted my shirt to show 18-month old Clare my belly.
“There’s a baby sister in here for you,” I said.
She finger-tipped a wooden “F” block and hurled it at my head a la Andy Petite in the ninth with two outs and the bases loaded. It hit my forehead doing 90. I have a dent between my frown lines.
Was the violence precipitated by jealousy toward the baby-with-no-name blowing into town via my womb in the spring? Who knows. The only thing I do know is that the aliens from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers have abducted my cheerful toddler and replaced her with an emotional wreck.
Where once there was a sunny disposition, there is now the darkness and gloom of Mount Doom. Where once there was an adventurer, eager to greet new people with a smile, there is now a shrieking, anxious succubus clinging to me for dear life.
Where once there was a little genius who could entertain herself for half hours at a time building cathedrals (okay, walls) from the alphabet blocks, there is now a mini-despot who points to the TV screaming, “I want Elmo! Turn on Elmoooooo!” then watches the red guy with a vacuous, potato-like expression on her face for as long as I’ll let her (which is sometimes until hell freezes over).
Whether I’ve ruined Clare’s personality by announcing her sibling-to-be or whether she’s simply undergoing another developmental stage doesn’t really matter. Either way I feel it reflects poorly on me.
It was self-affirming to have a child everyone liked. Now I find myself offering unsolicited explanations for her churlish behavior to everyone from our babysitter to Ringo, the guy painting our house trim. “It’s her teeth. She has the runs. She missed her nap. It’s a genetic predisposition toward bi-polar disorder inherited from her father’s side of the family.”
Why do I care so much what people think? What business is it of mine? My daughter’s personality and development are her own business. At this stage I’m just supposed to make sure she doesn’t get eaten by Rottweilers, right?
But I do care. I want want everyone to think I’m the best mom in the world. And be jealous, but also admire and love me at the same time. Instead I’m afraid people will judge my husband Henry and I based on Clare’s behavior. They’ll think we’re neglecting her if she’s clingy, that we’re not spending enough time stimulating her with homemade hand-puppets and hand-strung marionettes if she likes television, they’ll think Henry’s sleeping with the neighbor’s goth jail bait daughter or I’m a prescription drug addict if she’s surly and throws tantrums.
How do I know they’ll think these things? Because I thought them about other people. I was the foremost authority on parenting before I became a parent.
When friends’ kids acted badly I surmised it was the emotional unavailability of the mother, the doormat-ishness of the father. They worked too much, too little, too late. They were too strict, too loose, too cerebral, too adoring. The kid just needed a good smack. How could they smack their kid?! They obviously all needed to get into family therapy as the children were simply the “Identified Patients,” but anyone could see the entire dynamic was rotten to its very core.
I polished these gems of insight, holding them up to the light admiring their clarity, irreproachable in my childlessness. Never once did I entertain the notion that kids could become volatile, moody, grumpy, bossy imperialists due to something beyond their parents’ control like say, hormones (which has dawned on me now given my current predicament).
The cryptic words of my mom come back to haunt me (actually she was quoting the New Testament) “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” But we’re all judging judgers (unless it’s just me, which I hope it’s not).
And now it’s my turn.
I must withstand whatever judgment comes my way and allow my child to be a child, not Shamu in a tank doing fluke pirouettes for a live audience. And I have to allow myself to be a parent who doesn’t have all the answers all of the time, for my kids or anyone else’s. Except when I do have them. Which is most of the time. Kidding. Kind of.
How do you handle sibling rivalry? Help!