My oldest son was a Happy Accident.
(Apparently, the cervical cap doesn’t work if you don’t use it. Who knew!?)
Of course, once I had him I realized I had found my niche. And I also knew right away that I didn’t want him to be an only child.
I know what some say.
That only children are super achievers. They have exclusive rights to their parents finances. They tend to be better educated.
I know what the research says.
Eh, forget all that.
My 10 year old just handed me a baby, naked from the waist down. She smelled faintly of poop. Why? Because he had just changed her diaper.
I think he benefits far more from having this experience than any benefits he may have enjoyed as an only child. After all, in 20 years he’ll probably be changing a baby’s diaper. In 50 years he might have to change my diaper. Or his wife’s diaper.
I don’t judge people who choose to only have one child, but I believe there are so many benefits to older children of having young siblings.
How Older Kids Benefit From Having Younger Siblings
My kids probably can’t count how many times we’ve been in the car and I pulled over to nurse a tiny infant who was screaming for her mommy. How many times have they not been able to leave for a fun outing yet because the baby needed to be changed/fed/etc. How many times did they have to leave somewhere interesting early because a baby was overtired/overstimulated/oversunned/overheated etc.
Life with a young baby or toddler slows down. Older kids learn to wait for their turn and to share resources. They also learn how to get attention in creative ways. They develop spunk, charm and personality. They learn to stand out from the crowd instead of passively being on the receiving end of all the attention.
Melissa Fay Greene put it beautifully in our conversation (If you haven’t listened, you must!) when she said her youngest daughter was “dethroned” upon the arrival of her first adopted son, but how much better was it for her to be dethroned at 7 than at 17, or 27, or… never (shudder!)?
Having a younger sibling teaches you that it ain’t all about you. That other people’s needs must be considered, too. And that there is joy in self sacrifice.
A serving spirit.
There are diapers to change, chores to do. Older siblings learn to help out more when a new baby arrives.
It’s been my experience that big kids love to help out their younger siblings, at least when they’re really little. Some days I practically have to make an appointment to hold my baby because the older kids pass her around so much.
Children who see their mother mothering babies learn a lot about parenting. They’re not clueless about how babies are to be treated. They may see what labor and birth are actually like instead of how they’re portrayed in the movies. They see their mother breastfeeding which normalizes the activity for them.
The value of these experiences can’t be underestimated once they have children of their own.
Babies and toddlers break your toys. They throw up on your clothes. They may slap you in the face while you repeat “gentle” over and over.
Older children learn forgiveness when they have younger siblings around. They are reminded that when they were that age, they broke things and spilled stuff all the time too.
When you have one child, it is often easier to do everything for them. When you have several, it is worth the time it takes to teach and train them to do things for themselves. This has many advantages. Not only does it benefit you as a parent but it is a gift to the child. Accomplishment builds self esteem.
During and after the birth of my 27-weeker preemie, my older kids pulled together to help the family in incredible ways. I had to be on bedrest, so my kids pulled double-duty with chores and helping my husband cook dinner and care for their younger siblings.
This was a tough (but temporary) situation, but my respect and admiration for my children grew as I saw what they were capable of. When things get tough in a family, you have one another to rely upon. Even young children can step up to help out when the family is in crisis.
Shortly after Ruby was born, one of my sons came to me with big huge tears in his eyes. I asked him what was wrong, and he told me:
It’s just that I love her SO MUCH and I don’t even know why.”
That pretty much sums it up for me folks.