BOOK CLUB: SIBLINGS WITHOUT RIVALRY by ADELE FABER & ELAINE MAZLISH

BOOK CLUB: SIBLINGS WITHOUT RIVALRY by ADELE FABER & ELAINE MAZLISH - This Wild Home

I am the oldest child in my family and after almost 6 years of being the only child, grandchild, niece, what have you; my brother was born and I hated him. As adults, we get along and he has become one of my favorite people. But as a kid, he was my biggest competitor for our parents love and attention and I wasn’t into it at all.

About 3 years later, when my sister was born,  I was over the concept of sibling and grew up never inviting her into my world. My sibling were a distant part of my life for a very long time and I’ve felt like I missed out on many years that could’ve been spent developing these relationships to their fullest potential.

With this being my only real experience with the relationship between siblings and the effects a new child can have on a family, I was pretty nervous about how our newest child would effects our oldest.

In my mind, all I saw in the future was a toddler full of resentment that lashed out against his parents who betrayed him.

Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but it was hard for me to imagine a child who is okay with sharing attention. Especially a child like mine who has had my full attention for most of his life. How could it ever be possible that he’d actually be fine with introducing a new baby who not only shared my attention, but demanded it most of the time?

In walks Siblings Without Rivalry, the book that I never knew I needed until I read it.

I wasn’t looking for it. I honestly hadn’t thought much about the fact that I could have some influence over how my children interacted. I mean, I knew I’d have some, but I didn’t realize how much parents can effect their children’s relationships until I read the wise words of Faber and Mazlish.

ABOUT THE BOOK

This is a book set in a parenting workshop and follows the experiences of the parents and leaders who have siblings that just don’t get along. The experiences, people, and stories are all based on real life situations that parents have found themselves in with real solutions that helped them navigate the delicate world of siblings.

The stories range from adult siblings, teens, kids, toddlers, and babies. From introducing new siblings to knowing how involved we need to be as our kids get older.

You get to see the realities of what sibling relationships really look like while exploring what the root of certain feelings and actions may be. They offer examples of how changing your reactions and involvement as a parent can help your kids learn to navigate their relationships independently and more effectively.

Siblings Without Rivalry was written to help parents foster, not perfectly loving siblings, but more productive sibling interaction.

MY KEY TAKEAWAYS

This book taught me a lot about siblings and how important that relationship really is. Siblings effect so much of each other and parents effect so much of how siblings view themselves and each other.

While reading, I couldn’t help but think back to my own childhood. The way I interacted with my siblings, the role I took in my family, and how all of that has effected my adulthood and the relationships I now have with my siblings. I thought about how my parents would let us fight and how that’s helped me to be comfortable with confrontation in my adult relationships. I thought about the fact that I’ve felt like a problem at times and a loved part of the family at others and how all of that shaped the actions and decisions I’ve made.

Ultimately, I realized that your family really can shape your entire being so it’s important to do the best you can, as the parent, to make sure each child is given the opportunity to become the best version of themselves and Siblings Without Rivalry has given me the insight to understand how to do that for each of my children.

HOW YOU TREAT YOUR KIDS INDIVIDUALLY CAN DETERMINE THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER

You know those “roles” people play in a family. There’s the perfect child, the problem child, the silly child, the what-have-you child. Humans love labels and as a parent it can be easy to label your children from day one.

I remember going on and on about how my first child would be peaceful and kind before he was even born. As if somehow his gentle movements in the womb could determine his whole demeanor for the rest of his life. In reality, it’s not fair to sum up a whole person in one word. These views are usually based on the actions of our kids when they are little and have terrible impulse control. They may not truly have anything to do with the traits and capabilities of our children, but the impulses they have towards the environment they’re in. 

“What I’m seeing now is that it’s up to the parent to set the tone, to make it clear that no one in the family is ‘the problem.’”

The danger in labeling your kids too soon is that you’re putting your kids in a box. You’re not letting them be a whole person. Your perfect child doesn’t get the chance to express their negative feelings which can prohibit honesty. Your problem child doesn’t get the chance to believe they can be good which can make them feel like their only choice is the wrong choice.

And with these labels, our kids can begin to view each other in these roles which can lead to resentment. Your perfect child may begin to believe your problem child is the one preventing them from having the freedom to express negative feelings. Your problem child can begin to believe your perfect child is constantly in the spotlight. And then, these roles can follow them into adulthood, making each child feel like they’re only allowed or capable of being only part of a person rather than a whole entire person.

So for the sake of your children’s relationship and your children’s futures, it’s important for each of them to know they’re allowed to venture outside of their natural tendencies. They’re all allowed to have negative feelings and actions and you believe they’re all capable of doing good.

IT’S IMPORTANT TO LET YOUR KIDS FIGHT

“Not till the bad feelings come out can the good ones come in.”

Whether your kids love each other or hate each other, the way you allow them to interact can shape how they interact with others now and later in life. This delicate relationship between your children is the perfect teaching moment for how your kids should treat peers and how they should expect their peers to treat them.

How you react to your kids stems from how your parents reacted to you. It’s so common for parents to reject negative feelings in their kids and to feel like it’s wrong to express them because so many of us were told it was wrong for us to express our negative feelings. The reality is, the more your force the negative feeling to stay in, the less they will be dealt with and the longer they will stew and grow out of proportion.

“Insisting on good feelings between the children led to bad feelings. Acknowledging bad feelings between the children led to good feelings.”

So when kids are fighting, they’re always fighting about something. There’s always a very legitimate root to every negative feeling. But they’re kids. They don’t have the experience or developmental ability to rationally and calmly explain the exact thing they’re upset about. Half the time they feel something, that feeling is so intense that all they truly know is that they have a feeling, but not always why. So they scream at you, they scream at their sibling, and only after they’re done expressing the feeling can they truly understand and communicate the “why.”

“But here’s the difference: We intervene, not for the purpose of settling their argument or making a judgement, but to open the blocked channels of communication so that they can go back to dealing with each other.”

So we don’t have to let our kids become violent. We don’t have to allow them to be cruel. If they get stuck on a loop, we can help them move forward. But we absolutely have to allow them to have their negative feelings and learn to sort through them together however they need to. It’s completely unrealistic to believe a healthy relationship between two people can come without conflict and fighting. We need to allow our children to experience that in their relationships so they can learn how to deal with real adult relationships in the future. Our job is not to tell them their feelings and expression are wrong, but to give them a safe place to learn to deal with their feelings so they can learn to express them productively and considerately. But they will never learn that as long as we’re telling them to stop fighting and “get along.”

EQUAL IS NOT FAIR AND FAIR IS OVERRATED

I think we all, at one point or another, have said the words, “That’s not fair.” Whether it was when we were young or even now in our adulthood. Fair is another thing I think we all grew up believing was right and unfair was wrong. That unfair meant you were receiving less, even though fair was never really as satisfying as we thought it would be.

“That was when I realized how futile it was to ever try to make things equal. The children could never get enough, and as a mother, I could never give enough.”

I think this comes from the desire to not show favoritism or make one kid feel less important than the other. So when one gets attention, we think the other should get the same amount of attention. The problem is, each child may not need the same amount or type of attention we gave the other. One may be hungry and need extra pancakes, while the other may only want more pancakes now because they saw their sibling get more.

But when you start playing that game, the fair game, you stop addressing the individual needs and qualities of each child. You don’t give them an opportunity to learn empathy for one another. To see and realize that others have needs that are different from theirs and sometimes others will get something they don’t.

Beyond that, “fair” can become “same” and same takes away from your kid’s ability to feel like a unique individual.

“By valuing and being partial to each child’s individuality, we make sure that each child feels like a number one child.”

When dealing with your kids, it’s okay to give one child something without giving every child something. Attempting to make everyone happy and “equal” will not only drive you crazy, but it won’t truly make each child feel special or uniquely cared for in the long run.

“To be loved equally is somehow to be loved less. To be loved uniquely - for ones own special self - is to be loved as much as we need to be loved.”

So if you’re a parent of siblings or simply a sibling yourself, this book can help you navigate the intricate and delicate world of siblings. Not only can it help you allow your kids to flourish independently together, but you may learn something new about your own sibling dynamics that could heal any wounds that may have come about.

FROM ONE KID TO TWO: IS IT REALLY THAT DIFFERENT THE SECOND TIME AROUND?

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Here we are, a few weeks into life as a family of four.

I think there’s a lot of reasons people typically say it’s easier the second time around and honestly, I have to agree with them. This first weeks of having two kids has been easier than I imagined.

In my mind, I thought I’d be out of commission for months. I prepped mentally, said no to any commitments I had for at least the first three months of new baby, and bought a freezer full of microwave meals so I could still feed my family while struggling to stay awake at all times.

But now, almost a months in, my home is clean(ish), I’ve been cooking all of our meals, and my blog is full of posts I’m ready to share. I even managed to some how DIY some family photos of all four of us. 

I think it’s true that having experience with having a newborn really helps to make those first days bearable. 

  • While the oldest is definitely a little more moody, it’s no where near the tantrums I was expecting. His transition has seemed so much smoother than I ever imagined.
    Though, I may have to give some of that credit to season 5 of Daniel Tiger where he gets a baby sister.

  • We aren’t as exhausted this time. Something about knowing what to expect and preparing for the exhaustion actually helps to make it a little easier. I think having a toddler’s schedule to keep up with also helps us to maintain a daytime/nighttime routine much better than before.

  • Time doesn’t disappear as much as you’d think. I forgot how much newborns sleep in the beginning. I actually have time to make simple meals and take baths. Especially if your first kid is on a decent sleep schedule, it’s not as hard to find “me time” as I thought.

  • I have a better understanding that it’s OKAY when a baby cries. I don’t feel stressed, rushed, or panicked. I just simply give him what he needs as quickly, but calmly, as I can.

Still, I have wondered what it is that has made this transition so much easier than I thought it would be. There’s something about your first child, at least for me, that made it seem SO exhausting SO time consuming and SO overwhelming.

I’ve spent most of my time questioning why I was remembering the newborn days in a negative light. Why it seemed so impossible. What was so different that first time, when I only had one, that made me prepare for months of chaos?

That’s when I realized:

The major difference between the two boys was me.

***

The first week my second child was born I felt like I was living in two different realities. One where I was experiencing this new baby in front of me and another where I was reliving the first week after my first child was born. The two experiences were very different even though both my boys have been very similar newborns. They both slept well, ate well, and generally didn’t have much to complain about.

My first child was born into a very different house with a very different mother. We didn’t make as much money. Our house was a run down rental that stressed me out every time I pulled into the driveway. We didn’t have anyone over if we could help it because we really just felt shame and embarrassment in our home which means my first child was brought home to a place that left a layer of stress in the air at all times.

Besides the environment, I was much different two years ago than I am now. I didn’t have a schedule, I didn’t have good habits. I didn’t cook, I sort of cleaned, and though I had my nesting kick in, I still wasn’t in the habit of maintaining a space. Especially one I hated.

Most importantly, My first child had to teach me how to be a mother.

We all go into parenthood with some idea of the values we want to pass on, but how we’re going to do that is something we have to learn along the way. My first is the one who taught me all of that.

***

Being a first child myself, I know it can sometimes feel like you get the short end of the stick. Your parents are stricter, they test out new discipline tactics and strategies that may or may not actually work.

Most importantly, the first child is the one who has to push all the selfish tendencies from their parents.

Before having kids, your time is yours. There’s not much telling you what you need to do and when you need to do it. You get days off and then on those days off you get to decide exactly how to spend that time. You can leave when you want, binge watch TV all day with no distractions, be creative, put your things where you want them without worrying about someone getting into it or breaking it. Even if you’re the most selfless person in the world, life before parenthood has room for selfishness. There’s room to give to yourself the most.

As a very independent, introverted person who feels stress when people rely on her, this was a very hard thing for me to get used to. The idea that I haven’t really “had a day off” in the two years my first son has been alive would have, at one point, put me into a spiral of stress that would have left me bed ridden for a day.

That meant my first born had to endure the painful process of me learning how to be there for him, whole-heartedly.

He’s the kid who had to teach me how to keep my cool, even when I was getting interrupted every few minutes. Or to stay present when what I really wanted, what I really needed, was to hide away from everyone. He had to deal with frustration being projected onto him for simply having basic needs in the times that I just wanted to indulge in my own selfish desires. 

***

You’ll hear a lot of moms say that they lose a part of themselves when they have a baby. They feel a transformation happen.

For me, I didn’t realize it right in the moment what exactly was happening to me. I did feel that loss of self and when I found my sense of self again it was definitely different than before. But it wasn’t until I had my second that I realized what had happened to me. What I went through that made me more ready for this next step in life than I even realized.

I had let go of the idea that I need everything I want right away. The things I wanted changed. I learned to manage my time in a way that works for me AND my kids. My heart opened up to deeply care for more than just my personal reality.

I learned to see things, not just from my point of view, but from theirs.

Essentially, the biggest difference between my first and second is:

With my first,  I wasn’t a mom yet.

Technically, I became a mom the minute I got pregnant. Even more so the moment he was born. I had instincts, assumptions, tips, advice, and all the google answers in the world. But I’d honestly say I didn’t truly become a mother until I learned to be okay with sharing my time and priorities with someone else. And I didn’t even begin to understand what that meant until I took my baby home and realized that I had no idea what being a mother truly meant.

Now, with my second, I have close to two years of experience in my motherhood career. He was born with a true mother while my first was born with a mother in training.

This second baby has a patient, kind-hearted caretaker who understand the importance of balancing love and boundaries. Who knows that she can’t feed him unless she feeds herself and understand how to do so in a way that makes everyone happy.

I have healthy habits now. A home I love. I’ve dedicated myself to motherhood and I actually understand, as much as I can, what that really means and what it really looks like.

I’m not learning how to be a mother now. And really, that process can be harder than any sleepless night you endure.

PUTTING PRIDE BACK IN OUR MOTHERS

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Originally, this was going to be three different posts. Epidural vs. Natural, Breastfeeding vs. Pumping, and a quick Instagram post on how easy it is to judge Mothers for the choices they make and the situations they find themselves in.

Ultimately, I realized I really only had one point to make in all of this. The message I want to put out there is that us mothers make plans. We think about the best thing for us and our kids, but that doesn’t mean everything will go according to plan. Things happen that are out of our control and it’s just not realistic to expect one person to have all the answers and the ability to carry out those answers for everyone.

***

Now that I’m two kids in with two very different labor, delivery, and newborn experiences, I’ve learned that even the best intentioned mothers can appear weak or scattered on the outside.  

It’s far too easy to judge the results of someone’s circumstance without knowing the road that lead them to where they are. It’s easy to say that motherhood is simple and that there are natural things we should all have the ability to do.  Mothers face a lot of judgement and criticism these days. Everyone has their own standards and if you don’t meet them, that’s one more person who will write you off as “not doing enough.”  

And this is what I really wanted to say. What I really wanted to talk about.  

The pride of our mothers. 

I think it’s time to realize that carrying a child for nine months, laboring and delivering that child, and then feeding that child in those early days is not a simple thing. It’s not what you’d expect it to be. It’s not always something you have the natural ability to do (or want to do). Yes, creating humans is one of the most basic instincts we have and it’s something billions of people have done without the help of medicine or breast pumps, but that doesn’t make it easy and that doesn’t mean any one experience is more successful than another. 

So for the sake of our mothers, I want to talk about a few things I’ve experienced that can help us all give perspective on how different motherhood can be for us all. A perspective that can hopefully give all us mamas a little boost of pride. 

Putting Pride Back In Our Mothers

Like I said before, the experiences I had between my first and second son were very different. The pregnancy was mostly the same, but as soon as labor hit, they were polar opposites.

My experience with my second son gave me a lot of pride and congratulations because everything I did was brave and the right way to do itWhile I am proud of myself, I also carry some resentment that I couldn’t have done the same for my first child. I remember the embarrassment I felt when I finally threw in the towel and got the epidural. The shame I felt pumping to feed him when the boob just wasn’t working out. I found ways to be proud of myself that first time around, until I did all the things I wanted to do with my second. Then, I started to feel the shame all over again. 

And that’s when I realized, it’s not that either experience was more successful than the other. I just had a very specific view of what makes a mother successful and I think it’s time for that to change.

  • IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE BABY WEIGHT | I was a little backwards when it came to weight gain with my kids. I gained a lot of weight with my first, but somehow managed to stay fairly fit with my second during pregnancy.

    Of course, after you give birth people like to comment on how good you look and how much weight you’ve lost. Then, when you have a second baby they like to compare how your body looked the first time vs. the second.

    Beyond that, if you’re a mama that has trouble losing the baby weight (or even if you’re not), you’re probably going to compare yourself to others who seem to bounce right back to their pre-baby weight the second the baby comes out. Maybe you feel like you’ve failed or you’re lazy because others seem to have an easier time.

    So being someone who’s experienced a hard and easy time losing the weight, just know every baby is different. Every body is different. Every pregnancy is different. Also, having a baby is exhausting and most of us aren’t leaping out of bed every morning to go work out. Frankly, in the postpartum stage, your body has been a tool for so long and will continue to be a tool as long as you’re using it to feed your baby. You need time to recover from that at your own pace. Baby weight should be the last thing you have to worry about. You’re doing a great job and when most people look at you, all they see is a wonderful mother who is doing exactly what she needs to do.

  • HAVING A BABY IS INCREDIBLE NO MATTER HOW YOU DO IT | So, with my second son I really wanted an epidural but by the time I got to the hospital I was too far along. With my first son, I didn’t want the epidural but my labor was so painful and lasted so long that I had to cave in for the sake of my sanity.

    I’ve known moms who have wanted so bad to have a vaginal birth but had to get an emergency c-section. Of course, every mom wants to wait until their baby is to term but I’ve known moms who’s bodies and babies decided otherwise.

    There’s this idea that the strongest of women have completely natural births, at home if you’re a real warrior. It’s so idealized that anything less can seem weak. People who have never given birth can think, “Just get through the pain, it’s not gonna last forever!” People who have given natural birth can think, “I did it, so why can’t you?” Then people who willingly or unwillingly have a different experience can often think, “I’ve failed. I wasn’t strong enough.”

    At least that’s how I felt when I got my epidural. And when I didn’t have an epidural, I actually did feel more proud and then I felt shame for my first experience. Then, I was sad because I still gave birth the first time and that should be enough for me. I still went through pregnancy and sleepy newborn days. So then I had to ask myself why I was so ashamed and I realized it was because I felt like other people would look down on me for having the epidural the first time.

    The bottom line is, everyone’s pain is different. Between pain tolerance, how severe the pain is, how long that severe pain lasts, how healthy the baby is, how big the baby is, how healthy the mom is, etc. etc. you get it. There are so many circumstances that come into play when delivery is involved that no one but mama has the right or insight to judge their choices. Even if there’s not. Even if you walk into the hospital for a scheduled induction and immediately ask for an epidural before the pain starts, you’re still having a baby and that will always be impressive.

  • BOOB IS NICE, BUT IT’S NOT EVERYTHING | Ahh breastfeeding. Probably the number one thing a mother will be judged for. I know this because I pumped with my first one. I was very set on him getting breastmilk, but when it came to actual breastfeeding, that was not going to happen.

    If I’m being honest, I probably could’ve powered through, but I hated it so much. Every time my first got hungry, I resented him for what I was about to endure. The pain, the exhaustion, the struggle with getting this helpless kid to just latch on already. If I hadn’t switched to pumping, I may have resented my child for most of his infancy.

    I know that sounds terrible, but my point to saying all of that is to show the struggle that some moms can go through. The choice to not breastfeed beats most of us up inside. I for one cried for days before and after choosing to pump exclusively. I felt like I was a failure, I felt like I was failing my son, and part of me believed that we’d never bond properly because I was making this choice. And then, the looks you get when you tell perfect strangers that you pump. People who know nothing about you, your baby, or your experience affirm your feelings of failure.

    Now that I’m breastfeeding my second, I still have feelings of guilt and fear that my first will feel like I let him down because his experience was different than his brother’s. I still have moments of fearing he’ll think I love him less or don’t care as much because he wasn’t breastfed and his brother was.

    So if you’re a mama struggling with breastfeeding just know you’re not alone. You’re child won’t resent you for it. And if you’ve never experienced struggle with breastfeeding, just now it’s real and sometimes the healthiest choice is to avoid it altogether. And no matter who you are, know that the way a mama feeds her baby is the right choice for them. Even if you’ve heard differently, even with all the “breast is best” that’s out there, the reality is that mama knows best and all she needs is support and understanding because the choice she’s made may have been a hard one.

  • EVERY EXPERIENCE IS UNIQUE AND NO ONE WILL TRULY UNDERSTAND BUT THE MAMA WHO WENT THROUGH IT | If you’ve had a kid, if you’ve never had kids, if you’ve had 500 kids; you still don’t know for sure what another mom’s story is. This is something I didn’t quite understand with my first, but I learned very well with my second. I relived my first experience during the first weeks with my second and I compared heavily. I investigated every detail to understand what made them so different.

    In part, it was me. I wasn’t as prepared the first time. I wasn’t as patient. I was still learning how to let go of myself to give to another.

    But it was also my kids. They have so many similarities, but the experience I had the days leading up to meeting them and the first few days of having them were so different.

    This taught me that you really don’t know what to expect as a mother, but you really really don’t know what another mother has gone through. You really don’t know their bodies or medical history. You don’t know their babies or the environment they delivered in or the staff that helped them. You don’t know the information they had, the life experiences they’re pulling from. So how can any of us know what’s truly right for another?

***

There are so many factors that come into play when deciding what kind of mother you’ll be. What my motherhood looks like will be different just within my own family with each individual child. I’ll shape and mold to each of their needs the same way every other mother will do the same in her own way.

I think understanding this is something we all need. Understanding that the only mother who is truly failing is the one who isn’t trying. Then, understanding that what may look like failing to you could be the very thing that is helping another to succeed.

Above all, the only thing any mother truly needs is support and the permission to feel pride in the mother she chooses to be.