I absolutely loved being an only child. My parents filled my world with so much love, attention, and fun that the thought of needing a sibling to keep me company never crossed my mind. Who needs a companion when your parents fill your days with all the friendship you need?
I didn’t become a mom until I was 31. By then, I had completed a Ph.D., was working a demanding corporate job, and had started my own business. I had big career ambitions, and although I loved being a mom, I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to give the kind of constant attention that my stay-at-home mom gave me. I knew I wanted at least two kids, and figured that having siblings would provide my kids the company I would sometimes be unable to give. So, I had my son first, and then my daughter. They are now seven and five. I love having two kids (and I am all done). But I’ve definitely realized that there are things about raising siblings that are hard for me to understand because I never had siblings myself.
Here’s the list I’ve come up with so far:
#1. Sibling fights are not the same as other fights.
I get so incredibly stressed out when my kids are fighting. Even at their tender age, I think that every “fight” they have is going to destroy their relationship forever. But when I get on to them, telling them to knock it off and act like you two love each other for crying out loud, they look at me blankly and say, “Mom, we’re just playing. Chill out.”
#2. Sibling telepathy, evidently?
My kids have an intuitive understanding of each other that no one else seems to get. Sometimes, when my son has a hard time explaining something to me because he’s tired or emotional, my daughter will step forward and say, “mom, what he meannnnnnnnnns is…” And my son nods in satisfaction because she nailed it.
#3. Sibling math is not the same as regular people math.
Ohmygod this issue. Don’t you dare try to explain to siblings that one child got six presents because the things on their list were Barbies and LOL Surprise toys, and the other child only got one present because theirs was a freaking PlayStation. That’s regular people math. Sibling math is different.
#4. They never seem to want each other at the same time.
How is this possible? It seems like there is always one sibling begging for attention and the other sibling shooing them off like a pesky fly that won’t get off their hamburger. But then, impossibly and seemingly within minutes, that same sibling who was running away suddenly wants attention and the other one simply can’t be bothered.
#5. The “that’s mine” phenomenon.
My kids can neglect a toy until they completely forget about its existence. But dare their sibling decide to play with it and suddenly this toy is the one thing that the original owner simply cannot live without. And there is no reasoning with them when this happens. Sometimes I just throw my hands up and tell them to work it out among themselves.
6. Their incredible, undying devotion to each other despite it all.
How can two people who seem to annoy the living shit out of each other every day love each other so much? Of all the things that perplex and confuse me about raising siblings, this is the one that I cherish even though I can’t understand it fully. What a wonderful gift—for both of my children to have someone besides their mom and dad to love them so completely. They stick up for each other. They look out for each other. When one of them is in trouble, the other one will ask for a sidebar with me to beg for a lighter consequence for their sibling. There is a little girl deep inside me who envies the connection they have, wondering what it would be like to know that kind of sibling love that knows no bounds. But more than anything, I am thankful that my kids get to have it.
Being a mom to siblings has been a confusing and heart-rending journey for me as an only child. Not all of it makes sense, but every bit of it makes me thankful for the relationship they have. I’m not a fool. I know that their relationship will evolve and encounter some trials as they get older. They will have to navigate grudges, betrayals, and differences of opinion or lifestyle that might pull them apart. But my prayer for them, always, is that the relationship they are forming now in childhood will see them through it.
As I remind them almost daily, one day all they will have is each other. What a gift, and what a responsibility. I pray they treat it well.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.