Who am I to say that there aren’t siblings out there that never fight? Maybe for some – that is a reality. Maybe somewhere in this universe, there are families with siblings that do share, hug and adore one another 100% of the time? Although even as I’m typing, my fingers are urging me to stop – my current mind is giggling, “You’re off your fucking head love. You don’t even treat your chosen life partner like that.”
2016; the perfect instagram squares hadn’t really been ‘outed’ much at this point. It wasn’t talked about – the awareness that’s now readily available around the reality of these beautifully curated images. The reality being that these squares are quite often only a tiny highlight of a much bigger and complex picture. At that moment in time however, the little frilly bonnets, tight embraces and hand holding? THAT would be my girls. That was sisters right? Something I myself had never gotten to experience as a child but something I’d had a glimpse of on social media.
I mean I was sitting there, mother of one with the child who genuinely did not lose her shit, I was proof that not all kids go through all these ‘phases’ they speak of. For lots, they skip a few – they pass phases entirely before they even come into play. Our first little girl gave us the most incredible introduction into parenthood. She slept through very early on – I awaited the tantrums that never came. I got frustrated and anxious when people would tell me they all do it. “It’s coming!” they’d say. I found myself lying at times just to avoid being labeled as ‘one of those mums.’
Baby Molly truly was a joy, nowadays I don’t care about being labeled – I am so proud of my kids, of course I’m going to share that. I was utterly confident this little laid back kid would have no issues slotting into her new role as a ‘big sis.’ I could see how helpful she’d be. At a little over a year and a half, she would spend her days caring for her plastic baby with fake food and nappies. She’d shown no signs of jealously and every day, flooded us all with love and respect.
This was going to transition beautifully.
Molly was 22months, a baby herself when her sister arrived and yet at the time – I saw a toddler, a little girl who’d ace this. Who’d understand it all. Looking back I didn’t give her enough credit for still being a baby herself.
The first meet was beautiful. I had her sister on the Friday late afternoon, I had my neighbour as a back up birthing partner but fortunately it all fell into place. Jamie was home, he spent every moment with me and we were all home for bedtime. Molly was already asleep and would meet her in the morning. She came through from her cot at 7am all blurry eyed, pointed and said the word ‘baby’ and lay next to her. She stroked her head, asked to cuddle her and sang her ‘Twinkle Little Star.’ It was everything I pictured.
Then she asked for her milk and pushed this little bundle off her knee like she did with the plastic baby she’d been practising with all these months ago.
She was just a baby, they were BOTH babies.
I opted to exclusively breastfeed a lot longer the second time round and it came much easier – it also meant however that Emily would now pretty much LIVE on Mummy. There would be no one-on-one time for Molly and with the lack of childcare we had close by – she felt it.
The second night, it was Molly’s bath-time and I couldn’t get in – her speech just forming, I went through with her baby sister in my arms to explain mummy couldn’t get in with her. I was healing after stitches. I used to bathe every night with her. Molly pointed, tears running down her face – at the baby in my arms and said “Just Mummy.”
I cried myself to sleep that night.
My precious, innocent first born changed with a flick of a switch. She changed over night and for six whole months, she carried anger that I so desperately wanted to relieve her from. It was painful to watch a child so small, carry such big emotions. To this day I wonder if things would have been different if I’d just gotten in that bath. She’d felt her first notions of jealously, of betrayal, of isolation. She felt the pangs of separation anxiety and the ugliness of abandonment. In her first 24hours of sisterhood, it hurt – it sucked. She wasn’t old enough to understand what the fuck was going on and I had no way of interpreting it for her.
I was in so much pain after the birth, I wanted to console her but I couldn’t do it without her new sister in the other arm or chowing down on my tired boobs. Both our daughters live in the understanding that their dad and I are their only constant. It was just Molly and I for 22months, with family visits in between but mostly – her and I. Just us two.
This transition was HUGE for her. Of course she wasn’t just going to ‘slot in.’
And so the pattern continued. I’d sit down to read Molly a book and this little baby would cry. I’d go to take her to the park and this little baby would cry. Looking back it’s clear why this love they now have taken time to grow. For every joyful moment Molly got after Emily’s arrival – it was rudely interrupted. Every single time. It took a while for me to learn how to give myself in an entirely different way and I wish I could have stepped back in time and told myself that this was all OK, this was just as it should be. There was nothing wrong – I had just wholeheartedly convinced myself I wasn’t enough. I had walked into this with expectations based on someone else’s life that really, I knew nothing about.
There were days and moments that were calm and beautiful. Walks, slow days and naps together. Then there were the days where my energy was almost non-existent. I couldn’t give the way they both wanted me to. So Emily would cry more and Molly’s frustrations would build. The first day she slapped the back of her sister’s head mid-feed was the day I thought I’d made a massive error in my age gap choices. I questioned if I was strong enough to see this first part through. Two babies, two entirely different stages, neither speaking sentences and one Mum – with undiagnosed PTSD and hundreds of miles from those closest to me. I was isolated and confused. Where was this bloody bond?
Jamie in our early months as parents to two – had another move in football, which left him with a four-hour commute each day. I was in Cheshire, he was in Yorkshire. I solo-parented for a long time. I didn’t drive and I hardly the knew the area round me – they were my loneliest of days. I repeated the same walk twice a day with my eyes half-shut, rain, hail or shine. I had no interest in making more friends – no energy to commit to anything other than these babies who for some reason, just didn’t hug and kiss the way I’d once perceived it to be.
Bedtimes often broke me. I remember hugging my phone, texting my husband and telling him how hard Molly would scream for me as I hurried Emily off the boob and into her cot – praying this tiny little baby would remain settled even if for an hour. Often it worked, the screaming was short-lived and I could lie and give Molly that undivided attention, that treasured cuddle which allowed her to drift off. Other times however, it would be interrupted by her sibling – the screaming of both girls rattled my heart enough to feel exhaustion and failure like I’d never felt before. Those nights were the worst parts. They broke me, time and time again.
I had guilt that I could not give Emily – the ‘new born’ attention her big sister had gotten. I had guilt for the love Molly now had to share. Nobody prepared me for these moments, Instagram had painted this unrealistic picture in my head of what being a mother to multiple children would be like – I’d failed before it had even began. That image was just that, a 1 second moment in a lifetime of others. It was not real. Yet I was waiting for it to be and in the meantime, losing sight of my own reality.
The first six months of parenting two have been my hardest mothering moments to date. That sibling-hood love took so much time to nurture and grow – it didn’t happen on the flick of a switch. It wasn’t a love connection based entirely on genetics or a sisterhood felt on first glance. It was a 22month old baby and a newborn having no damn clue. It was a mother absolutely winging it, with no breathing space and no spare hands to take the load off. It was a beautiful, messy concoction of love that needed work, effort, encouragement and time to grow into something more manageable. It was an unbalanced, full on load of new emotions. Crazy highs, serious lows and on occasion – beautiful moments of sanity.
It was not always the way it is now. I was not always like this. I wasn’t always so sure, so resilient and so head strong.
There’s always going to be people who make you feel like you’re failing but for every one of them, there’s an army of genuine ones ready to remind you you’re not. Back then, I’d chosen to follow the wrong people. It wasn’t that they were doing wrong – it was that they weren’t right for me. Instead of following those who inspired me, I was following pages that gave me an unrealistic view on life at a time where I was vulnerable and fragile. There’s a big difference between striving for a great life and striving for a perfect one. A great life does exist. A perfect one, doesn’t.
A great life involves pain, suffering, commitment, rejection and hard work. A great life does not come easy. Life, is not easy.
2018; Molly 4 and Emily 2 are a force to be reckoned with. Their bond is unbreakable, their souls are so in sync. They have grown to love one another in a way I could never have imagined in those early months. They play, they fight and they embrace each other entirely as sisters. The good, the bad and the ugly. I am stronger and more in balance than ever. I have far less guilt and far more awareness of what real life parenting is. I pressed the reset button and refocused my mind entirely. I rationalized the guilt I felt with my children as I looked back on my own childhood with two brothers. It was all part of the transition of siblings – it wasn’t my job to make it match an image.
The sisterhood, the bond, the sibling-hood love did not happen overnight. It has not grown into that image of frilly bonnets and warm embraces and it never will. That was another’s ‘1 second moment’ in a lifetime of highs and lows.
Molly and Emily? It grew into something WAY better.
Having siblings, having multiple children isn’t something to fear. Nor is life itself – it’s to be lived.
I look back now and see that everything happened just as it should, exactly how it was meant to. The girls age gap fits just so – it was all completely OK, it was normal. It was life, not Instagram.
The most exhausting role I gave myself was striving to build a relationship for my girls that was unreachable. It happened just as should, exactly when it should. Life as a mother with siblings has changed drastically from those early days – it is easier, it comes with challenges but every day it brings moments that I live my whole life for. I cannot believe the change in myself since then and I am proud to see how far I’ve come with the help from new and old faces. Parents on social media sharing their full stories, new friends openly talking about their trials and tribulations. Mostly, finding success and acceptance in being exactly who I am and sharing our journey for everything it is.
How I helped myself cope with the transition into siblings:
- I stopped comparing my kids to someone else’s. Maybe Jane really does have those three kids that well-trained that they don’t so much as mutter the word “poo head” at each other. It’s not applicable to me – they’re not my kids, it’s not my life. My girls like to call each other ‘Smelly Poo head’ and laugh and laugh and laugh.
- I hooked my eldest into being that super cool buddy who’s insanely good at helping out – I make sure she knows what a great older sis she is but ensure her she is still my baby too.
- I sympathised with Molly in the early months – I used to say things to her all the time like “Oh man, Emily sure can cry can’t she!”
- I sit and play with them and teach them to play – there were days where my patience was limited and this truly was a test in the beginning but the more time I gave them, the older they got, the more they learned to play happily and independently together (most of the time.)
- I set clear and stern boundaries about hitting, kicking, pulling hair etc from the word get go and have taught the kids how to deal with it properly if one or the other displays aggressive behavior – which fortunately isn’t often. Sometimes that involves just splitting them up and giving them both time to chill out in their own space and again, sympathising with them. Living in close proximity with another hormonal tiny human is tough. I’d be pissed of too if the BFG came and wrecked my impressive LEGO treehouse of dreams! Of course you’re entitled to tell Emily that’s a dickhead move – i.e. “Emily that’s not nice, that makes me sad.” (Because it’s frowned upon to teach your children the word ‘dickhead.’) but it’s not OK to launch her across the room.
- One on one time improved everything massively for me – for many, including myself – it’s a hard thing to arrange but if you have the opportunity, if you have the extra help, take it. Even if it’s a walk, a half hour sit down with a book or a trip to the shop for a sweetie. Once I stopped breastfeeding and visits from family increased, my separate relationships with the girls grew rapidly.
- I stopped expecting so much, so soon. After all, they’re kids. After all, I’m an exhausted mum – a whole lot of the time.
- I made sure I got my own shit together (as much as I could). As off topic as it seems – when I was a bag of stress, they were too. I’ve worked so hard on myself to become far less effected by outside matters and that I will always insist is the key to a happier parenting life.
Somewhere down the line, in a haze of hormones and emotions I’d forgotten about that time my big brother had thrown me down the stairs and broke my favorite sea-urchin I’d been drying out for weeks. I’d misplaced the memories of my youngest sibling ripping the tags off my prized ‘TY’ beanies and breathing at me the wrong way. My real life as a sister with two brothers.
Frilly bonnet moments, rivalry, dead leg showdowns, ‘accidental’ hair pulling, the competition, warm cosy snuggles and endless tattle-tails.
A lot of it, doesn’t need fixed. It’s what it is. It’s exactly how it should be.
It’s all sibling-hood. The whole damn lot.