Friday, July 12, 2013

Sibling Closeness - Too Close, Or Spaced Just Right?

When I read Danielle Leshaw's essay in The New York Times Motherlode blog about her children attending overnight summer camp for the first time, and her response to the backlash I was really touched as I thought her story could so easily be confused with my own. I've often pondered the joys and fears of having siblings so close.

She has a 10 year old son and a 7 year old daughter, which is exactly what we have when Andrea turns 7 in April. Like hers, our kids have always shared a room. Their beds were right next to each other, until Eason moved into his loft bed. Like them we also visit our in-laws’ house in the Catskills. Almost every night I read them stories together, though it varies based on what we're reading. Sometimes Andi will read to me while Eason reads to himself, or one will read to the other, and/or I'll read something extra to Eason afterwards, etc. But when we're done and it's time for goodnight hugs and kisses, they both want hugs from each other as well as from me.

While we also strived to create a connection of love and friendship between our kids, I can't say we went to the extreme's that Danielle and her husband did. We didn't do any tandem breastfeeding or have them share a bed. Ironically, as parents we specifically tried to space our children out enough in age to give us the time we wanted to focus on each of them in their earlier years. We shrugged off our friend's advice to have them closer in age so that they would always have someone to play with, thinking that they would each find their own friends.

Nevertheless the results were very similar. Our kids are always quick to jump to each others' defense, as well as to help each other in times of need, whether it's to explain something, pour the water, hold pads for each other, or just keep each other company. They spontaneously play games together, wrestle with each other, and keep each other laughing in a way that even we can't compete with. My son has been known to disagree with his friends when it's suggested that all little brothers and sisters are annoying. It was my son who said he would like his sister to join me and him on a camp out. Like Danielle, we consider this a great accomplishment as a parents.

While we're not sending either of them to sleep-away camp yet, that has more to due with finances and opportunity as it does with their eagerness to go. I'm sure Eason would be happy to go if the opportunity was presented to him. And while I don't think Andi's ready yet, it would be silly and ignorant of me to use that as any basis to pass judgment on Danielle's daughter. I have to admit that based on my own experiences I'm not as enthusiastic about sending my kids off to sleep-away camp as some others.

Like Danielle, we also have a small house with no extra bedrooms. Moving to a larger home would mean moving to either a much worse, or far more rural neighborhood, away from many of the amenities we all enjoy. Moving just does not seem practical at this time, so like Danielle I know "our son will figure out where to take care of his personal needs. The bathroom shower has worked for millions of boys for at least the last one hundred years." It certainly did for me (even though I was an only child, my bedroom was in the middle of a railroad tenement with no doors), but unlike me our kids are learning empathy far beyond anything I was ever exposed to, in a large part because of each other.

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