Growing Up or Growing Apart?

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Growing up is a tricky business: How to support a younger sibling as the elder grows up and becomes more independent.

It’s been a funny old summer in our house. The school holidays seemed to whizz by; they were absolutely nothing compared to the two lockdowns which had preceded them and we are now thoroughly used to being at home together, doing nothing much at all. So this should’ve been our easiest summer holidays on record yes? I bloody wish…

My eldest boy, Dylan, is almost 11. He goes to middle school, has a strong circle of friends he’s had since nursery, plus one super duper BFF who feels like one of the family to us. His life has always revolved around a strict timetable of football, fifa and friends. The best thing about his circle of friends is that they’re all so accepting of his little brothers and their pain-in-the-arse antics. When they come round for tea they all play together on the trampoline together with nobody left out, the roars of laughter fill my heart with happiness… and it also means I can have a cup of tea in peace. There have been times that Jonah has queried why we don’t really hang out with his friends… and I admit the guilt has pricked my conscience. I think it’s quite a common thing for second children to just be carted along to all the older siblings activities, and that’s certainly what happened with us. I made firm friends with a group of Mums when Dylan started nursery and we all just socialised together, the little ones just had to fit in. The manic busyness of modern life means we all follow the path of least resistance don’t we? Jonah loved being part of his big bro’s crew, so I just let that continue.

The bump in the road this summer has been that all of a sudden, life has opened up for Dylan in a way that it hasn’t for Jonah, who is only eight. Sleepovers, long sunny days at the park unattended, the freedom to go to the shops for sweets without a parent (#lifegoals); life is changing for him, as it should. So far he seems sensible, and fool that I am, I trust him enough to let him become more independent.

Seeing Jonah’s disappointed little face watching his big bro head off to the park without him, while he has to come to Aldi with me, seems like the most brutal cruelty. Growing up is wonderful, but watching someone grow up is tough! It’s the first time it’s occurred to me how tricky it is when you have kids of similar ages, and even moreso if they’re the same gender or have the same interests. Jonah is going to be catching the bus while Dylan learns to drive a car, he’ll be sitting at home watching Saturday Night Takeaway with his parents while Dylan starts going out to nightclubs. He’ll have to watch Dylan head off on his first wild lads holiday and pack up his bedroom and go off to start an exciting new chapter at University.

Since I can’t stand to see Jonah’s heart breaking over and over again; I’ve been doing some research on how to help him cope with Dylan growing up without feeling like they’re growing apart.

  • Celebrate their differences and encourage them to do different activities. In my house it’s all football, football, football but since the boys play for separate teams, they both have their own little communities there. The key is not assuming that the younger sibling has to follow in the elder siblings footsteps.
  • Explain to the younger sibling that a bit of separation is actually a good thing, even though it might not feel like it at first. It will allow your younger kids time to develop aspects of their personality and find things out about themselves without the dominant influence of an older sibling.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of compensating the younger child with gifts. This is especially important when you consider this little growing up/growing apart phase will last about a decade… it could get very expensive for you! It’s so tempting to go for the quick fix of “I can see how left out you feel so I’ll take you to the shops and you can choose a toy.” but actually what your child needs from you here is time and attention, rather than material things.
  • Foster your younger child’s independence within safe boundaries. Sometimes what is most difficult for the younger child is that feeling of being ‘babyish’ in comparison to their older sibling. Think of ways you can give them extra freedoms that you feel comfortable with, maybe staying up ten minutes later at bedtime or having a friend come for a sleepover.
  • Use the space from your older child to strengthen your bond with the younger child/children. Children will soon start to see it a s a real bonus being the youngest if they get lots of your undivided attention while the older sibling is spreading their wings. Take up a hobby together, get crafty or just snuggle up on the sofa and watch a movie you both love. Feeling close and connected with you will help them deal with the distance from their sibling.
  • Acknowledge how hard this must be for them. Explain that you are struggling with the changes too. It’s difficult to watch your child growing up as you know they are inevitably growing away from you. Explain to the sibling left behind that these bonds are not diminishing, they are just changing and in the long run this distance will serve only to strengthen the bond between them.

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