With my first baby, it was easy.
I was all-encompassed in every moment of her life. I ate, slept, and breathed for her. This darling child I wanted so dearly.
I remember when I was pregnant with her first baby brother; I feared what I was taking from her.
My undivided attention.
I worried and commiserated and sobbed. How could I ruin her world by making her anything but the very center of it?
Of course, her brother came when she was nearly 17 months old ,and though the transition was exhausting, it was relatively easy.
It was easy to see what I was adding to her life. They were both so close in age that they were able to do nearly everything together. It was like having twins, only one was a bit more helpful.
But the age gap that followed between my two boys was a whopping 4.5 years. For some, probably even many, this would be an ideal age gap. Miss H and Mr. B were older and more independent; it would give me more time to focus on the wee babe.
Let me let you in on a little secret: in many ways, “big kids” are far more demanding than infants and toddlers.
It’s no longer simply meeting their needs with cuddles and a boob in their mouth. Scraped knees are easy to mend; scraped hearts from feuds with friends, not so much.
Big kids demand 24/7 mental and emotional care in a way that an infant and toddler simply do not. Yes, of course mental and emotional health are important from birth, but the complexities are limited and it’s easy to nurture them in a manner that will provide them with optimal mental and emotional health beginnings.
But big kids?
Oh good grief.
There is no “easy.” There is no manual for the drama and melodrama. And you can’t actually refer to their feelings as such because their feelings are very real, and brushing their feelings off, no matter how silly they seem to me, is really brushing my child off as a whole.
But knowing how to properly address and help guide them through those ever-growing and changing enormous feelings can be draining. Especially when you have a younger child (or children) who still rely on you for their very basic needs of survival.
While your 7-year-old needs your love and reassurance as she melts like a puddle in the living room floor over some horrid atrocity (maybe someone moved her toothbrush) and your toddler very much needs you to feed him, you’re at the mercy of the Gods because you cannot possibly make the right choice.
Of course your 7-year-old can wait. The world will not stop spinning, and of course she needs to learn when the biggest of her feelings are necessary and when she just needs to let them go.
But the toddler also won’t starve if you wait 10 minutes to help his sister. He, too, must learn eventually that he is not the center of the world and that sometimes, he must be patient.
And in case you have forgotten, there is still another child in the mix. And by staying mum he learns that he is overlooked if he’s not just as loud and demanding, because there is only so much of Momma to go around, and the loudest and most neediest tend to get her first.
And I was the middle child, the “good” child, I know the turmoil within that being ignored day after day because you’re “easy” can bring and how it can stick with you. So of course I must make him just as much a priority in the midst of all the chaos, so he knows that even in the biggest of moments, he is not overlooked. I see him. I see all of him.
And back and forth this tug-o-war goes.
Who comes first?
Whose needs do I meet first?
With the exception of blood being involved, how can I know which should be the priority?
By evening I am exhausted myself. Mentally. Emotionally. Physically.
Have I done enough?
Have I tried my best?
Did I give them each the time and attention and care they needed?
Did I love them enough?
More importantly, did they feel loved enough?
In this game of tug-o-war, there will never be a winner.
There cannot be.
The rope will sway back and forth. It will tighten and extend. It will drag back and forth as the players themselves suffer from depletion and from overflow in various moments. It may be pulled to exceptional lengths.
But in the end, no one truly wins.
But no one loses either.