Oh, my two boys. These brothers. Brothers! Having gown up with a sister I'm fascinated and honored to be raising brothers and I want to raise them to be family pals, as the saying goes in Chris's family.
Of course I hope that my boys will grow up to be best brother friends and have a secret handshake and go on adventures together and live together in college. But we can't control the personalities our children will have and how they will mesh with a sibling. What I do earnestly hope for and want to guide my boys towards is feeling they can always count on their brother and that they will respect and support each other, even if they don't see eye to eye.
Before I was raising brothers I loved a post from Joanna on raising siblings and at her recommendation read Siblings Without Rivalry, which I enjoyed (although it did discuss some tough sibling situations which was sad to read about). And of course now I have my own experience of raising brothers and it's something I think about often and so here are our parenting practices for raising siblings:
+ Enforce the rules with both boys, even if one is too young to fully understand.
When Cedric was born Dashiell was old enough to understand the rules of "no hitting" and "honor my words please" but of course Cedric was clueless :) But we didn't want Dashiell to feel he was the only one being corrected and so since Cedric was tiny we have been gently reminding him of the rules when he hits, grabs and takes toys. We use the same language that we use with Dash but also explain to Dash that Cedric is still learning and so we are patient with him. As a result, it seems, Dash has shown so much patience towards Cedric, even when his hair is being pulled, poor guy!
An added benefit of reminding Cedric of household rules and respect even before he understands is that our language will remain consistent with him as he enters toddlerhood. We won't be making a sudden shift of hitting being OK because he's too young to suddenly saying "no hitting." Cedric has already started showing us "gentle hands" which is adorable and is also a huge credit to our wonderful daycare.
+ Avoid casting defining roles for children such as "the happy one" or "the rambunctious one".
Reading this in Siblings Without Rivalry was so insightful to me and it's applicable to all children, not just siblings. Casting children in roles is something we probably do without meaning to and it likely comes from wanting to praise our children, such as telling a child they "are so smart!" all the time. But a "happy child" will also feel sadness and anger and of course that's normal and healthy! An "energetic child" will also want to sit quietly and read at times.
The book made the point that if a child sees their sibling identified as the "musical one" or as the "smart one" they may feel they cannot also be those things. Casting a child in a rigid role can be confusing for the child in that role because when their feelings or actions do not conform to their role they may feel they are doing something wrong. I think this is also so important to remember in terms of casting gender stereotypes.
+ Involve both children in encouraging and praising each other.
We try to make the accomplishments of one child something the whole family feels proud of. During Cedric's first year there were so many milestones to celebrate and I loved hearing Dash say, "I so proud you Dredric!" At the same time we encourage Cedric to clap for Dashiell's accomplishments, too! Over the years the boys will have different passions and talents and I hope they can feel pride in the accomplishments of the other without feeling that it takes away from their own accomplishments.
+ Include the older sibling in caring for a young one but don't make it their responsibility.
When we hear Cedric stirring in the morning Dashiell loves to be the first to enter his room and greet him, "Good morning sweetie," and often asks for us to kneel down with Cedric so that he can hug and kiss him. (I know!) I love for Dashiell to be involved in caring for Cedric but I try to make sure we don't treat Cedric as Dashiell's responsibility. If Dashiell wants to be involved in something we are doing for Cedric, we welcome it, but if he's busy playing or simply doesn't want to then that should be his priority.
+ Include the brothers as a team.
I love referring to the boys together as "the brothers" and encouraging them to be a team. We ask, "Are the brothers ready to go for a bike ride?" Or say, "OK, brothers, bath time!" I've heard Dash tell people, "That's my brudder!" or to spontaneously kiss Cedric and say, "I love my brudder." Heart melted.
+ Include the boys individually.
An awesome brother team is made up of two awesome individual boys. Individual time with each of the boys happens naturally here and there during the week and it's something we will be intentional about as they grow.
I'd love to know if you have any insights about raising siblings, whether it's something you are doing or have seen or maybe something your parents did!