Not long ago my 5-year-old asked me why people like his 7-month-old sister better than they like him. I pulled up short and examined his face. He was earnest, but not devastated. I questioned him. How did he come to that conclusion? He was reacting to an incident in the grocery store when a stranger stopped and remarked on how cute the baby was.
That sort of thing happens all the time, as I wager it does to anyone who goes out in public with a baby. Babies are cute. My baby in particular is a happy little charmer who is unlikely to cry in public. Couple that with her pink cheeks and blue eyes and you get a whole lot of “Aw, how cute!” responses from strangers. Nothing wrong with that.
But when my son is with us, watching with eyes no less blue than his sister’s, I’m now acutely aware that he isn’t on the receiving end of unsolicited praise. And apparently he’s aware of it too and feels left out. It breaks my heart a little, especially since there’s nothing I can really do about it.
I brought up this question on my Facebook page and my boy isn’t the only one feeling like chopped liver compared to a baby sibling. Other mothers report similar sentiments from their older kids and some adults remember being in my son’s shoes. A grandmother mentioned that she takes special pains to pay equal attention to all of her grandchildren then said that we can’t really expect strangers to react to an older child as they would to a baby.
She’s correct, of course. People treat babies different than they treat the rest of humanity. Ever were it thus. They probably don’t even realize that they’re doing it or that they might be inadvertently hurting the feelings of older siblings. But I notice and I wish they would at least say hi to my big boy.
I’ve talked to him about the way people go nuts for babies – even him when he was a baby – and that it’s not about him. I try to make up for any lack of attention to him after such incidents so that he knows that I don’t think his sister is more special than he is. I also point out that strangers never say anything about me either – it’s like they have on Baby Goggles and babies are all they see. He gets it now and doesn’t say much about it.
I do wish, however, that people would be mindful when they speak to families. My baby isn’t my only child. She isn’t my only beautiful child, nor my only smart, funny, strong, tall, or blue-eyed child. Taking that extra second to notice her big brother would make him feel special. Now that I know how felt out he feels, I’m making sure to address all siblings in such cases and I hope others will do the same.
Photo credit: photo stock
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