Should we have another baby? (sibling edition)
August 21, 2014 10:59 PM   Subscribe

We're trying to decide whether to have another kid, and stuck a bit when we try to evaluate potential effects on the first one. I'm looking for your experiences with sibling relationships (good and bad), including what things we as parents could do (if any) to make it a good one.

My husband and I have one son, 22 months old, and are currently trying to decide if we should try for another kid. We've considered lots of factors and at least feel like we know how to go about thinking about them, but one of them is one that I think we'd considerably benefit from the wisdom of the hive mind: the effect of having a sibling on our son.

The main reason this is an issue is that my husband and I had dramatically different sibling experiences growing up, and this is colouring our views to the extent that we don't know what is normal, what kinds of things we could realistically expect, and what power parents have to affect the sibling relationship. I had four siblings, all of us separated by about two years, and they were among my best friends growing up. They've been a hugely positive influence in my life and are relationships I treasure into adulthood. Conversely, my husband had one sibling (a slightly older brother) who has really had a negative impact on his life. The brother had massive amounts of sibling jealousy, and hated, resented, and bullied my husband for a lot of their childhood. Even now their relationship is a real sore point for him.

My husband is very worried about similar effects if we had another kid -- especially because our son is pretty mommy-focused and we give him a lot of one-on-one attention, so a new kid might be a rude shock. (I have no idea what the norm is for either of these things, and he does go to daycare three days a week, but still). Husband is worried both on behalf of the new baby (being on the receiving end of all of that resentment was not a fun thing for him) but also on behalf of our son, who he is afraid would be greatly and negatively affected by the change in routine and attention in ways that he wouldn't easily recover from.

When I think about the issue, conversely, I think about how I want my son to have someone else in his family to grow up with (we have no other extended family in the same country). I think of what a support and source of fun my own siblings were. I also think I learned a lot about how to deal with other kids, how to be less selfish, and how to get along with others -- which, if our kid is as much of a loner/outsider in school as both of us were, might be really instrumental in making his childhood a better one.

Importantly, my husband's parents were good: they didn't cause the situation as far as we can tell. In fact, neither of us can really identify anything consistent our parents did differently from each other, so we can't just assume that we'll do the right things and avoid bad outcomes. (Of course we were both very young when the closest siblings were born, so we might have missed things).

In any case, we're at an impasse: for both of us our personal experience is colouring things so much. As such just hearing other people's personal experience, and getting some sense about how much control we as parents could have over this outcome, would be really valuable.

We have two specific questions:

1. In your experience, either as someone with reasonably-close-in-age siblings or as a parent with multiple reasonably-close-in-age children, were your sibling relationships on balance a good or a bad thing in your/their lives? How or why?

2. In your experience, can you pinpoint any factors that a parent could influence that might affect this outcome? We're particularly interested in this one because the more we can do to influence things, the better we can be reassured we can avoid the horrible childhood my husband had.

Other possibly useful details: If we started to try to get pregnant soon the age difference between them would probably be around 2.5-3.5 years. I don't have that much more time to wait so we can't realistically plan for a much larger age range than 4 or 5 years at the outside (and 3 would be better for many reasons). There will almost certainly not be a third sibling. I have asked son if he wants mommy to have another baby and he said yes, but then he said he was a giraffe in the same conversation so it's unclear whether that is meaningful or how much he understands at all.
posted by forza to Human Relations (76 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
1. My sibling relationships were similar to your husband's. I have two children 2 years apart in age and they are each other's best friend.
2. As parents you love each child unconditionally and accept nothing less from your children. Sibling rivalry is a thing but ensure that there is an endless supply of love and affection in your home and your kids will learn from your example.

Have a second child because you want to love another child. Don't have a second child as an accessory to the first.
posted by headnsouth at 11:11 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have a second child because you want to love another child. Don't have a second child as an accessory to the first.

I promise not to threadsit, but I just want to head this off at the pass: we certainly have lots of independent reasons to want another child that have nothing directly to do with our son. I just didn't go into them because this question isn't about whether to have another child in general and those other reasons aren't the point of the question. In addition to those reasons we are also trying to evaluate the effects of having another child on our son.

I apologise if the main title of the question was misleading. Please feel free to assume we have lots of other reasons to have another kid.
posted by forza at 11:17 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

My relationship with my (two-year-younger) brother was similar to what your husband experienced. My husband had the same thing with his (twin) brother. My cousins had similar issues with their siblings. I don't really know anyone who had positive sibling experiences growing up.

At this stage in my life, I am on better terms with my brother, and I can see that improving over the rest of our lives. I think taken as a life-long calculation, our sibling relationship will probably be a net positive. This doesn't seem to be the case for my husband and his brother, and as for my cousins... I nearly called the police on one recently when he physically assaulted his sister, and they are 21 and 18, so I don't see that relationship improving any time soon.

I think if I were going to have kids, I'd be sticking to one.
posted by lollusc at 11:19 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I tend to think lots of love and lots of money (so no competing for resources) will make this turn out fine.

We stuck to one because both my husband and I are not close to our siblings.

My toddler son's very good friend dropped completely out of sight a while back after a pair of extra siblings were born. Rumour has it the family is not doing well. I think they meant well, but they were not prepared for how drastic a change this would be.

I think you do what your hearts tell you to do, because clearly, there is no correct answer.
posted by jbenben at 11:24 PM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't think there are any really good answers, here, but I do think there is some research (sorry, no refs!) that same-gender siblings who are close in age have a higher probability of not doing well together. If you want to avoid sibling rivalry, I think spacing out the number of years between children is a good idea.


1. My sibling relationship is more like your husband's. I'm male and my brother and I are 2.5 years apart, with me being the younger. He overall had a very negative impact on me growing up -- he was highly critical, mean, and generally wanted nothing to do with me. Believe me, being on the receiving end of that for years on end leaves a mark. I probably would have been happier without a brother growing up. We're friends now, but it took us a long time to get to this point.

2. I don't really know what parents can do other than be aware that the older sibling may take out their negative feelings on the younger sibling. My brother had a very tense relationship with my parents and I think he took that out on me.
posted by thermopoetics at 11:27 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had a brother about two years older than me. He was extremely abusive and I've never really gotten over it. Maybe if there was another kid in the mix or the timing was different or something it might have been better, but who knows. I also have friends with siblings about the same age apart and they had no problem whatsoever. Children of the same gender tend to have worse relationships from what I've seen, but I know a lot of bad brother/sister relationships and a lot of great brother/brother or sister/sister relationships. It's foreign to me, but my family dynamic must seem just as bizarre to them. So you can't really plan on how a sibling relationship will be.

Potential issues will happen no matter what. Just try to deal with them as they come up before they become a real problem. Watch how they interact. Try to make them understand the other person is an actual person as early as possible. And hopefully they'll see themselves as "in it together" instead of "vicious rivals".
posted by downtohisturtles at 11:44 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

So personal story first: I have a sister (I am male) who is two years younger than me. I remember us annoying the hell out of each other, but in a mostly affectionate way. When I was younger she always wanted to play with me, and I kind of wanted to do my own thing, while as we got older she decided I was dorky. That said, we did have a lot of fun. These days, living in seperate places, we get along very well.

I think you could get a million different kind of stories. Some siblings will abuse each other. Some will protect each other. Some only children will be selfish screw ups, some will be amazing prodigies. Some will be both. I honestly think the most likely outcome is whatever you do, the children will be fine.

My worry for your relationship with your husband is that he has obvious fears based on his own childhood, and if your children have an adverse relationship this could be upsetting for you both. No matter how well on two siblings get on, they will absolutely squabble.

Sensible things you might do about this

1)Have an honest look at your finances. Can you afford to support two children? Will they have seperate bedrooms? Will you be able to afford their educations/marriages/broken down cars?
2)Have an honest look at your feelings. Do you feel a burning desire for another child? Do you both share that? Is this a long lasting desire or a passing one?

RE:2, you can always afford to wait a year or two before having another child if you are unsure, and see if your feelings remain the same.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:52 PM on August 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

Read "Siblings Without Rivalry" for a howto. I found it via Ask Moxie. It's available as an ebook as well. It describes the results of a workshop with parents of fighty siblings and expands on different points they explored such as "don't keep comparing them", "don't stick them in roles" and such. It's very practical. It made me feel a lot more secure about having Kid 2.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:27 AM on August 22, 2014 [17 favorites]

My brother and I squabbled a lot as kids, and he really was a little bastard at times, but we are very close now. In fact I am probably closer to him than I am to my parents. I would be really sad to only have one child because I would think they were missing out on so much. I also think that triangular family relationships have a tendency to be unhealthy - a second child would give your child an ally/confidante and take some of the focus off them in a good way.
posted by tinkletown at 12:29 AM on August 22, 2014

1. I had 2 older sisters (2 years and 4 years older), was the youngest and was sick as a kid (seizures, med side effects). My sibling experiences mirrored that of your husbands. My oldest sister and I kind of got along as younger kids (she sometimes played protector), but mostly just tolerated/ignored one another as we got older (and boys became her focus). My middle sister was incredibly resentful of me and was a relentless bully who was physically abusive towards me until high school. I have had zero contact with either of them since we all went our separate ways - we will never be 'friends'. Having siblings was NOT positive for me and the negative experiences left lasting marks.

2. Since all of my siblings and I were unplanned births, I'm not sure what my parents could've done differently to mitigate the situation other than more evenly spreading their attention. My middle sister was always a handful (jealous, disobedient, loud, stubborn) and didn't go 'on the attack' until my parents weren't around to interfere. Them never leaving the house was clearly not an option. If my parents had more support, in regards to how to handle her behavior, maybe they could've done something more effective - the corporal punishment she got only fueled the antagonizing/aggressive behavior against me. I suspect part of the 'blindness' to it was also because of their focus on my pregnancy-risk oldest sister and the overall stress of trying to support a family.

That said, I also feel if my parents were more demonstrative with their affection, it would've helped. This may not be applicable to your family, but we were definitely not the 'hugging type' in mine and I think it may have played a large part in the overall dysfunction. I certainly now see the quest for it as the fuel for my siblings behaviors growing up.
posted by stubbehtail at 12:47 AM on August 22, 2014

Just to balance this out because this thread seems to be attracting a lot of negative stories about having siblings:

I (female) have a brother who is about 2 years older than me. We got a long as kids, get along now, but were never really "friends", even as adults. I enjoy spending time with him but we live far away and we don't talk much (though we're trying to work on that).

I love my brother and definitely would say I am happy that I have a sibling. Most of all, it is nice to have someone who really understands your family dynamic. When my parents were going through a divorce and it got pretty ugly, he was really the only one who truly understood the situation and we could confide in each other. We love each other and we have each other's backs. Also, growing up would have simply been lonelier without him.

That said, I don't think you can plan for it so you shouldn't base whether you have a second child on how it will affect your current kid because you simply can't know. Have a second child because you and your husband want one, and have the time and the ressources to raise two kids.
posted by Blissful at 1:43 AM on August 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yeah just another positive sibling story to balance things out a little.

I (female) have a younger (by 2 years) brother. I didn't have an idyllic childhood, but our relationship growing up is one of the few things that comes close. We have always been close to each other. Our family life hasn't always been easy but we've always been solid, and supportive of each other when times got tough.

Parents did a good job which is key: we were both equally loved and knew it, we were never compared to each other. Brother got a little indulged because he was the baby which used to annoy me, but I soon bought into that mindset and indulged him myself.

We used to squabble as children and still do. We learned very early on the arts of negotiation (in early morning squabbles about who got to use the bathroom first etc) and collaboration and storytelling through all the imaginative play we did. We grew up very protective of each other (me because he was, as I said, the baby, and he because I was bullied at school).

I'm sure this rings familiar for you and not so much for your husband. The fact is you can't control how this relationship pans out for your current and future children and you have to make the decision based on concrete information like how much you guys want another kid and whether you have the practical resources for more than one.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:08 AM on August 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I want to jump in mostly because I'm reading a lot of negative sibling experiences and just say that having a sister is one of the best things in my life. I (female) grew up in a house with one older sister (3 years older) and she's without a doubt my closest family member, over either parent.

Growing up we squabbled rarely and honestly mostly played really well together. We live on opposite ends of the country but I like seeing her every chance I get. I would have a much less enjoyable life without her, plus our parents are kind of crazy and it's good to have a buddy in that line of life.

I have no idea what causes siblings to not get along but I've experienced it very rarely. Both my parents have/had great relationships with their siblings and most of my friends have good relationships with theirs. The worst person I can think of is someone who's indifferent to their sibling.

It's a deeply personal choice but I think as long as you and your husband land on the same page it'll work out for the best. Good luck!
posted by neurotic narwhal at 2:08 AM on August 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

my sister and i are three years apart. my mother did a very good job raising us to be indvidual people. my sister and i have had a fraught and difficult realtionship, and have since child hood. it was not a good fit, and i don't think that we like each other. my realtionship with my sister is one of the reasons why i am convinced not to have children.
posted by PinkMoose at 2:38 AM on August 22, 2014

I have 5 older sisters and feel that I am really privileged to have this experience. My husband has only 1 brother and I feel that this is not nearly enough! This is not to say that our relationships are not messy and complicated and full of ridiculous dynamics and squabbles that repeat over decades. But we have each other and in a range of circumstances I am really grateful for that. When I had my baby, this came to the fore-- there were a bunch of ppl I could call on to complain, ask for advice, ask to do my housework...the list goes on. I think I probably have less time for friends than some people because I have a lot of family stuff on. But really, the security and stability of thoes relationships are the most important in my life, after my husband, parents and bubs.

So I can't speak to having just 2, but in general, siblings are definitely a positive in my life. We'll definitely be looking to add to our number.
posted by jojobobo at 2:39 AM on August 22, 2014

I think there is a difference between siblings winding each other up and annoying each other and bullying. My brother and I used to wind each other up something chronic and fought like cats and dogs but we were never abusive to each other. So I'd class him coming along as a positive experience over all. We're not very close these days as we live in different countries and our lives are very differently, but he is the only person who can relate to various aspects if our childhoods.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:42 AM on August 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

My brother and sister are my best friends and my favorite people on earth. I don't have kids yet, but it's hard for me to believe I will ever love anyone like I love them. My sister is 4 years younger than me and my brother is 11 years younger. We got along to an unusual degree throughout childhood, rarely fought, and now that we are adults we all still talk to each other every day.

I ask my mom sometimes what she did to make us so close and she claims we just naturally fell into these roles. I do know that we've always felt united and I remember my mom saying with a sibling there's always someone on your side. My parents' relationships with their own siblings are complicated and fraught, and looking at those relationships was not a good predictor for how we turned out. We are a set, a unit, and I cannot imagine how much emptier my life would be without them.

My parents divorced a couple years ago and having to go through that alone would have made a painful experience many times more horrible. I think the fact that you're considering the relationship before it exists shows your commitment to making having siblings a positive thing. My sister made a penny fountain wish for a baby brother when she was 6 and 20 years later I still thank her for making that wish; I'm more grateful for their existence than anything else in my life.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 3:00 AM on August 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

Anecdotes from four very different families:

1. I have on sibling, a twin sister (both female). We've had our ups and downs and some sibling rivalry and wound each other up like mad, but generally got on and were each other's friends and playmates as children, and have a good friendship now.

2. My (female) partner has a younger brother (about 2 years) and they get on smashingly, and are very similar. Never had any rivalry or conflict.

3. My mother was the youngest child of 3 sisters. She was picked on a lot, especially by the eldest, but they have a relatively close relationship now.

4. My baby cousins are 9 and 6, two sisters. They have intense sibling rivalry and are very competitive, but are friends and play together.

The parenting styles of all these families were all very different and I can't see a pattern in any sibling relationships I know... I will say the "worst" sibling relationship (my mother's) came from a dysfunctional family which had multiple divorces. Love and attention spread around equally I think is the absolute key, as well as striking the balance between taking their relationship seriously, but not micro-managing- not allowing bullying, but letting them learn to resolve things between themselves too.

Personally I'm extremely glad I have a sister and would regret being an only child (though I might have answered differently if you asked me as a kid!). Having someone else is great, especially if you have no extended family near you.
posted by mymbleth at 3:16 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I hate to be a downer but I must note that with every child the dice are rolled and you could get a kid with special needs. That has its own effects on the sibling relationship, which can be both positive and negative. If you're running out of time there are also chances the risks of special needs can go up.
posted by Mistress at 3:16 AM on August 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

I have four siblings. I have positive relationships with three of them, and don't really speak to the fourth. I also have two children, and while they are only 1 and 3, and there's no hostility, I sense that they might never be close. I'm fine with that, because there are things they you can't control, but if you think that your husband's issues will prevent him from accepting his children's relationship for what it is, I'd tread carefully. Having kids tends to surface all your childhood trauma, and it would not be fair to view your children through that lens.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:01 AM on August 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

More anecdotes on the positive side: My sister and I (5 years apart) were very close growing up, drifted apart a bit during high school/college, and are now very close again. She is a huge positive element in my life and my kids' lives, and having a four-person nuclear family has always been a ton richer and more fun than a three-person one would have been. It has consistently been a relief and a blessing to have an "ally" during difficulties with one or the other parent; to have someone who gets me on that deep, grew-up-in-the-same-crazy-house level, etc. As our parents age, it will be wonderful to have someone else to share the care responsibilities with, and to know we'll still have family even after they pass.

My two daughters (4 years apart, but still small) are thus far super close. There's been zero sibling rivalry from the older-- in fact, she's loved being able to take a "helper" role-- and they make each other laugh all the time. I think the relatively wider age gap has helped with this, but she would probably have been in the same place as early as 3.5 years or so. Much earlier, and the relationship would have been different.

If I had to identify factors predisposing to harmonious sibling relationships, I'd say: plenty of affection from the parents; a strong "family culture" of doing things together; and relatively easygoing, confident temperaments in the kids.
posted by Bardolph at 4:26 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can see you're going to get really different responses and I think if you're decent, responsible parents who don't pit the kids against each other, it will come down to the kids' temperaments.

They may get along. They may not. It's a crapshoot, as you can see from the answers you've gotten.

My anecdote: I have three kids, 22, 21 and 16 (two girls and a boy) and they are TIGHT, despite living in three different states. Best friends. Texting, calling, FBing each other constantly. Always asking each other for advice. Always checking in with each other.

When they were small they got along. Weirdly, my daughters never argued, never fought. Their little brother was a complete pain in the ass as a toddler but they're very protective of and affectionate toward him now.

It's really a crapshoot.
posted by kinetic at 4:35 AM on August 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Keep in mind that the previous generation (people who are 35-45 now) grew up in a time where benign neglect was very much more the parenting zeitgeist than it is today. I have an older sister who I am absolutely best friends with, but I am basically just lucky she wasn't a sociopathic bully who tortured and abused me, because if she had been my parents would probably not have known or cared much to intervene. They are good parents and I love them, but hands-off was the thing back then.

It's also the case that unplanned pregnancies were more common, resulting in families that were perhaps a little too big as far as parental resources were concerned. The anecdata I have to contribute is that more people in the 35-45 range seem to have had bad experiences with siblings (and/or parents) than the kids I meet who are in the 18-25 range. It startles me sometimes how close young people are to their families these days.

I'm pretty sure any number and arrangement of kids is fine when they are wanted children who were planned for, in an environment where the parents have the financial and emotional resources to shepherd both of them as individuals and also their relationship as siblings. Given that you are even asking this question, I think you probably fall into that bucket.
posted by annekate at 4:41 AM on August 22, 2014 [17 favorites]

1. I have a brother who is 4 years younger than me. We were pretty bad on the sibling rivalry scale, well into our teens. We did sometimes have fun together, but we fought a lot. But now we're really good friends - he's one of my favorite people and I'm so glad I have him in my life. We still do bicker sometimes but that's ok.

2. Our parents did a lot to try to discourage our fighting, and nothing worked. Looking back, I think we both just had strong personalities that clashed. We just had to grow up and learn to appreciate each other. I do think that might have happened earlier if I didn't have the responsibility of watching him after school for several years in my pre-teen and early teen years. It was a family necessity, but it bred a lot of resentment and forced us to spend a lot of time isolated together. But again, if we'd had personalities that meshed better, that probably wouldn't have been an issue.

So I guess this isn't super-helpful, but I'm offering it as a data point in between two extremes. It's possible to have lots of sibling rivalry AND still have a good relationship as adults.
posted by lunasol at 4:45 AM on August 22, 2014

My brother is not quite 2 years younger than I am. We were close as kids and adolescents with a few years of squabbling in there. As adults it has varied from time to time although these days we're pretty close. My husband is the youngest (by a lot) of 4 - he's very close to his brothers, much less to his sister.

We have three kids - 19, 22, 24. The younger two are super close and talk/FB/IM all the time despite currently living most of a 1000 miles apart. Both of them are less close to their older sister but as kids they all alternated between being best buds and fighting - 3 is inherently unstable so someone was always on the outs. That said, I would definitely have another kid - I think people gain a lot from sharing with a sibling, not being the center of the universe all the time, having someone other than one's parents in the family to potentially be close to.
posted by leslies at 4:45 AM on August 22, 2014

As others have noted, I think a wide range of sibling relationships is possible and you can't predict that in advance. But, I do think parental attention and intervention can prevent bullying and abuse for all but the most sociopathic kids, even if the kids don't get along. Since you and your husband are so attuned to this, I think it would be unlikely that your kids' relationship would be as bad as his relationship with his brother. And hopefully it would be more like your loving and supportive relationship with your siblings, especially since you would foster that from early on.

(My data points: not super-close but friendly relationship with 5-years-older sibling when we were kids, now fairly close relationship as adults; my kids who are 4 years apart get along great and are always hugging and saying I love you to each other, even though they do their fair share of fighting.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 4:58 AM on August 22, 2014

I haven't read all of the responses. Here is my opinion:

I had very similar feelings to yours. My husband is an only child and I had one sister. I get along with my sister but I had this idea that a new baby would take away from my first child. This is not true.

Parents do have a lot of power over the sibling relationship. They set the tone. Sure, kids will have their personalities and may not have a lot in common but parents can cultivate an atmosphere of love and non-violence.

I have one sister. Growing up it was always instilled in us that my sister was my best friend and family was most important thing, and we were to be there for each other. There was never any sibling rivalry or jealousy. My childhood was not ideal but jealousy was never an issue.

My boys are 2.5 years apart. Sure they have their tussles but they are friends. If you don't tolerate bullying and meanness, and if you're not bullies yourselves, and have harmony in the household, your kids will get along.
posted by Fairchild at 5:21 AM on August 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have an older brother. We fought constantly when we were children. Now we live in different countries and only meet once every 2-3 years or so. When we meet, I'm struck with how completely different we are (temperament, personality, personal priorities....). He is definitely not the type of person I would seek out if I were looking to make friends. On the other hand, I don't actually know my adult brother very well (maybe things would be different if we lived in closer proximity?).

That said, there are times when I really appreciate having my brother: When I was a kid and my parents did crazy things (like cheating and yelling at each other), it was a huge relief not having to deal with that entirely alone. Also, after my parents pass away, he will basically my only "real" relative in the old country.
posted by yonglin at 5:35 AM on August 22, 2014

My brother is my best friend. I'm very glad my parents chose to have two kids, even though they both had not-great relationships with their respective siblings.

My mom grew up with a brother and always felt that he was favored and coddled, so her approach to parenting my brother and me was always to be proactive in ensuring that we were treated equally. I guess that sounds like silly advice in the abstract because every parent knows you have to treat your kids equally, but I think in practice it was important, especially because of a natural tendency to treat daughters and sons differently.
posted by telegraph at 5:36 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think a question like this will inherently attract more biased answers, because people have a story to tell. I would say that in my own life, a strong majority of people have sibling relationships that are a net positive, and this includes some of the siblings sets with disabilities.

Looking at published studies, most of the good stuff is paywalled for me right now, but I found some evidence that adults who have siblings have stronger ties with relatives, suggesting a net positive for siblings on family relationships.
posted by fermezporte at 5:38 AM on August 22, 2014

I think siblings are hugely important. I have two sisters, and they are the people I love most in the world. Your husband's experience was not the norm. I don't know why their dynamic developed as it did, but in a lot of those cases it might be from uneven treatment by the parents, or mental health issues. In general, siblings are your first friends, someone to unite with against parents, the only people who share your particular upbringing, who will understand years down the road, who you can reminisce with, who will be your support when you have no other family left. Siblings learn from one another, they socialize one another. Lots of studies have been done on the effect of being an only child, and many of the associated traits are negative. Onlies tend to be more self-centered and selfish. Having a sibling is the norm in our society and always has been. There are so many positives to having siblings; it seems foolish not to have another child out of the fear of an unlikely situation. I think your only real worry is if you (or really, your husband) will be able to treat both children equally and fairly. The fact that he is so concerned about it makes me think he could be one of the exceptions that these bad relationships evolve from.

But overall, siblings are a good thing! Foster a healthy relationship between your children and they will have someone who's always on their side when worst comes to worst. And in the early years, the effect it has on your son is going to be net positive, teaching him to share, that he is not the center of the universe, etc. Of course he may be jealous at first. That's normal, he'll get over it. They'll fight. That's normal, and lays a foundation for dealing with other people. In the long run, a sibling will broaden his experience and enrich his life.
posted by catatethebird at 5:44 AM on August 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

You seem to be looking for some "thing" you can do to make sure that siblings will like each other. I'm not really sure there is one magical thing that will guarantee it.

There is a 4.5 year age gap between my and my brother, I remember his birth and I remember being severely meh about the whole brother idea. The first photos of me and him together consist of a series 1st photo he is put on my lap by my loving mum for me to hold, 2nd photo my face clearly showing an expression of WTF is this, 3rd photo me pushing new born brother onto the floor in disgust. Basically I resented him from the get go, nothing my parents could have done would have changed this. I didn't torment him, I pretty much just ignored him for pretty much the next 20 years. For the next 20 years, as adults, we got along much better, we had nothing in common, but had each others backs and would talk at family events, I'd watch his kids, he'd help me move that kind of thing. Then he turned 40 had a midlife crisis got onto drugs, and I am back to ignoring him again for a lot of very complicated reasons.

You are going to get yourselves into a mess trying to decide the perfect time/sibling combo whatever to have. Like anything to do with having kids a lot of it is just a roll of the genetic dice and then hopefully educated muddling to make it all work out in the end.
posted by wwax at 5:44 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm the oldest of three girls. My first younger sister was born when I was 3.3 yrs old. I think my mother had me well-prepared: she had a lot of friends with babies and made sure that I appreciated them and treated them kindly. I adored both of my sisters and sibling rivalry was never an issue. I'm very close to the first sister, the second is heavily into religion and we're not close.

I have three sons. The first 2 are exactly three years apart, the youngest is 2.75 years younger than his brother. They always got along- although they did rough-house a bit- and now as adults they are very supportive of each other. They, like my sisters and I, have great differences of personality.

One of my sons has two daughters (2 and almost 5) who are 2.75 years apart. They enjoy playing together. Each girl gets to spend some time alone with each parent, and I think that's very important.
posted by mareli at 5:51 AM on August 22, 2014

I agree with fermezporte that you're probably going to get a lot of polarized answers, so I guess my answer is that having a sibling can be good sometimes and bad other times.

I have one sister and we're 5 years apart. Growing up we would fight with each other a fair amount but never anything terrible. We aren't super close and we don't share a ton of interests but overall I think we'd both say we're glad to have each other around. Apparently when my sister was born, my grandmother asked me if I was excited about the new baby and I said "no" but things have improved over the years! I think that we get along better now with a bit of age and distance (we don't live in the same state anymore).

In general I would say it's important to make sure each child has their own identity. I know it was hard for my sister sometimes growing up because teachers etc know her as "ferret's sister" so she could feel like that was her main identity. It was a real highlight when someone she knew first would meet me and refer to me as "ferret's sister's sister."

For what it's worth some of the only children I know wish they had siblings, because they don't have anyone to share experiences/responsibilities with in the way that those of us with siblings do.
posted by ferret branca at 5:54 AM on August 22, 2014

Buddy of mine had an older brother growing up that was, well, a sonofabitch to him. Daily battery, constant verbal abuse.

He still wound up having *two* kids, on purpose.
posted by notsnot at 6:04 AM on August 22, 2014

(long anecdote is long)

I have an older brother and younger sister (both within 2 years of me). As adults, we are friendly towards each other! Unfortunately I... don't get to see them all that much, mostly because they are in extremely low contact with our narcissist mom.

Growing up, however, was a nightmare. See, we weren't allowed to socialize outside of school-- no visiting friends or having friends over. Our mom was (and still is) one of those "everyone is out to get us, people are horrible, screw them all" types and, um, pretty much locked us up when we weren't at school. And when you're stuck at home with siblings who are constantly harassing you and you don't really have any personal space to retreat to, it kind of makes you crazy. My sister is an extrovert and was so starved for socializing that she kept talking our heads off and bothering us for attention, and my brother was getting shit from his classmates because I was his "ugly fat sister" so he took up micromanaging everything I ate/drank because he thought it would make me skinny and other people would like/stop bullying him, and would hit and yell at me if I did something he didn't like.* (I can't say I was any better, as I definitely recall having meltdowns and lashing out at them because I was already suffering from depression and just could not take anymore.)

It took my leaving to live with my mother (which I now regret) to make us realize just how EXTREMELY messed up the whole situation was-- being socially isolated to that extreme, and how we (didn't) cope with it.

I don't have much contact with my sister because she's often away doing... something (usually partying) but I do play World of Warcraft with my brother-- partially because he's TERRIBLE at answering the phone/TXTs and this is the only consistent method of contacting him, but mostly because this lets us get to know each others as individuals first because, well, when you're in survival mode as we were as kids, there wasn't a whole lot of "getting acquainted" and "bonding" going on in favor of "how do I keep them from making me crazy." All childhood baggage is left at the login screen. It might seem a bit strange to outsiders that we treat each other more as online gamer buddies than siblings, but it's a hell of a lot less awkward than before when we were stuck in guilt-laden "do we even want to try to patch things up/do they even want me in their lives anymore after everything that's happened" limbo.

* It's amazing my brother didn't give me an eating disorder, now that I think about it. He is VERY remorseful and repentant about what he did and I have since forgiven him for it.
posted by Yoshi Ayarane at 6:11 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a middle child: my brother is 18 months older than I am, my sister is 2 years younger. My sister and I shared a room as children. We had the usual little-kid spats, but there was always somebody to play with, and always somebody to tease if you felt like it, and mostly it was pretty great. Now I'm 29, and my brother lives less than two miles away and often brings his daughter for a run to our house just to say hi. My sister's out of state for her husband's job but we're hoping there's a house for sale nearby when her husband's time in the military is done. Said sister and I are very close and text daily, and talk on the phone regularly. They are both an important part of my life.

I agree with an above poster about a sibling being a person who really gets your family dynamic.

My husband is also a middle child, with a similar age spread, but has less fond memories. His two sisters were both highly dramatic children, and he remembers being counted on to "be the good kid" who gave up what he wanted/gave in to keep his sisters happy. As adults, his relationship with them is okay, but not great. The dynamic in their family of origin isn't great, and he's working on setting healthy boundaries with his parents, and we occasionally hear crap about that from his sisters because they still want him to fall in line and keep everyone happy, because that's what he was trained to do. Overall, we see his sisters when it's convenient but don't go out of our way to spend lots of time with them.

I have two daughters: a kid we're in the process of adopting from foster care (placed with us as an infant), and a biological kid; they are now 14 months and 2.5 years. A few weeks ago we moved the baby into the toddler's room to get them used to it for an upcoming vacation, and they wake up and shriek with joy at being together. They constantly check to see where the other is. When the older one finds something awesome, she rushes to show her sister before anyone else. As much fun as the older one was by herself, it is even more awesome to see her with the younger one. We fully expect that there will be nonsense and sibling rivalry and two teenage girls at the same time, but right now we are thrilled with both of them and they're thrilled with each other.
posted by SeedStitch at 6:17 AM on August 22, 2014

My first point is going to sound trite - but I'm serious about it. The alternative outcome, in your husband's life, is that he had never been born.

I think it's important to take your husband's fears seriously. He's probably not only concerned for your second born, he's worried about watching your first born become an unlikable asshole.

My suggestion is that your husband take his concern to an expert: his older brother. The question for the brother is: how can I avoid having the same scenario play out? What could mom and dad have done differently?"

This will either go well or terribly. Your husband may find some healing. The brother might have an epiphany, or provide some real answers.

It's almost better if it goes badly. If his brother is still an asshole, your husband will hopefully walk away thinking "He's such an asshole! I could never raise my kids to be such assholes. I've got nothing to worry about."

Right now, he's still being bullied by his brother. The bullying has him fearful and deforming his own family life. It'll continue to grip him whether you have a second child or not. He needs to confront his fear by inviting his brother into a conversation about his dilemma. (He DOES NOT need to confront his brother - that would be an unproductive pop psychology approach. I'm suggesting he invite his brother to help problem solve with him.)
posted by vitabellosi at 6:21 AM on August 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

People aren't predictable. Your future kid could be like anything and his or her relationships with your current kid or y'all are not possible to predict.

My brother and I have no relationship. I have no idea why. There are hundreds of thousands of reasons, I am sure. I love him and have no memories of anything bad but I don't know his view and I don't know why he doesn't want anything to do with our family. It just is.

The question you're asking, respectfully, is not the right question. You're trying to read tea leaves here. These things cannot be predicted, not at this level, anyhow. You do the standard stuff, you love your kids, you all practice communicating and being accepting and loving and appreciative of one another as a family and you see where the chips fall with respect to dynamics and relationships.

Best of luck to you.
posted by sockermom at 6:23 AM on August 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh I also want to add that even though my brother is not part of my life, I love him and care for him and want to have a relationship with him. I wouldn't trade him for the world even though he isn't interested in being in my life at all. In fact, I wish I had more siblings, both for selfish reasons and because maybe someone else would understand and "get" him better than I.
posted by sockermom at 6:28 AM on August 22, 2014

My brother and I are irish twins, and quite frankly, he's awesome. Although, age 12-15 we were absolute shits to each other for no good reason... College was the first time we didn't spend all of our time around each other, and we became extremely close. These days we travel together to hike, mountaineer and ski, and it's amazing to have someone you so completely trust in the backcountry. I know that he would move heaven and earth for me if something went wrong, and I would do the same for him. I know when he's being pushed to his limits, and he's aware of mine- the innate cooperation forged over many many years really is kind of awesome.

As small children, it was always awesome to have someone around, as adults we still live in the same city and talk/im/text/hangout very regularly. It helps that our personalities mesh really well, and that our skills compliment each other very well- I know when he's going to do something insane/forget something/wander off because oooh pretty and get him back on track, he reminds me to loosen up a little and to stop panicking.

Our mom did make a very concerted effort to ensure we got along when we were small- she never had a sibiling, and my father's sibiling relationship was fraught with jealousy/angst/whatever. She also made a point of treating us so equally that I remember in middle school being devastated when I realized my book smarts would get me through school easier than my brother's creative problem solving.

If I were to have children, I'd want to have them in even numbers- I always feel like kids with odd numbered siblings had too much of a chance of ganging up/it didn't seem fair. (I'm currently leaning towards the non kid route, and am hoping the brother has a passle of kids that I can dote on)
posted by larthegreat at 6:33 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

@Omnomnom is right: Go read the book Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Bottom line - never mis-label your kids as "the pretty one" or "the smart one" etc. (They can BOTH be pretty and smart, obviously.) Beware ever comparing them. Try to love them each uniquely, but not necessarily equally - by that, the authors mean we parents often get hung up on this false notion that "everything has to be 50/50" like "Well, since we just spent $X for DC1's soccer shoes, now we have spend $X on something for DC2 because: fairness or something??" No. Anyway, it's really a great, easy read, and has a ton of spot-on answers to your question.

My own anecdata: I'm an only child (and I LOVED it and would recommend just having one child if anyone is so inclined!!); DH has a 3yrs 1mo younger brother with whom he has not been on speaking terms since 2009 (and um, yes they had a shitty, chaotic childhood with parents who made the nearly-always-bad choice of "staying together for the kids" for 19 years whilst fighting in front of them on a daily basis, then finally divorced...)

Today DH and I have a son and daughter who are 23 months apart and are little super BFF's (for the moment) at ages 6.5 and 4.5. All the adults in their lives comment on how amazingly well they get along. Which feels great BTW. Sure they squabble occasionally, but they always seem to talk it out and make up. They prefer to share a room at night even though they each have their own bedroom. It is adorbs. I'll also note that DH and I both read Siblings Without Rivalry when we were expecting our oldest child, and have raised them according to most of the suggestions therein. Good luck!
posted by hush at 6:34 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe you can consider the character of your child now. And also consider whether you are indulging him as an only child or whether you are already training him to be an older sibling. We have an only child. I'd be kidding myself to say she isn't indulged but I do go out of my way to try to keep it under control. I sometimes disappoint her for no good reason! "Can I have....!?" No, you can't. Tears and disappoint commence, I work with her to get through it. I make sure she has lots of playdates and she learns how to share and how to be generous. I don't think we'll have a second kid but I really don't want her to be an "asshole singleton" either.

She's never asked for a sibling but I actually think she'd be a fantastic older sister. I had a terrible relationship with my 6-years-older brother. He was a bully, physically and mentally abusive. The thing is, when my mom talks about his character before I was born, dude was always a weird kid. Honestly, if he was growing up today, he probably would be medicated. I have an 8-years-younger brother and while I was not always a model sister, I did not turn around a mirror my other sibling relationship with my younger brother because that's not me. He and I aren't that close but he certainly did not grow up fearing me or being terrorized by me.

So, I think for clues on how the sibling relationship might go, look closely at the child in front of you. How much does he care for animals, bugs, smaller children? Is he a little Napoleon with you two or does he have clear limits. Do you feel like the way you treat him would have to change markedly if you had a younger child? If so, start pretending you have more children and make those limits now. Your child is the center of your heart, your world, but that doesn't mean that you can't focus on building a character that accepts the world does not revolve around him. (Not saying you do this.)

My husband had a great relationship with his younger sister. But he has an empathetic, sensitive character. It would be very unusual for him to be cruel. Best of luck in making this decision. It's a tough one!
posted by amanda at 6:42 AM on August 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

Most of the bases have been covered already, but keep in mind that your kids' lives are not just their childhoods. Personally I'm very grateful to have a sibling who will be able to share the load with me when my parents get too old to take care of themselves, and to be my family after they die.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:51 AM on August 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

I grew up with poor relationships with my siblings. My parents did not have great relationships with their siblings. I don't think this is a sibling thing, but a parent thing. My mom put us all in "roles" and would compare each of us to the others in front of our faces. She was open about insulting or praising the other siblings in front of us. It led to a lot of resentment amongst each other--now that we're older and able to process our childhood we get along a lot better because we understand it was her behavior, not each other, that was the problem.

However, she was just repeating the parenting technique her parents employed. Her dad did the same thing with all of his children, and it's resulted in bad feelings all around among the children who have not been able to break out of that negative thinking he imposed on them.

I think sibling rivalry arises when parents consciously or subconsciously treat their children differently and siblings aren't encouraged to cooperate with one another. It's really important parents be aware of their own behavior--my mom would never believe she treated any of us differently, but she'll complain bitterly about how she and her own siblings were treated differently by her father!

Anyway, the friends I have who get along best with their brothers and sisters were in families that were very open and loving with parents who nurtured all of their kids equally. Perhaps you and your husband could sit down and talk about the differences between both of your parents. You may start finding the roots of his bitter relationship was not his brother, but his parents' behavior.
posted by schroedinger at 6:52 AM on August 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I have two siblings, and two very different relationships with them. (To sum up, my brother=nope. My sister=yay!) Since my husband and I are expecting our first kid early next year, we've been talking a lot to my folks about parenting and what they learned from their experiences with us, etc. And hilariously, my mom came out with a lot of thoughts about what she would've done differently with my brother, the first-born, including better prep for coming siblings.

So I'm biased, because of my own variable, contentious (and wonderful!) sibling relationships, but one thing I'd suggest, if you guys are comfortable with it, would be to talk to your husband's parents specifically about this, about how THEY saw the relationship between their sons, and whether or not they would do anything different if they did it over again. Sure, hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but if they learned anything from it, it might help you out.
posted by pepper bird at 6:57 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dad of a 3.5-year-old and 7-month-old here. I also have two sisters (one 3 years older, one 7 younger) and my wife has 2 brothers (3 and 6 years older).

Our kids are amazing together so far. They are both generally cheerful little people, though, and I know things will change as they grow up and start encroaching on each other's space and stuff more, but we couldn't have asked for an easier transition from one to two. We didn't really do anything specific to prep Elder for Younger's birth except talk about how he was going to have a sister and some of the logistical changes that implied around the house. We make a pretty solid effort to give him one-on-one time when we can so he doesn't feel too squeezed out.

As for our experiences growing up, there were plenty of frustrations and conflicts and discord, but we had generally positive experiences and are varying levels of close to our sibs. My wife more so than I. I have no idea what our folks did or didn't do to create the relationships we have. I honestly think a lot of it is down to the kids' personalities, some of which is just out of your conscious control.
posted by that's candlepin at 7:01 AM on August 22, 2014

My brother (younger by four years) is one of my favorite people in the universe. We squabbled growing up, and I remember feeling so angry at him at various points that I'd have distressingly violent images of choking him pop into my head, but I think that's kind of how I started to learn about working through relationships even when I was upset at someone. It's probably a bit too easy to just walk out of a playdate if your friend messes up your toys; with a sibling, you've got to keep seeing them and keep interacting with them so you better learn some conflict-resolution skills (which, of course, parents need to teach!).

My parents, especially my mother, were really good at not comparing my brother and me and at encouraging each of us to develop our own strengths and own personalities. I do think my brother felt more rivalry with me than I did with him, at least during adolescence, because I did really well at school. My parents never did stupid things like calling me the "smart one," though. My mom, probably not even as a conscious tactic, would tell stories about how different we were as babies/toddlers in ways that made both of us sound interesting and funny and smart (and sometimes stubborn -- it's a family trait), which I think helped us appreciate that all sorts of different personality traits and strengths were to be valued, and that no one family member was the "right" kind of person.

I think it also helped that we had dinner together as a family most nights, so we all got to know each other pretty well and developed a repertoire of inside jokes as a family unit.

So I would say that a parental approach that emphasizes family unity but encourages child-driven sibling differentiation (that is, encouraging the traits they have without shoving them into not-allowed-to-overlap roles like "The smart one," "The athletic one," "The pretty one") is important.
posted by jaguar at 7:24 AM on August 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

As said above, it's a crapshoot. My oldest was so awful to his little sister (and often still is, even though he's 14 now) that it had horrible effects on our family. Taking them anywhere together made everyone miserable; just eating dinner together was something we came to dread every night since it required so much management to keep anyone from crying/ screaming. And we tried a million different things, most of which didn't help. (A few did a little bit, but they're not relevant to families with anything resembling a normal dynamic so memail me if you're interested.)

This led to my husband and I getting much less time together, since we often had to split up to spend time with each kid separately. Until they got older and started spending time alone, it was exhausting and kept us from getting to enjoy our marriage until they were both in bed, when we were too tired to reconnect well.

This is an extreme negative example, and I know of a lot of examples where siblings got along great in childhood and adulthood, and who entertained each other as children so their parents had LESS work. But you can't guess what will happen, and sometimes can barely mitigate it.
posted by metasarah at 7:30 AM on August 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

wow, so much sadness in this thread. My brother and I (3.5 years apart) squabbled as kids but were also close, and he remains an important ally in my life, really the only person who Gets that part of me that was formed in our odd little family growing up. My girls (3.5 years apart) are best friends and I think will always be deeply attached to each other. My husband, while not close with his siblings, has been a source of support and help to them and he enjoys family gatherings.

We do work hard to support my girls' relationship in all kinds of ways. For example, we don't host playdates with girls who aren't interested in playing all together; and when my second was born I always used the term "we" - like "we need to get the baby's bottle now" - instead of "I" - to embed that we were all a family together, rather than that I was assigning attention elsewhere. I do think there's a luck aspect to having your kids love each other, but there are also subtle ways to improve the odds.

We had a second kid because I wanted a second but also because I wanted my girl to have an ally in the world, and so far so good.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:39 AM on August 22, 2014

Came in to suggest Siblings Without Rivalry. Reading it as an adult helped me see how my parents contributed to feelings of jealousy between my sister and I by doing things they thought would stop us from feeling jealous.

It doesn't help that my sister and I are five years apart, though, which I feel is stretching it a wee bit in age differences. She wanted to be an authority figure. I wanted a peer. The age difference was such that neither model really worked. I hope to space my kids between 3 and 4 years apart, personally, but we'll see.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:45 AM on August 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am an only child, but am very close friends with two different families with different - but not negative - dynamics, so let me throw a few things in here with that in mind...

My own experience as an only child: I'm a bit of a loner and a bookworm, but as a child after the age at which all of my neighbors started going to a different school (and I suddenly became an outsider rather than the ringleader) it also became somewhat lonely. I do feel that not having a sibling contributed vastly to my ability to find fun things to do on my own and to really enjoy learning, since I had the freedom to do and study what I wanted most of the time rather than having to share the computer/living room/anything at all.

Now, as far as the two families I know very well. The first is a pair of brothers, while the second is a pair of sisters. The age difference is three and four years, respectively. I can only answer question 1, since I met both of these people in young adulthood (age 16-17).

The brothers have always had a sibling rivalry thing going on, but they didn't have to compete for affection or attention from the parents, and often turned to each other for amusement. They weren't exactly best friends forever, but there has always been a very strong "blood bond" mentality in that family which was explained to them in no uncertain terms from a very young age, and both have mentioned to me that that played a large part in their loyalty to one another over the years. Sometimes they had really vicious fights, but in the end they always stood up for one another.

The sisters still live together, and in many ways the younger remains the baby of the family. The older sister (my close friend) is the one who has really jumped into adult life, whereas the younger sister has always relied on her parents or the older sister to help her with just about anything from cooking to job searching. She isn't incompetent - she's just lazy and knows that if she lets something that needs to be done go undone long enough, the older sister will take care of it for her. They do aggravate each other on a pretty regular basis, but both were raised with a "family means you love each other no matter what" mentality, which the older sister (my close friend) has said has kept their fights short enough to avoid damaging their relationship. The whole family has a sort of passive-aggressive-antagonistic humor thing going on that would drive me absolutely nuts, but it seems to work for them.

So maybe I can give some small insight into something parents can do to create good sibling relationships, based on what the two above have in common: Having explicitly-stated family values that these are the people who will support you throughout your life. Obviously I'm drawing from a pretty small pool here, but that seems to be a theme in more-or-less-positive relationships I've seen elsewhere too.
posted by Urban Winter at 7:46 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Obviously anecdotal, but my experience with having a younger sister was definitely positive on the whole. Of course we fought sometimes and had our issues, but it's hard to imagine growing up without her -- among other things, it is awesome to have someone else who TOTALLY GETS IT when you complain about crazy things your parents are doing. (My parents are great, but everyone's parents drive them nuts from time to time and I love having someone who is on my team and knows what I'm talking about like no one else can.)

I also have to say, as my parents are getting older and moving into retirement, it is great to know I will not have to shoulder the entire burden of their care on myself. I feel like I would be much more overwhelmed without someone else to talk things over and figure out the logistics of what we will do when they can no longer fully care for themselves. I think that has been a huge source of comfort and support for my parents as as well, when their parents had serious medical issues/needed expensive and sometimes full-time care/passed away (both have good sibling relationships). Of course this is a very long way off for you, but just something to consider. I feel like similarly-aged friends of mine who were only children really stress about being the only point of support (both financial and emotional) for their parents.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:56 AM on August 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

My anecdotes: I'm the oldest of three (one biological brother 3 years younger than me, one adopted sister 10 years younger than me). We all get along well enough, but we're not exactly close. My brother and I were friends growing up, and our big fight was in those mock battles kids have, pitting Ghost Busters versus Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Our squabble was over force fields, and if you could shoot out of them but not in through them at that same moment. At least, that's the only one we remember. When my sister joined our family, my brother and I were well on into our own lives and spending time with our own friends, so we're all friendly enough, just not close friends at this point in our lives.

My wife is the second of four daughters. There were physical battles and verbal spats growing up, but now the sisters are all close, in part because their family moved a lot, and the only people who were always there were the immediate family.

I think if you and your husband can reflect on what you both enjoyed and didn't like growing up, both as children and how your parents dealt with issues, you won't be recreating your childhoods for your own children. And every kid is different, so you will never get an exact repeat of your childhood with your kids, even if you do everything exactly like your parents did with/for you.

I know a number of single kids, both growing up and now as an adult, who said they would have preferred to have a sibling, even when they see siblings fight. Being an only kid can be a rather solitary experience, even with friends and activities.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:49 AM on August 22, 2014

My mom found being an only child incredibly lonely, and my dad found being an only surviving child (little brother died in pre-school) a lot of parental focus and pressure. They therefore very deliberately chose to have two kids, and we fought, sure, but we were always on the others' team. In our 40s we can't stop talking about how great it is that we live in the same town again.
posted by ldthomps at 9:17 AM on August 22, 2014

I think about how lucky I am to have my brother all the time. We had a tough childhood in some ways (that I won't get into here), and it's good to know somebody who knows that part of my life as well as I do. We weren't the kind of kids who talked about what was going on, but now that we're adults we can when we need to.

I have one child right now and I think about whether or not to have another. Usually, I think it's a good idea, but this thread is kind of freaking me out.
posted by smirkyfodder at 9:18 AM on August 22, 2014

I am female and had one sister 2.5 years younger than me. Very different personalities. S. and I played together at home sometimes, but outside, we had different friends and did different things with our time. As we got older, S. became more and more hostile to me. A friend surprised me recently by remembering an occasion when she met S., and S. was openly rude to me in front of her. I hadn't even remembered it because it was basically how S. showed the world she did not need me. She did this a lot, in front of her friends, even during my parents' deaths and funerals, and yet if we were alone she wouldn't acknowledge it and seemingly expected me to take it in stride.

She died last year and while I occasionally have odd moments of hearing news and thinking "Oh, I must tell S. that" and then remembering I can't, it's not as if my world was shaken.

Among my friends there's a huge range of experiences with siblings, just as in this thread. Some had siblings who undermined them from day one, others feel that their siblings had their back and can't imagine how it could be any other way.

As people say, even if you're fair to both, it's a crapshoot on personality types and temperaments. And some younger siblings simply cannot stand having an older sibling who apparently knows everything (the basic fact of my experience, I think).
posted by zadcat at 9:22 AM on August 22, 2014

I'm an only child. I'm close to my parents and there are positive things about it, but the prospect of being their sole support as they age is extremely stressful and I miss not having people who shared my experience of childhood and family. If I have children I intend to try very hard to give them siblings.
posted by animalrainbow at 9:24 AM on August 22, 2014

I haven't read all the responses, but here's my experience:

I'm the oldest of four kids. My younger sister and I were 4 years apart. From my perspective, we had a great relationship and were key supports for each other through our parents' divorce. From my sister's perspective (which I learned after growing up), these things were somewhat true, but she also felt I was critical, bossy, and overbearing. We're not terribly close as adults.

My younger brothers were 2 years apart, and their relationship was very competitive and likely borderline abusive to my youngest brother.

My husband (second of 4 boys), was mercilessly harrassed and physically intimidated by his older brother. They made their peace later in life. The two younger brothers (5 years apart) have always been great friends.

I think this is ultimately a big crapshoot, and it depends on the personalities of the kids involved (whether they are more or less likely to feel competitive or cooperative), the availability of resources, and the parents.

FWIW, we chose to only have one child. Now 11, she thinks she is better off than her friends who have to deal with siblings.
posted by jeoc at 9:29 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've watched my partner and his brothers, three of whom are quite close in age and all of whom had really terrible parenting. The various pairings of brothers seem to have such different relationships, some great and some terrible, and I have no idea why. The terrible parenting may have caused some of it but clearly some of them got past it and some of them didn't, and I can't chalk that up to anything but individual temperaments and combinations thereof. I don't think there's much you can control in advance here, though you can certainly be alert to the sibling bond or lack thereof and prepared to see and stop bullying.

For what my perspective is worth as someone who did 8 years of only-child-ness and then had a sister - I was not lonely as a child, I did not long for siblings, I would have been perfectly happy as an only child. I loved my sister when she came along, of course, and although we're not terribly close partly due to the age gap, we are fond of each other and supportive. It's a good relationship. But I think I would also have been a happy only child forever, in some ways happier, in some ways less happy.

I think this probably should not be what tips the balance against a second child, if otherwise all signs point to wanting that child.
posted by Stacey at 9:32 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Huh. Society is biased against only children - we blame childhood loneliness on birth order, when really there are so many other variables at play, too.

I'm so very glad I have no siblings. I was never a lonely loner who felt alone. My parents knew they could not afford to have more than one child, and instead saved their money, insured themselves properly, and therefore don't need to burden/guilt/cajole/persuade multiple adult children to supposedly take care of them. If they ever do need my input on their care, then I'm glad to do it, and I feel lucky I'll get to follow their decisions without having to argue with some religious pro-lifer sibling who refuses to abide by parents' expressed wishes. (Hello, my father's 11 siblings when his mother was dying. Only one sister out of 12 kids lifted a finger to take care of her, the rest undermined her.)
posted by hush at 9:35 AM on August 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

I have one sister that is 2.25 years younger than me (also female). We were very different and did not get along growing up. She was borderline abusive to me at times. As adults, we're not super close, but we have a relationship. We've found we have more in common than we realized and we've bonded over the weirdness of our family. Even though our relationship has been dicey, I would much rather have a sister than not.
posted by disaster77 at 9:43 AM on August 22, 2014

I have two brothers and they are huge parts of my life, very important to me. I love them so much and I am very glad to have them. They are such different people, and at times, it's been so valuable for me to have each one of them for moral support, or just to share something special with that no one else will get.

I do think it's a personality thing. My parents are pretty awesome and my brothers happen to be quite competitive, there was a lot of sibling rivalry growing up and I don't think it was my parents' fault, that was just the way they were. Our relationships have changed much over the years. Myself and my next youngest brother shared a room and became a team against the interloper, the new baby. Spent the first few years ganging up on him together. After that, the rivalry between the boys took over, and I generally stayed out of it except sometimes stepping in to try to protect the youngest, since he is more sensitive, and the older brother was the instigator. That stage lasted a REALLY long time, maybe 10 years and then 5 more years where there were milder symptoms of it. After that, the older brother really grew up and chilled out, stopped being an instigator, and now he and my younger brother are extremely close and in fact, I would say they are best friends.

Some things that contributed to our positive relationship were: my parents trying to treat us all equally, us getting to spend a lot of time together during school-age years, having a lot of adventures together (both shared joy and shared adversity).

I think the other main factor you can look at is how your child does with other kids. My daughter is an extrovert and LOVES other children. She is rarely happier than when she is interacting with others. When she sees babies her face lights up and she shouts "baby! baby!" with glee. I have no reservations whatsoever in having a second child (we're expecting later this year) because I am already certain she will be fantastic with him.

In addition, my husband and another person I dated long term both have two siblings - one with severe special needs and one neurotypical sibling. In both cases, they are extremely close with the neurotypical sibling, and I think their experience having a special needs sibling was an extremely positive thing in their lives that made them particularly caring, tolerant, and mature. Being as intertwined as I have been with their families I don't want to romanticize the experience of a special needs child in the family, which of course there are some very challenging things about, but in terms of impact on siblings, I don't see that as something to fear.

I would say that of close friends I know who have a same sex sibling, their frequency of having that same sex sibling be their best man or maid of honor in their wedding (and all that implies about the closeness and intimacy of their relationship) has been nearly 1:1. I don't have a same sex sibling, but in retrospect… I kinda wish I had bucked tradition and made my brothers my 'maids of honor'. It would have reflected better their positions in my life.

Best of luck with this decision. Whatever you choose, I suspect it will be the right thing for your family.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:15 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just want to mention that, as an only child, I find so many of the prevalent stereotypes of only children as selfish, maladjusted, etc. extremely offensive. Most of us are perfectly kind and well-adjusted people. One thing most of us have in common is that we are self-sufficient and know how to amuse ourselves. I will also tell you that, while caring for elderly parents is hard, siblings don't always help, and in some cases complicate care immensely. Though I had no help with my dad, I had no hindrance either, nor any fights over inheritance. So if you decide on "one and done" don't worry that you are raising a freak or that elder care will be an ordeal.

My dad and his sibling (older brother) cordially disliked one another and rarely ever spoke. My mom and her sibling (brother, younger by 12 years) were very close, and I adored my uncle. One fly in that ointment was that my mom took on all the care of their elderly mother, with my uncle barely lifting a finger. Studies show this is the norm, rather than the exception. But it doesn't have to be this way (as many male MeFites who care for their parents can tell you)! If your second child is a girl, make sure you show them (by actions, not just words) that caregiving is an equal-opportunity job, and that, just like a daughter, a son is a son all of his life, too.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:26 AM on August 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

In my mid-twenties, I can already tell how rare and significant enduring friendships are. So few people will know you thorough childhood goofiness, adolescent identity-construction, AND adult stability-or-whatever, let alone be there to trade jokes and hobbies and stories from all of those stretches. I'm super lucky -- both my sister (who happens to have special needs) and brother have become just those kinds of long-term, enduring friends. We have all kinds of jokes (mostly bathroom or dog-related), hobbies (board games), and rituals (mostly food-related) that we share, and we trust one another. I don't think it's a given that siblings will be that for one another -- obviously your husband's experience and many anecdata above shows how hard it can be, and how personalities and experiences can randomly preclude that.

But, and I think this is the key part, a sibling CAN be that person. And that's wonderful! You can't control both of your kids' personalities, but you can give them the opportunity to grow and laugh and support each other through old age.

I think trying to make this decision statistically (x % of siblings will be net positive) or qualitatively (sibling will increase a, b, and c, but decrease e, f, and g) is impossible, because you don't get to create a sample size of n = 500 (presumably). So why not go with the logic of possibility - having a kid makes it possible for your kids to be sincere sibling-friends; and there's no possibility for sincere siblings-friends if you don't have another kid.

Good luck!
posted by elephantsvanish at 10:46 AM on August 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Personally I'm very grateful to have a sibling who will be able to share the load with me when my parents get too old to take care of themselves, and to be my family after they die.

THIS. A while back I got cancer (I'm fine now) and my kids just banded together: you drive her to appointments, you make tea, you buy a fluffy blanket, I'll do laundry, etc. They called my mom and sister and told them they had it covered.

Not only was I just so damned proud of them but I realized that when I die, they will always have each other. They won't ever have to go through high and low moments alone.

And if any of them have kids, their kids will have cousins, and cousins are awesome.
posted by kinetic at 10:55 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. Mine are 26 months apart (boy then girl). We went through a lot of discussion about whether or not to have two. I was fine with one, husband wanted two. I came around to the idea. Something about being older parents (had them in our late 30s) make me hope they could be support for each other after we were gone. We ended up with two completely different personalities -- quiet/shy/technical and outgoing/confident/creative. I couldn't imagine them getting along, but they do. Incredibly well.

Being tween/teen ages now mean they irritate each other a lot and claim how annoying the other one is. They do argue. But when they don't know we're watching, they connect. The outgoing daughter gives our shy son advice on handling the social scene. She reaches out to him for quiet strength when she gets frantic about something. They watch out for each other. I can easily picture their adult relationship as being strong. Of course, so much can happen between now and then. You can just hope.

I wanted the difference in age to be small. I thought that would help with sibling jealousy. I think it did when she was born. He was young enough to be only vaguely interested and didn't mind her at all. Of course, plenty of close-in-age siblings have problems too.

2. Parenting factors. Just my thoughts. My husband and I try to make time for all mixes of the family. So, we do things with the four of us. I do separate activities with daughter and other outings with my son. Same with my husband. We mix up the 2s and 3s combinations. It seems like when both kids have time with each parent, it's harder to feel...left out? We try to make those things happen naturally -- geared towards what each kid is interested in or what each parent is interested in. If my daughter wants "girl time" we go out together and shop or sit in a Starbucks and chat. If my son wants a run to the video game store, that's likely a Dad thing.

I have lovely memories of times with each of my parents as a kid (I'm one of 3 girls). We all got along fine, but there's something special about having a parent all to yourself occasionally. Maybe it's odd that it helps sibling relationships, but I think it does.
posted by bluemoonegg at 12:07 PM on August 22, 2014

I am an only child, and I always wished for a sibling. I was very lonely a lot of the time, and resolved that if I ever had kids, I would have more than one. Mr Joh has a younger brother (3 yrs apart) and they were buddies, fought a lot, overall a fairly middling relationship. They keep in touch and are friendly, and he feels that having a sibling enriched his life greatly. We now have two children - both boys, two years apart in age.

They play together a lot, sometimes they squabble and fight, sometimes they are mean to each other, often they are kind to each other. Overall I feel that they enrich each others lives in a positive way.

Now that my parents and Mr Joh's parents are getting much older, I am back to feeling the emptiness of not having a sibling. Having someone to share the burden of caring for older parents, as well as the emotional burden, is a lot for one person.
posted by Joh at 12:09 PM on August 22, 2014

I am the middle girl of five children, two older sisters and two younger brothers. I play well with others. We all love each other and get along well. There's about a 12 year span from oldest to youngest, the oldest two are 14 months apart and I came along about 5 years later and my brother came along about 14 months later with littlest bro coming along 5 years after first bro.

We're a big, noisy, yelling, no boundaries type family. I'm closest to my youngest brother (45 year old now) and my second sister but we all get along. My siblings would go to the end of the earth for me and I for them. We argue with one another, support each other, and gossip about each other.

Oldest sister is bossy, self-centered, yet quite generous; second sister is sweet, pretty, funny and can be mean as a snake; I'm smart, quiet, bookish and confrontational; oldest brother is super funny, handy, loyal and will kick anyone's ass if they mess with you; youngest brother is smart, creative and hard working. Growing up, my sisters were close and still are; my oldest brother and I were fairly close but we each had our own friends and didn't hang out together; my two brothers have alway been close.

Your siblings are the only people who know the story of your childhood. (Parents have a very different view.) My sister taught me how to put on a bra and wear makeup. They're the only ones who know I used to wet the bed. They're there for unfortunate hair and fashion choices. They're a buffer from a cruel world and comrades-in-arm against the parents.
posted by shoesietart at 12:21 PM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had three bumper to bumper. Now as adults they are good friends and depend on each other-but even as children they got along fine.

One thing I always did try to do is include the older one as much as possible both verbally and in action. I made a lot of "you are big brother now" (or big sister depending on the sibling) and did my best to make sure they knew they were important. But mine were so close maybe they were too little to be jealous?

One thing I suspect is maybe experiences are different if there are more than two siblings. I myself am an only child so I can't really relate in that sense. I don't particularly have any regrets in that direction for what that is worth.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:29 PM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a sister who's three years older than me. We fought a little bit as kids, but nothing terrible. We never really preferred to play with one another as kids, and today, as middle-aged adults, we still feel kind of awkward around each other. The fact is, we're just really different people, and different in a way that is not especially complementary.

Having said that, we still love each other and support each other when times have gotten rough!

I'm only having one child because I don't have resources to have more than one. Another reason (and I hate to do this because I know it's obnoxious) is this.
posted by bennett being thrown at 3:42 PM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, a lot to chew on here.

I realise that it's impossible to be able to know definitively what would happen if we had another kid, but just seeing the space of ways relationships can play out, and what kinds of things parents can do to help it, is really helpful. I also appreciate the recommendation for "Siblings without Rivalry" and realised upon seeing the rec that I actually already own it - I bought and read it about five years ago to help with grad students, then forgot about it! Anyway I read and discussed it last night with my husband. Very helpful and also reassuring that there are at least techniques and things that might help some of the difficult situations that could arise.

It does seem like whether siblings will be friends is largely a crapshoot, but there are things we can probably do to prevent their relationship from being absolutely horrible (bullying, hatred, etc). Finances are probably not an issue for us, and I think if we have a second kid we'll both be very careful to try not to compare them or force them into roles. Plus of course we're already thinking about how we can make it so everyone has one-on-one time, within the constraints of jobs and sleep and parent time etc.

I also appreciated the point that we really have to think about how our childhood experiences will affect our relationships with the kid(s) and each other. Definitely something we're trying to keep our eyes open about, and we'll discuss a lot.

So... thank you. This has all been very helpful and clarifying.
posted by forza at 10:01 PM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and several people suggested that I think about my son's temperament. The problem is, it's really hard to say. I have no idea how to read the tea-leaves of a 22-month-olds' behaviour.

On the possibly-would-like-a-sibling side:
- He is very nurturing towards his stuffed animals and dolly, and always carries them around and wants to feed them, put them to bed, etc.
- He is gentle with the cats. (Usually. He tries hard at least and is sad if they get scared and run away.)
- He has started showing interest in wanting to be friends and play with other children.
- He is pretty good about sharing as long as nobody tries to take the toy he is currently playing with. (i.e., won't try to take toys other children are currently playing with, understands that they can play with toys he is not playing with, etc)
- He is always very alert to the presence of, and comments on, babies that we see around when we go out.
- He is okay (for his age) at using words rather than violence to communicate anger or frustration.

On the possibly-this-would-be-a-bad-idea:
- He is pretty jealous of his "mommy" time, and used to lots of one-on-one attention from both parents. We are trying to get him to play more on his own, and he has a long attention span for doing things independently, but we still have to be in the room / there to talk to at a moment's notice etc.
- One of the things he likes doing with his animals and dolls is pretending to cut off their arms and legs, hitting them, etc.
- If somebody does take a toy or is on the slide when he wants it etc., his default is to hit rather than retreat. This is lessening a bit as he gets older but he is more on the aggressive end of temperaments I think. He rarely initiates but does not back down from what he perceives as aggression toward himself, and he will retaliate physically even if the child is much smaller or it was an accident. We are working a lot on this and I don't know how much is just age-appropriate; we haven't received complaints from daycare or anything about it being an ongoing issue.
- Even though he's alert to other babies, he never really wants to engage with them or anything.

I have no idea to what extent these traits at 22 months mean anything about possible traits at 3 years, or indeed whether they're indicative of anything at this age rather than traits all kids have. Those of you who have had kids this age, is any of this potentially meaningful at all?
posted by forza at 11:10 PM on August 22, 2014

Those of you who have had kids this age, is any of this potentially meaningful at all?

I think it's tough to predict temperaments when they're so young, because they change so much even from month to month. Anecdotally, friends of ours had a son who sounds a bit like-yours-but-even trickier-- sweet, but bombastic, violent and intensely possessive of mommy-- and his relationship with 3-years-younger baby sister was not-great for about the first year (resentment, roughness), but then turned around on a dime when he hit the age of 4 and is now very cordial and nurturing. So even a tricky mix of temperaments isn't necessarily a life sentence for the relationship.

Two isn't an age with much empathy or sense of social embeddedness, but those things may well be in place by the time he's three, and will certainly be there by 4. I'd say a lot of it will likely depend, as others have said, on how you and your husband frame it for your son. And luckily, that's something you get to keep working on on an ongoing basis as the kids themselves grow and change.
posted by Bardolph at 5:02 AM on August 23, 2014

We sometimes think of compassion and empathy as traits that someone has or doesn't have. Remember that they can (and should!) be taught. Dan Siegal's work tends to focus on how parenting can help develop children's minds/brains in ways that foster compassion, connectedness, and self-regulation.

You don't sound like the kind of parent who's just hoping to throw two kids together and hope it works out, but these resources might help you and your husband realize that there are practical things you can do to help your children develop the sort of respect and empathy for each other that you'd like them to have. Parenting from the Inside Out is a great place to start.
posted by jaguar at 9:13 AM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

And this: Husband is worried ... on behalf of our son, who he is afraid would be greatly and negatively affected by the change in routine and attention in ways that he wouldn't easily recover from.

Life brings a lot of change, and parents need to teach kids how to deal with change, not just shield them from it (though of course some shielding is appropriate!). Trauma-Proofing Your Kids: A Parents' Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience might be another good book to check out.
posted by jaguar at 9:19 AM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Examples of mythological creatures used to...   |   Should I take this job? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.