A Rival Arrival

A new sibling can start as a threat but end as a friend, writes Sarah Cameron.

Imagine your husband comes home from work one day with another woman. He introduces her to you and explains that she will be joining the family from this day forward. He goes on to advise that for the immediate future she will be receiving all of his attention and, furthermore, she will be noisy, selfish and demanding. It turns out that even though your husband will be unashamedly showering her with affection, she will make him short-tempered, tired and impatient.

According to a friend of mine, this is how a first child experiences the arrival of a new baby into the household. Horrifying, isn’t it? The sense of betrayal is mortifying. With this in mind, I have been contemplating a little brother or sister for my almost two-year-old.

Naturally, there are ample benefits that the arrival of a sibling would afford my son, not least of which would be gaining a much-wanted playmate. However, realistically, most of the advantages aren’t likely to become apparent until many months or even years into the future, and, as we know, toddlers live in the ‘right here, right now’.

I recall having a conversation with my mother when I was a child, demanding to know who was her favourite: me or my older sister. She was unyielding in her promise that she loved us equally and could never choose one over the other.

At the time, I was convinced that she was lying because my young mind’s logic couldn’t comprehend that anything existed without a firm hierarchy. It makes sense that when a new baby rides into town and receives all of the attention, an older sibling’s assumption is that there’s a fresh holder of the title of Favourite Child.

Once, as we watched our baby sleep, my husband asked me if I loved our son more every day, and he was surprised when I responded “No” without skipping a beat. The fact is, I explained, that I couldn’t love him any more than I did right at that very minute. But it seems, and my friends and family with multiple children attest to this, that this parental love is, or becomes, exponential. Do I love him even more now than I did that night standing by his cot? I didn’t think it was possible, but yes, I do.

My son and I are together pretty much 24 hours a day, with, of course, the odd hour off here and there for sleeping. Lack of babysitters and a spouse who regularly travels interstate have contributed to these circumstances, but really, it’s what I signed on for, and I’m generally very happy with the situation.

We’ve never been apart for more than a few hours – let alone the days that I would be absent during the hospital stay at the time of a second baby’s birth. And what about the subsequent weeks and months when this little newborn demands (and deserves) the constant and preferably undivided attention that was formerly granted to child number one?

My older sister is my closest friend; we have a bond that is unlike anything I have with my partner, my parents or my friends. This is not a case of a relationship pecking order but a simple fact about the completely unique link between siblings that, despite its modest and often competitive beginnings, creates one of the most important unions in life. The connection between those who share not only blood and genealogy but memories. No one can understand your life quite like someone who was there.

My firstborn took a while to conceive, so I figure there is time to work on repositioning this idea of ‘committing the greatest betrayal’ to ‘bestowing the greatest gift’. While that might sound like Hallmark-ese, I’m beginning to think it might just be true. And as a second child myself, I’m counting on it.

Illustration by David Procter