Monday, July 09, 2007

Big sisters, little sister

Over the past few days I have been reflecting on our family dynamic since the arrival of Little Cherub. Before Cherub was born I pictured a two-fold family dynamic with the older girls as a pair and Cherub as the adored baby (which indeed she is!). In fact, Angel's leap in maturity over the past year or so has turned things triangular, with all three at very distinct stages. Angel is an almost-teenager, very involved in outside activities; Star is still firmly in mid-childhood; and Little Cherub is an almost-toddler.

I am finding that this poses particular challenges I hadn't anticipated. (Ha! Isn't that always true of parenthood!) At the moment each of the girls needs individual attention to a greater degree than was the case when both Angel and Star were younger and spent a lot of time playing together. Now their interests are different, and they increasingly go to different places at different times (or worse, different places at the same time). While they can still be good companions for each other, the difference in maturity levels means there is also more conflict than there used to be. Star in particular is very needy of one-on-one time. Little Cherub, of course, gets lots of love and attention from her sisters, but will always in some respects be more like an only child. With no sibling close in age she has no real playmate, and will still be a child when her sisters are young adults. Once the two older girls go to school building in family time and finding activities that work for everyone is going to be a challenge, but one we need to meet if we want our family to be more than just a collection of individuals doing their own thing.

Another aspect of having a little one after a long gap that I had not anticipated is the way it constantly reminds me of Angel's and Star's younger days. Before Cherub, I was focused on the present, only noticing the stage they had reached at that time and forgetting what went before. Now I see reminders of their baby days, toddler years and young childhood at every turn. I look forward to doing things with Cherub all the more for being able to remember the fun of doing them with the older girls ... but then I miss those days! Somehow the past seems to impinge more on the present than it did before Cherub arrived, and it is easier to see the girls' childhood and adolescence as an organic whole. Being better able to see the toddler and young child in the older child or teenager can only be a good thing, I think, and is an unanticipated benefit of having a wider age spread in the family.

Of course, the problem with family dynamics is that they are constantly in a state of flux. I may feel I have got to grips with where we are now and the implications that has for the needs of each child, but next year it may all seem entirely different.


Faith said...

I just realized that I have boys the same age as your older two girls. I have a 12 yo and an 8 yo. But I think the age difference doesn't seem that great, mostly because they both love to play video games, tennis and frisbee so they still play together quite a bit. Girls do mature faster and so the age difference is more of an obstacle I think. But I know what you mean about trying to find something the whole family can enjoy across the ages. Read alouds used to work but now what holds the 5 year olds attention is no where near what holds the 16 year old's attention. So far the only thing that seems to really build that family spirit is when everybody is sitting around the table eating something sweet (usually ice cream) and being silly, telling jokes, and generally cutting up!

dorothy said...

Although I enjoy where my teenagers are right now, I find myself longing for grandchildren. Which is weird.

I don't suppose you have that! {g}


Anonymous said...

Maybe you should have a 4th child so Cherub can have a playmate closer to her age to grow up with. Ha ha. :-))


Karen E. said...

Oh, Kathryn,
I can relate to everything you said! The dynamics are constantly changing, although I would add that my middle one (age 11) is still little-girl enough to often be a really fun playmate to Ramona (almost-5).

And I completely understand about looking forward to doing things with the youngest, but at the same time missing those little girl days with the olders!

Alice Gunther said...

These observations are fascinating. I particularly understand what you mean about the young one reminding you of the past and making you miss it more. It seems almost counter intuitive, but it is very true.