Thursday, 9 July 2015

I have a second child

An awareness has been creeping up on me lately. I feel it every time I look at my journal and re-read entries and see Cherry's name on practically every page.

I sense it every time I am thinking about what to do this week, this afternoon, this evening, what to cook for tea or what stories to read at bedtime. I feel it every time I think about the future, our plans, our hopes and dreams.

Time and again when decisions are made based upon what's best for 'us', somebody isn't really being taken into account.


Second children get many benefits out of their birth order, not least calmer, confident and more relaxed parents in most cases and the built-in companionship and entertainment of an older sibling.

But being a second child does come at a price. You are never, ever, ever the first. And often, this means you are never really the focus as your older sibling is always a step (or twenty) ahead, blazing the trail.

For the first year of Violet's life she was 'the baby' and clearly as long as her needs were met, her wants were also fulfilled. Her needs were relatively simple, as most babies are, and much of the time spent with Violet was physical time, cuddling and feeding and wiping and changing.

Now she is a toddler her physical needs are diminishing (although she still feeds like a newborn) and her emotional and social needs are coming to the forefront.

The age gap between our children is so close that there are few, if any, things Cherry can do that Violet can't. For that reason they pretty much always do the same things, and therefore the spectrum of 'things' Violet has been exposed to has naturally been limited by Cherry's tastes and preferences.

She also has a naturally sunny, open and contented personality. Simply put, Violet seems to like EVERYTHING. Cherry loves swimming but Violet is if anything even more of a water baby than her older sister. When Cherry, inspired by her older cousin, decided she wanted to start going to gymnastics, I found a class both could participate in. Although Cherry does love it, it's Violet who bounces in her seat shouting 'Yay! Dismatics!' when we are on our way to class.

In the last few weeks I have realised I must make a conscious effort to get to know my second child a bit better. I could tell you chapter and verse about her older sister - naturally I have had 20 months longer to get to know Cherry and at three and a half she is capable of grasping concepts and expressing herself in a way Violet is not. But I am falling a little into the trap of making assumptions about Violet as opposed to stepping back, observing and really getting to know her.

I don't think I am alone in finding that often I think or talk about my second child in relation to my first. Cherry is X, Violet is Y. Violet is this, but Cherry was that.

But such talk can become dangerous and drive children to occupy the only space they can find - the space that hasn't already been taken up by their older sibling or siblings.

Cherry is this and therefore Violet is that.

Siblings do, of course, heavily influence how we define ourselves and are defined as people. I myself am a second child, to a popular, intelligent, charming and well-liked brother just 15 months my senior and had I not been, I would not be the person I am now.

But I have always been emphatic in my need to be seen and heard separately to, not in relation to, my sibling.

It is imperative I offer my own second child the same courtesy - the same right.

I respect my older daughter's complex personality and I do recognise that her need for attention and affirmation is often greater than her younger sibling's. But our lives cannot simply be The Cherry Show. There is enough space to go around, Violet does not need to grow up in her sister's shadow.

What brought it home to me was the realisation that I have since last September had three mornings a week at home with my younger daughter, while Cherry is at pre-school, yet this week was the first time I have taken Violet to the playground across the road.

Sometimes we see friends, she will usually nap, then she is so happy to potter about that I can easily - as I have - spend these mornings catching up with housework, cooking, doing the odd bit of work and generally not paying her a great deal of attention.

Then before I know it our time is up and it's time to go and get Cherry. I have been with Violet the entire time yet she's had no one-on-one attention other than the time she spends breastfeeding.

As school for Cherry and preschool for Violet looms on the very distant horizon, it suddenly occurred to me I have only one more year at home full-time with my baby.

My baby, who will be two in August. My baby, who really should have been called 'Joy' as she is the living embodiment of it. My baby, who charms and wins over everybody she meets. My baby, whose speech, comprehension and physical mastery absolutely astounds me time and again. My baby, the reason I have not once at any point over the last 22 months NOT thought 'I could lie down and sleep RIGHT NOW'.

My baby. My second child. My last child. How glad I am to have this time to get to know her.


  1. Oh my goodness, Cathy, I could swap the names of your girls for the names of my boys and this post is about them. My littlest is so genial that we rarely focus solely on him and instead go at the pace of our eldest, who is often the most difficult of the two. Next year, my 'baby' is at home with me while he brother starts school full-time and while I'm certain we'll miss him, I think it's going to be an exciting year getting to know the little dude properly.

  2. Ah Rachel, our similarities continue! I think there's lots of reasons the second child is often 'easier' (although not always - ask my mother!) and only some of them are to do with the child's inherent nature or personality type. Violet's really not had much choice but to be 'easier' and while it's a role she fulfils brilliantly I feel excited about consciously choosing to offer her more attention and more of a chance to have a say.

    Although actually I have noticed recently she's been asserting herself more in some ways and asking for more attention in the only ways she knows how. Part of me feels a bit guilty how I've slipped in the trap of nearly always making Cherry the focus, but I'm glad I've picked up on it now.