My son Julian* is good at so many things—spelling, ball hockey and badgering me to give him five more minutes of screen time. But for some reason, he struggles to make strong connections with his peers. Socially, he’s just a bit awkward.
That’s why I was so excited to find out my second baby would be another boy (after the initial disappointment of not having “one of each” wore off). Rubbing my swollen tummy, I imagined the bond the boys would share, and my heart swelled too.
When I told Julian, then four, that he was going to be a big brother, I played up the role he would soon have. “He’ll look up to you,” I said, drawing on my childhood feelings about my own older bro. “He’ll follow you around and beg you to play with him, and you can teach him everything you know.” I could see the wheels turning in his head. Finally, he was thinking. I’ll have some social power.
Maybe you can see where this is going?
Shane,* my second, was born in 2013. I knew it would take a few years for him to have the capability of idolizing or even showing interest in his older brother. So I waited…and waited.
It hasn’t happened yet. Shane ignores Julian. He yells at him. God forbid his older brother try to sneak a hug; by the sounds Shane makes, you’d think Julian had poked him with a sharp object.
Their odd sibling dynamic was amusing to us at first, but my feelings soon changed to disappointment. I had no idea this was a thing! Don’t all kids crave the love and attention of their older siblings?
My husband and I did all we could to put the odds in Julian’s favour. For a few months, we implemented what we called Operation Turn the Tides. The idea: Anything good coming Shane’s way would come from Julian. Dessert? Served to Shane by Julian. A Paw Patrol umbrella I picked up on impulse at the mall? A present from Julian. And so on. Julian loved it. Too bad it had no impact at all.
The boys are now eight and three. There’s been some improvement, but it’s on Shane’s terms. He’ll talk to and play with his big brother, but only when he wants to. He will sometimes let Julian sit closely beside him (which is progress), and occasionally he’ll even put his hand on his big bro’s arm. Recently, Shane actually sat on Julian’s lap and listened to a story, and just last week they watched Curious George together on the iPad. You can bet I pulled out my phone to capture these moments.
Julian is patient and never gets upset when his little brother rejects him. Thankfully, this isn’t wearing away at his confidence. He finds it kind of funny. And when I think about why it’s happening—Shane is a feisty, independent kid who marches to the beat of his own drum—I’m starting to not really mind it, either.
* names have been changed
A version of this article appeared in our November 2016 issue with the headline “When the sibling relationship doesn’t evolve as planned,” p. 83.