I am a second child.
So I know what it’s like . . .
to have the fewest baby pictures.
to feel invisible when an older sibling walks in a room.
to wear the hand-me-downs.
to feel forgotten when younger siblings are born.
to compete for attention.
to get away with more.
to feel less important.
to become independent.
Now, I have two kids. So now, I have a SECOND child.
And I promised myself from the beginning that I would pay attention. I wouldn’t let the quiet, independent one get lost. And I would definitely make sure each child had thorough and equal documentation of their lives through pictures.
At nine years old, my SECOND child is already independent. She disappears in her room for hours, is quiet, easy-going and self-sufficient. She doesn’t need us like her older brother does.
He needs to be in the same room as everyone.
He begs until we play with him.
He incessantly asks questions until we answer him.
He makes us put away our phones to look into his eyes for no less than 5 seconds for a fully undistracted hug.
He demands our attention.
For weeks now, my SECOND child has been vocalizing her distaste for her older brother despite his affections for her. She has started making incessant comparisons to how much better we treat him.
And, to my greatest dismay, she recently asked why she doesn’t have a baby album and he does.
(Oh, what shame I felt from my failure to right this wrong of the unbalanced life documentation of second children. His baby book is falling apart it’s so thick—each themed page taking hours to create with actual printed photographs, stickers, cutouts and captions. When did I ever have that much time to print out pictures and painstakingly arrange them in a book?)
The other day, while she was personally working through the unjust treatment of second children, she finally implied through her biased complaints, “Why do you love him more?”
I wanted to say to her, “You crazy girl, if only you would just fight for our attention instead of fighting about it. Of course we love you just the same. Why can’t you see that? All this whining and complaining is not working in your favor.”
And then I looked at her and I saw my own reflection. I know what she’s feeling and I’m so glad she opened up. I had better listen.
Seeking attention and affection in the right ways can be difficult. When I retreat or sulk, it doesn’t help me, it just makes me that much harder to love. How much easier it is to ask for affection in healthy ways! Reach out already.
All she would have to do is give me a hug and I would squeeze her back until she choked, ask me to do something for her and I would rope her the moon, ask for help and I would drop everything and come running.
While I can continue to have conversations with her on healthy ways to seek out affection, the ball is already in my court to make sure that I’m showing her that I love her and am responding in big ways to her subtle efforts. And always, always listening.
(I also need to put my life on hold for about a year so I can make her the most elaborate baby book she’s ever seen.)
It’s so important to be intentional with each of our children and not forget that each one is wired differently and may seek out love in different ways. Whether it’s birth order or personality, kids will retreat, act out, or try anything to get noticed and get their fair share. Because that’s how important it is for a kid to feel loved and accepted.
So this week, flood each one of your kids with affection suited just for them so they know without a doubt that they are loved for every bit of who they are. Because the way they are loved while they are kids will impact them for a lifetime.
Karen Wilson is the Chief Editor for the Parent Cue blog and a Lead Editor for Orange Books. Previously, she has worked in Education and International Business. She and her husband Mark have two children, Elijah and Sara.
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