Brother: monstrous best friend?



“He’s going to be a great big brother to her.”

“He’s going to be so happy to have a sister in his life.”

“He’s going to love her so much.”

“It’s so cool she’s going to have a big brother to protect her.”

This last one in particular really stuck with me.

Can you see the love? While carefully supervising the behavior of an older sibling with an infant, sometimes parents learn there’s more love going on than first meets the eye. ©THINKSTOCK

As the big brother, my son would have a chance to show his newborn sister exactly what he was made of – responsibility, muscles and all. He could definitely handle big brother responsibilities, especially since he was an only child for almost nine years – now almost a tween. Being emotionally and socially mature was a definite asset. He could be counted on for helping around the house despite the occasional grimace and “Do I have to?”

When my daughter was born in August 2013, I kept faith my 9-year-old would not be just a “mother’s helper.” I was counting on him to also live up to being a good mentor.

But the minute she could talk, suddenly he became one wild thing.

At first, his idea of helping was to pounce on her. “You’re not going anywhere! I attack my prey!” he cried and grabbed her from behind. She squealed. He took her pacifier and just for the heck of it, threw it a few feet away. As she started reaching for it, he put his foot as a stumbling block in her way, to deter her. With great effort and determination, she would try reaching for the pacifier only to find her big brother stood in her way each time.

Although it was entertaining to watch, I feared for her. She was still so very tiny, helpless and defenseless.

He would grab her four-month-old arms and legs as if they were attacking each other.

“Bing, Brrr, Bang!” he cried. Then he aimed them up and down and toward her face.

“Bang, clang, pow, cling, clang, smack!”

“There are certain things a baby must need to know,” he cried still holding her two tiny arms. “First, smack your opponent. Pow!” She started whimpering and tried raising her head.

“Second, you have to shoot with a cannon. Like this – pow!” and he aimed her arms upwards. Fist. Don’t mess with the fist.”

More whimpering.

“Finally you need to have a sword and a horse. Cling – ching-ching! You always have to have a shield to protect yourself if you don’t want to get destroyed.” He was now so close to her face, she started to cry.

Why was he being so aggressive? Where was this all coming from? My son’s not known to play video games online. “Stop!” I cried. “You’re hurting her!”

“Hurting her? How am I hurting her?” He exclaimed.

I wanted to protect her from this unanticipated sort of aggressive behavior. While he threw the pacifier at her, I had a talk with him. “She’s delicate! Be easy on her!” I tried to keep the mama bear in me at bay. I told him when she’d start walking he would need to control his physical movements even more. “She’ll still be delicate,” I announced.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said.

My son was no longer the squishy 5-year-old I once cuddled and squeezed. At almost 10 years old, he was already developing some serious “basketball muscles” from hours of practicing and dribbling in the park. He now had a bigger jaw and face and his feet were almost as big as mine. Clearly, he was trying to claim his space.

Months later when she could already walk, my son would push her 1-year-old body as she grabbed his red hair on the bus. “She just wants to get close to you,” I said as we wedged into a two-seater with her and the stroller stuck in the middle.

“Close to a one year old? Her?”

“C’mon, she’s not just anybody. She’s your sister!”

“Yeah, and I don’t want to be next to her!” Ultimately though, he gave in and started hugging her.

I took a closer look. In the video, she wasn’t laughing or giggling but instead, she was looking at him with a deep penetrating gaze.

Literature all across the board says older siblings or “mentors” can be entrusted with responsible tasks. While I knew a certain amount of aggressive behavior is to be expected, I wasn’t really sure what was “acceptable” and what was just too rough. But in my son’s case, I was hoping to read more about how to inspire my son to be a mature sibling and work with his “high spirited” temperament without reprimanding or scolding him about his aggressive “fun” at her expense. In fact, I wondered if I would ever find such a resource or would I have to be that resource.

When the aggressive play became too much, I remembered what a Facebook friend had said to a video I posted months before of my son playing with her legs and arms as if they were guns. “She is happy and enjoying the touch. They are bonding,” wrote my friend.

Bonding. Were they? Was she? What was this aggressive play all about?

I took a closer look. In the video, she wasn’t laughing or giggling but instead, she was looking at him with a deep penetrating gaze.

I began to understand. He was happy.

She made him happy.

There was a voice in me that deeply wanted to trust they were experiencing love play and not hard play. They loved each other – each in his/her own way. Part of me already fell in love with their already developing love bond. Trust had been activated.

This is exactly what parenting and guidebooks don’t teach. As siblings grow up, our expectation as parents differs each time when children interact. Each stage of development brings out the tough playful love.

I expected my son would be her mentor, but I never thought he’d be her monstrous best friend.

DORIT SASSON is a freelance writer, has written for the Huffington Post, and is a radio show host of “Giving Voice to Your Story” at Blog Talk Radio.


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