I agree with recent research that sibling order can determine a lot about our personality because of how we grow up and how our parents treat us. I can see it as a parent with three children and I can see it as the youngest of three children myself. When my oldest son was five years old and my daughter was three and my youngest son was one, we expected a lot more of my oldest son than I expect of my youngest son now that he is five years old. When my oldest son was five he was the big kid, and now his younger brother is five, but he is still the little kid, no matter how old he gets. Even though they are the same age, because of their birth order, one is treated differently than the other. It’s not because I love one more than the other, or I have some kind of a preference, it just happens naturally. I wanted my oldest son to grow up fast and try to take on more responsibility for himself because my wife and I were trying to take care of his younger sister and brother. Now, four years later, I want my youngest son to enjoy his childhood and retain the innocent irresponsibility of youth as long as he can because I see the fleeting nature of it as evidenced by my older kids growing up.
I think it’s true that we are generally harder on older kids because we are more worried about what is going to happen to them, while by the time we got to my youngest son we backed off and let him do things I would have never let my older kids do because I have faith now that everything will turn out all right. For example, I am not as worried about my youngest son beginning to learn to read because I am confident it will happen someday, just as it did for his older brother and sister.
They say the middle children are the most neglected and I could see how that could be true, but I am not as sure about that phenomenon in my own family. I know I was glad to have a second son after my daughter because I worried about her being a middle child. But as it turned out she is the only girl and I know that I’ll always have a tough time not paying any attention to her. Her personality also requires a lot of attention but I suppose one could make the argument this is because she is the middle child and she has learned to jockey for attention. In that sense being a middle child may have benefits for her because she has honed the skill of making sure that her wants and needs are satisfied.
While we have perhaps evaded some of the middle child issues, there’s no doubt we give special treatment to our youngest son, Adrian. Even writing his name I have an urge to write, ‘our baby Adriano,’ which just reinforces the point I am trying to make. He gets special treatment and we don’t hide it. As the youngest child myself I can own up to it. My mom and dad said the same thing to me all my life, even after my cheeks were rough with stubble and I had kids of my own – “You’ll always be our baby.” Now I know just how they feel.
The most prominent indicator of this special treatment for Adrian is the fact that we still allow him to come to our bed in the middle of the night. I know that we did not allow this with the other children due to the arrival of younger baby siblings. This means that both of them were required to sleep through the night in their own beds by the age of three. It was not easy turning away crying children in the middle of the night who simply did not want to be alone. It was heartbreaking in some sense because we were teaching them about abandonment and loss and loneliness but we had to do what we had to do at the time and we were also teaching them about independence. And the truth is there just wasn’t enough room in the bed when we already had an infant breastfeeding throughout the night there as well. There were strict orders not to come to our bed and little children were turned away with broken hearts. Now Adrian is five years old and he still comes to our bed in the dead of night, nearly every night. It’s actually kind of scary sometimes because I wake up in the middle of the night with him standing quietly by the bedside. He ends up there because he always asks if he can come sleep in our bed which I guess is left over from those old days when he needed our help to climb up into the bed and also I probably yelled at him a couple of times so he is trying to be really polite and not make me mad. Often times he is half asleep and mumbles his request to his sleeping parents and then waits in a sleepy daze for our response. As it is somewhere around 3:33 in the morning we are usually fast asleep or maybe we sort of hear him but we don’t acknowledge the reality of the question in our dreamy thoughts. He’ll just stand there by the side of the bed, a dark shadow waiting for an answer. I’ll wake up and feel weirded out like someone is watching me and then he nearly scares me half to death standing there like that by the side of the bed, all stealth.
“Yeah, come on,” I say, more irritated that he didn’t just climb into bed without disturbing anyone than the fact of him getting into bed with us.
Lately, I’ve thought about him going into kindergarten next year and wondered if it was finally time to get him out of our bed. Might some classmates might tease him if they knew that he still sleeps with his mommy and daddy? As of right now I don’t have the heart to refuse him quarter under our blankets and I’m pretty sure my wife doesn’t either. It’s hard to turn him away with those pathetic lonely tears and then he mopes back to his own bed to cry himself to sleep by himself in a dark room. The truth is I may just let him come to our bed as long as he wants to, which could be a very long time, because in my mind he’ll always be my baby.