The Sibling Effect

One of the first things people say when the number of children I have is brought up is, “Wow, you must be busy, how do you do that?  I have trouble with my two.”    My usual response is “Oh they entertain each other it isn’t so bad.”  This is usually met with a dubious look, the eyebrow cocking up a bit  to express a bit of doubt.

But it is true.  Though it is hard to explain in the short span of a quick conversation.  There is something that I dubbed “The Sibling Effect”  that comes into play when you have a larger family.

Ashley and Sarah
Ashley(18) and Sarah(4)

Basically, the sibling effect is a result of each child being somewhat less the “center of the universe” and slightly more part of “team Family” than the normal American child.   Mom and Dad switch from being the people in charge of giving the child everything they want to “the bosses” and siblings are less competition for family resources and more fellow team members.

The Changes:  My first two children are 18 months apart.  When Rachel was born Ashley was excited to be the Big Sister – she would fetch diapers and hold things and watch the baby.  This went on right up to the point that baby sister started getting into her stuff, then baby wasn’t as much fun, in fact she was down right annoying.

By the time Christopher came around Ashley had more or less gotten over the fact that little siblings will get into your stuff.  This baby wasn’t quite as exciting as the first new sibling, but being helpful when you are 7 is still a thrill.  Plus Ashley was now old enough to hold the baby, make the baby laugh and understand more of what was involved.   There was also a fellow “victim” with the annoying aspects of older sibling life.

I suspect four children will definitely create the sibling effect and maybe three depending on the parenting style and how close in age the children are, but once the dynamic is created it changes the parent/child dynamic and creates a very different sense of family.

Among our community of larger, homeschooling, Catholic families one of the things I notice most is how open the older children in the group are to watching out for the younger ones – not just their siblings, but all the children in the group.


Three Pregnancy Related Observations.

I think I am out of touch

At least with most pregnant women.  Or at least with the ones posting on pregnancy message boards.    I am not sure if it is because I am older, more religious,  more married or more inhibited, but I just don’t remember my thoughts being as out of sync.  Back when I was expecting Christopher I don’t remember so many of the women posting racy “belly-shots”.   I do remember all of us being very opinionated about what was the right way for everything from pain medication during birth to  diapers to feeding to sleeping arrangements,  opinions based totally for the most part on supposition and what was trendy, but I don’t remember the level of nastiness in the disagreements.  I also don’t remember the moms being so down on their baby’s fathers and I don’t remember the other expectant mothers being so certain that they should be the center of the universe.    It seems that a much greater percentage of the moms posting are unmarried and have no problem at all talking about the most intimate details of their lives to total strangers.  Needless to say I haven’t joined in on a board this time round and really don’t feel worse for not.

This has been a very odd pregnancy healthwise

I actually haven’t gained any weight so far.  I was overweight to start with and I have honestly been trying to be very good with my sugars especially, but it is still sort of alarming to me.  The other odd thing is that I think we might have finally tracked down the source of my two year, off and on, mystery cough.  I have a bacterial infection in my tonsils.  One of those normal bacteria that everyone has that opportunistically sets up camp in a damaged place and starts causing trouble.   So I am on antibiotics until baby is born then I need to get my tonsils taken out.   Fortunately I have good friend promising me ice-cream for my recovery.

I am thinking this fall is going to be crazy

Usually I would lay out my homeschool plans and feel like I was starting with some modicum of control.  This year I have no illusion of control.  I know that I need very streamlined plans and very easy routines or I am going to drown in a sea of new baby – meets new school year – meets  everything else that will likely hit me in September – like having my tonsils out.


The point of diminishing returns

My mother went through a phase for about 12 years were she attempted to do the “Traditional, Matron, Holiday, Spectacular Meal” for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.   These were the big events where she would plan an elaborate meal, polish the silver, bring out the china and decorate the house with the idea that the family would gather round the big table and bask in the glow of a yawning holiday table straight out of a Victorian greeting card.

Traditional Holiday extravaganza al la my mother's imagination

The reality was always a stressful mess.  Something would burn, something would break, something would be missing.  Tensions would rise, someone would say something stupid and then someone would start crying or stomp out and then someone else would laugh and we would all wonder at how crazy we all were .

I certainly don’t fault my mother for attempting to do this.   It is just the most perfect example I can think of to illustrate a principle  that is really common – overly elaborate visioning.  It is really, really easy to do.  It is especially easy to do in the context of woman’s magazines, homemaking blogs, Home and garden TV shows that present “simple ideas” to create “special memories” and they are all such neat ideas, so cool, they look like so much fun.  But then in reality the attempt to fit in these things becomes overwhelming.  I do this, I look at the tea party or birthday party on someone’s blog and I am sure that I am the worst slacker in the entire universe.

But I know I am not, not really.  I am just like most moms, blessed with too much to do and crippled with a lack of energy, resources and time.  Much like my mom trying to recreate a romanticized idea of  a Holiday dinner from a household with wealth and domestic servants in a different time there is a  disconnect between the resources I wish I had and those I actually do have.   Then there is simply a matter of priorities.

This comes into play with camping.  I might image how wonderful it will be to have steak and corn on the cob with potatoes on dutch oven apple cobblers and watermelon.    Until I have spent a hot day at the lake, have a campfire to attend in 30 minutes and all that clean-up.  Do I really want to spend my time away from home working on such a meal, or would it be more fun for everyone to do foil dinners. Basically I have a tendency to over complicate things.

In the News · Uncategorized

till Death do us Part

I saw this story this afternoon at The Anchoress.   It is heartbreaking –

Click here to watch. “Jan’s Story, a Love Lost to Alzheimer’s”.

After I watched the story and thought about it for a little while I read the comments at CBS, The Anchoress, and Deacon Greg’s.

Barry Petersen tells the story of his wife,  Jan Chorlton’s,  and her struggle with early onset Alzheimer’s.

A few things about this story sort of get to me, beyond the heartbreaking reality of it all.   The part of the story that has been driving the comments on Catholic site has to do with the fact that Barry is currently living with another woman who he met after his wife’s condition deteriorated to the point where he could no longer care for her in home.  She is a widow named Mary who has joined Barry in caring for Jan.    Which is obviously a problem if you are approaching the story from a Catholic, sacramental marriage, world view.  But I don’t think Barry, Jan or Mary are doing that.  They are coming from a really different place, so I think some of the comments are misplaced – but I also found it really fascinating that in the story there is nary a breath between revealing Mary’s place in his life and Barry’s insistence that people shouldn’t be quick to judge him.   Normally when people announce they are doing something and then immediately follow it with protestations about how they shouldn’t be judged it is because they know on some level that people are going to judge them and that there is a logic to those judgments.

So many things in this story intrigue me:  How we view death and dieing.  The way we view mental capacity as the ultimate indicator of life’s worth.  What is our vision of married and romantic love –  what do those things mean to us and how do we expect them to play out in our lives?  What do we  do when things don’t go according to plan?  What do we really mean when we say “life must go on”?  The answers to these questions are different if you are coming from a world view that is Catholic or traditionally Christian than if your view is shaped by the culture at large.  It is these exact questions that set the Christian world view most starkly in contrast to the secular world view.

I also supposed this whole thing affects me differently having see my Grandmother go through the process of loosing so much of her memory and mental awareness to dementia over the past 10 years and having watched her pass back in December.   At least differently than it would have a few years ago.

Poking around I found a couple more videos about Jan and Barry’s story:

and an interview with Barry:

I think it is very sad that Barry has had to deal with condemnation from Jan’s friends over his decision to place Jan in a residential facility.  I understand the feelings that one goes through having to make those decisions – it is hard.  It is insanely hard to take someone you love to a place (even a beautiful, well kept, homey place) and the turn around and walk out the door leaving them there.  It took a long while before I really was used to the idea that Rachel, for her good and the good of the rest of the family, needed to be in an assisted living setting.  I am very familiar with the guilt that eats your heart as you when you walk out of the room, close the car door and drive away with tears running down your face.

There is really no room in my thoughts to condemn Barry for starting a new relationship, especially as his new companion seems to be accepting of the fact that Jan still needs him, she will likely needs looking over for years to come.  While it is tempting to hold Barry to the Catholic standard of marriage I think it is utterly unfair to do so without being certain that he and Jan had a sacramental marriage, or at least that they both understood marriage as being unbreakable, a life-long commitment.  He claims that Jan would want him to move on with life and celebrate each day.  He could be justifying his own actions or he could be absolutely correct in his assessment of what his wife would want.  Since we can’t really know these things judgment should be slow and gentle.   Yes, he is in a horrible situation and yes, he is doing something morally wrong, but I just can’t bring myself to toss a stone at him.