The Second-Kid Syndrome

Did you know that the Second Child Syndrome is an actual, official term? (I didn’t when I wrote my heading.) Did you know that the first article Mr. Google throws at you describes “the destructive power of a second child”? I don’t know about that, I muttered, as I read that header. In my humble experience, the second (and maybe subsequent) kid bears a much bigger burden of carving out his place in the family than his mostly entitled older sibling. The first child may have to act as a parental guinea pig, but it’s the younger one that gets to wear hand-me-downs. Parents are still trying to do their best for their oldest, even though we may make mistakes; sadly, it’s the nature of experience that we don’t try all that much for the second. I haven’t failed to notice that my resolve to be parent of the year seems solar powered, and by 7pm, I just have to let some things go.

Sometimes when we hang out with friends who are kid-free or have an only, I’m aware we come off as highly nonchalant, if not downright neglectful, parents. It’s because unless there’s blood, we tend to carry on with our conversations. Heck, even with blood, sometimes. That’s because we have faith in our youngest’s ability to weather any storm of his brother’s doing. He’s been doing it a while.

  • For R, the definition of gentle has always meant “instead of pounding someone with your total body weight one merely drums on their head”. He’s had to endure this since he was a baby when every tummy time meant he was crossed over by his 3yo brother like he was jumping over a pesky mud puddle. By the time he was toddling, his baby doll was headless from the constant “gentle” caresses.
  • When they’re both home together in the evening, R has to compete for my attention not only with his brother and his enthralling stories of the day, but also with my computer, dinner preparations and telemarketers. In such a scenario if he doesn’t yell “mamamamamama” in succession about 236 times until my middle ear bursts from the onslaught, he’d never get heard.
  • He’s had to learn to exaggerate. Sometimes when he comes up running from the basement, frantically wailing, yelling that his brother punched him in the nose, I have the thankless task of ascertaining the truth from the seriousness of the injury. It can range anywhere from “he looked at my nose” to “he accidentally brushed my nose with his finger” to “he actually did punch me in the face”. Depending on his amenability to be distracted by a snack, I can usually discern the extent of hurt. Note: This however does not save me any money on Band-Aids, which still remains our #1 household medical expense.
  • V was spelling simple words at this age (almost 4). R amazes me every time he recognizes a letter or numeral. Needless to say, I don’t spend much time teaching him academic stuff. I’m not callous; I have reasons for this: a) I really do not have time. Whatever time I do manage to get I like to spend on myself (so folding laundry, maybe reading). b) I like that he’s not a math whiz. He has his whole life to become one. c) What the heck am I sending him to school for??
  • R lost his innocence as soon as he was born. I like to say he was born as a 3yo (the age V was when R was born). Consequently he never watched kiddie (read: annoying!) TV shows like Barney or Sesame Street. Instead, he could probably win on a Superhero Jeopardy episode. He only rides a bike with training wheels because we refuse to remove them. He knows the F word because he probably heard it when my water broke. He has known about the sanctity and integrity of his private parts since before he knew what privates even were, because of our overheard conversations with his brother. Lost innocence, yes, but worldly wisdom, HECK YES!

How does the second-kid syndrome manifest in your house?


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