I’m sitting here staring at my darling baby girl who was born a few months ago and feeling the paradigm shift that I am going through emotionally. Since entering the world I have felt a near constant mix of euphoric joy, overwhelming love, and heavy grief. I didn’t understand the grief part until I had left the hospital and entered back into my “normal” life at home with my husband and our 2 1/2 year old son. It then began to sink in—we now had to create a new normal that includes the life we had just welcomed into our family. But still I ached and wondered why I felt so heavy. As the hours and days passed I was met with questions from my son about nursing, why baby Darcy cries, and I began to watch my loving and observant boy take in the new normal we were entering into in which he was no longer the center of attention. When he asked me to play with him I had to tell him I would after I finished nursing Darcy. When he wanted to climb all over me in bed I had to tell him to be careful because I was still healing from having baby Darcy. The heaviness surrounds my heart as it blends ever so delicately with the joy I am also experiencing on a daily basis as I embrace having two beautiful and healthy children.
The loss in the story is that of my son’s reality of no longer having our sole attention. My thoughts are now split between him and Darcy and will be forevermore. And what a wonderful gift for him as he continues to grow and thrive in the world. He has a partner now, someone who will always be there and understand where they both came from. Someone who will be there in the world long after his father and I will be to support him and love him and vice versa. I am so cognizant of the importance of their relationship as siblings and also of how that relationship can go awry due to many factors including parenting. Even at this early stage, I deeply honor and respect the gift we are giving him in his sister.
In studying family behavior and patterns both in my professional life and personal life I have developed a deep understanding of what can go wrong in the sibling relationship and it most often has little to do with the kids themselves and everything to do with parenting and the marriage at the core of any family. Siblings fight. This is not only a reality but an important part of learning to engage with and accept differences. But as our children grow older it is important that their relationship is fostered as being what will carry them forward through life and tether them to their family of origin.
Now that brings me to the importance of parenting and the people behind these little beings. If a marriage is suffering, broken, or toxic, so too will be the sibling relationship. Children are far more likely to take out repressed anger on one another than on a parent whom they may fear will abandon them. If children feel they are more important than the parents’ bond to each other and feel that they can wedge themselves in between and claim mommy or daddy as their own this will lead to a fractured sibling bond due to the lack of emphasis on its importance.
Family therapy doesn’t just treat one individual or one problem, it treats the system as a whole. Families come in all shapes and sizes. What matters the most is how the family engages and interacts with one another. There is an inherent misunderstanding that couples therapy is meant to avoid divorce. While in many cases that is true, there are plenty of other cases where couples therapy is meant to help people move forward in learning how to co-parent and how to define a new, but equally healthy, balance in their relationship and how they engage with each other and their children in that balance.