During my childhood my parents always went out of their way to treat my brother and me fairly. There was never any favouritism (or at least if they did prefer me one of us to the other, they kept it well hidden). We were always treated equally, with roughly the same number of presents under the Christmas tree and birthday treats of a similar value. It was the case throughout our childhood and it’s still the case now. If my dad helps one of us to upgrade our desktop, the other will benefit too.
And it’s not just the material stuff, but also the sharing of time and attention. As we grew up, we’d get an equal amount of help with our homework and both of us were ferried to the classes we wanted to go to (drama for me, football for him). Nothing has changed here either. Mum cooked me huge batches of food to freeze before the birth of my babies, and she’ll be doing the same for my brother and sister-in-law this spring. Dad helped decorate my brother’s new house, and he’ll be up for doing the same for me once we eventually find somewhere to buy.
All in all, my brother and I should have very few complaints about our upbringing. Okay, so I never did get the A La Carte Kitchen (complete with baked beans and swiss roll) or a Soda Stream, and he never met BA Baracus, but we were loved and supported in equal measure. Why, then, am I still slightly bothered that he went on a school ski trip and I didn’t (even though I hate skiing)? And why does he care that I was christened and he wasn’t (even though he’s not religious)? We’re grown up and we get on extremely well, but for some reason we still bear a slight grudge about the times we felt we weren’t treated fairly by our parents.
Since Baby E’s arrival, I’ve been acutely aware of the need to keep things equal between her and Little Boy for fear of reprisals when they’re older. If I compliment one of them on eating well, I compliment the other, too. If I want to read one of them a book then I’ll make sure I read the other one a book afterwards. Baby E is oblivious to all of this, as far as I can tell, but Little Boy already has a keen sense of justice. If she’s getting something, he wants it too, even if it’s just a ‘well done’.
Unfortunately I’m already fighting a losing battle. When I was pregnant for the second time, I was determined that I would give my baby girl the same love, attention and stuff that her brother had had. How hard could it be? Really bloody hard, as it turns out. Take Little Boy’s baby journal, for example. I wrote a daily journal entry for him for the first ten months of his life, chronicling what we got up to, who we saw and what he was doing at that stage. During my second maternity leave I bought a journal for Baby E, committed to doing the same for her. You’ve probably already guessed that it’s just not happened. I wrote a few entries when she was really tiny (and there was actually very little to say) but I haven’t written it for months. It perpetually features on my ‘to do’ list, but opening her almost empty journal is too depressing a prospect. I feel awful about it but hope she understands when she’s older that there just wasn’t time.
Likewise, there just aren’t as many photos of her as there are of her brother. With him, I saw his every facial expression as a potential Kodak moment and didn’t hold back with the camera or phone. With her, I think I’m just a bit more rational. She’s beautiful and we do have some lovely photos of her, but I don’t feel the need to capture her every waking – and snoozing – moment for posterity. Again, I hope she doesn’t hold it against me.
One thing I’m very conscious of is making sure she gets as much attention as Little Boy does. He’s boisterous and demanding while she is quiet and happy to wait her turn. While it’s lovely to have such a contented baby, it’s too easy to focus on him to her detriment. We were so concerned about how he would react to having a sister and no longer being the king of the castle that we may have overcompensated, diverting attention to him that she should have been given. I’ve been working hard to redress the balance, making sure that I have one-on-one time with both of them and that neither misses out. I have huge respect for how my parents handled it and hope I can learn from them. I’ll start by getting Baby E christened and saving for a couple of ski trips.