Furry sibling rivalry

(image source)

My kids fight sometimes.  Of course they do.  But I have long thought that well-meaning parents actually cause much of the sibling rivalry that worries them so.  Most parenting magazines, sooner or later, run an article for parents expecting baby #2, explaining how to guide the usurped older child through the horror and the devastation of bringing a new baby into the home.

Now, I don’t mean to be a pollyanna about what really happens.  Sometimes it’s not pretty.  Overall,  it’s about 98% good for older kids to have another sibling join the family.  But that other 2% of the time can be a little bloody.  Many’s the time I’ve had to intervene when the toddler starts out patting the baby gently, and somehow, without really meaning to, ends up rhythmically whacking the baby as hard as he can.  Nice baby, nice baby, nice baby, Nice!!! Baby!!!  Nice!!!  Baby!!!

So there are any number of books and articles about how to prepare the older kids for the newest arrival.  You  should explain in detail what to expect (newborn brothers can’t learn to play football right away), you remind them of how they’re allowed to eat ice cream and poor silly baby can’t, you make a fuss over them, you let them have private time with mom and dad, etc.

This is all fine, but I do think it goes overboard a little bit.  Angelina Ballerina, for instance, is a good example of a kid who is just being a jerk about it, and needs to be taken down a peg or two.   She trashes her room, as I recall, and firebombs Mrs. Hodgepodge’s potting shed.  Or something.  To make it up to her, they name her sister of the year and buy her a private island.  Or something.  I hate that mouse.

Anyway, the foregone conclusion in these ostensibly helpful books is that, by having a baby, you are wrecking your original kid’s world, and your main job now is to make atonement, and help them put back together the tatters of their former, only-childish happiness.

Naturally, kids pick up on this attitude.  If you are very afraid they will react badly, then they usually will. I have found it much more helpful to be very matter-of-fact about the new baby.  Of course you keep a close eye on the older kid’s reactions, and are kind, patient and understanding.  But don’t get carried away.

What is much more disturbing, however, is a new trend I’ve noticed in children’s books:  the “how to help your pet deal with the new baby” genre. I’ve seen two or three in the last few weeks, and I don’t get it.

Okay, I understand that you love your pup, and you don’t want him to be unhappy.  He’s been an Only Dog for many years, and this will be an adjustment.  Also, you want to avoid any revenge pooping, and you don’t want him to eat the new baby, either.  So it makes practical sense for there to be some guidance on how to prepare your pet for the new baby.

But … why are there children’s books about it?  Who are they for?  I do not understand.  I suppose these books are not necessarily instructive manuals, and it might be interesting for a child to read a story from a dog’s point of view.  And story books reflect whatever happens to be going on in the culture at large.  It’s become more common for couples to have a pet in the family for many years, and then, after long deliberation, they take the big leap and go ahead and buy a baby.  So, people write about what they know, and this is why there are books about it.

Echh, I don’t know, it still gives me the creeps.   I have the terrible suspicion that these picture books are for parents, who harbor some kind of resentment toward their own child, and want reassurance that everything will be okay, but don’t want to admit to anyone that they’re scared of their own newborn.

Or, or, are the adults reading these books to their dogs?  Am I making too much of this?  Just what is going on here?  Anyone?

(Cross-posted yesterday, due to me being not used to getting up this early, at The Anchoress)


  1. Dear Simca:

    If you Google images, you will find some beautiful pictures of St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross. I had not realized they changed to te icon on the AHC website. The one there for years was one of those very beautiful ones.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with the Novena.
    She is very powerful before God.

    Sister Judith

  2. Unfortunately, no- you’re NOT making too much of it. Just another signpost along the pathway to hell in a pet carrier.

    I deal with people like this in my own life, and with 7 kids, they think I should be jailed immediately for crimes against my children (even though they’d have prevented those children from existing- go figure).

    I usually just start mumbling something about selflessness and being a Christian, God’s will or something, and they don’t talk to me anymore. Problem solved.

  3. There’s a neighborhood car with a bumper sticker that reads CATS NOT KIDS. Pathetic.

    All I know is that there’s going to be trauma now that we’ve reached the other end of the spectrum: older kids leaving for college. Any children’s books on that?

  4. We don’t read too many of those help your kid deal with a crisis books – I typically find they’re more likely to plant ideas in little heads more than they are to help. However, as a mom of both biological (white) and adopted (non-white) children, I do occasionally seek out books with animals rather than actual people. It’s usually pretty easy to find books with Black or Hispanic kids, but then the white kids feel left out. But if you get a book of Mother Goose rhymes where Jack’s a rabbit and Jill’s a cat, everybody’s left out so nobody’s left out.

    So, if I were the type of mother who wanted a children’s book to allay new baby fears, I might actually be looking for a book about an old dog getting a new child. My guess is the publisher is trying to maximize sales by appealing to the largest audience.

  5. Well, it’s easy to understand why. A lot of people today are whacked about their pets, particularly people without kids. It is definitely possible there’s some whackadoodle out there reading books to Fido in anticipation of the new arrival.

  6. I agree with Eileen’s first comment. While there are probably plenty of people just unbalanced enough to take and use it all quite literally, my guess is that the intent might to decentralize the focus. Having a conversation about how an animal might be feeling about a situation may be less intimidating than talking about how I feel, AND it may be a little less likely to plant ideas in heads unnecessarily. “YOU may feel displaced and put out” is a little different than “Harry the Hedgehog felt displaced and put out”, because at least we can look at Harry with some distance and objectivity about the situation.

    I’m still not a big fan of those books, though. How about watching your own children, being observant and sensitive to their reactions, and, based on your observations, maybe even having a gentle, targeted conversation with them in your own words and way? It’s free! (Unless someone would like to just go ahead and pay me $5.99 + tax for that advice!)

  7. I think people are tragically weird about both their pets and children (except me, of course). Every time I visit wealthy Montgomery County, MD, I am reminded of this – people fuss over animals like they are darling children (while holding grocery bags of poop in their hands) and warily eye children as one should rather watch a mangy dog. Or maybe that’s just my mangy children.

    I firmly believe that it is a very good part of a child’s character development to realize, somewhere around the ages of two and three (God willing) that they are not the center of the universe, and it’s not cute to change their diapers anymore. I suspect very emotional and intelligent pets could also benefit from such a wake-up call.

    In a related vein, I am going to start telling the good people of MD that my partner and I really want to raise some dogs together, so we thought we’d try out a few children first, and if we enjoy the responsibility we’ll get rid of them and get the dogs.

  8. I know that there are a lot of books that are kid’s stories that have an animal as the character representing the child…so that could be that. However, my BIL & SIL treat their dogs like kids and say they plan to continue this once they have kids (really, they have no idea…hahahaha). I could see them reading books to their dogs. Sad and scary. We tease them often. I look forward to the day they realize the dogs are just dogs.
    I also think it’s ridiculous informing your kids that there is going to be a problem between them and their new sibling. Someone actually bought us a book about it that says something to the effect of sometimes you will feel left out, but then goes on to say you have to love the baby anyway, because that’s how the baby learns to be a real person. I didn’t like this book too much, so I always change the words a bit when we read it.
    I like The Berenstein Bear’s New Baby much better. It’s all about how small bear is getting to big for his baby bed and so it’s time for a new bear to fill it. We just got a couple of items from the dollar store and wrapped them up. When #1 came to the hospital we told him that his new brother was going to be his best friend and he brought some presents for #1 with him. Sure we have some jealous moments, but we just remind #1 that that is not how you treat your best friend and everybody gets different things at different times, but that is the spice of life. 🙂

  9. my little sister just got married in June. She and her husband got insta-pregnant, discerning that they had no serious reasons to postpone a pregnancy and also (GASP) just being excited about procreating. The reaction from his side of the family? Much underwhelment and this:

    “Hm. You should have gotten a dog first. It’s good practice for having kids. You need to have a pet before you have kids”

    ???? ooooooook.

  10. In response to that, they might try saying, “We’re having kids to see if we’re responsible enough to have a dog.” and watch the puzzled crazy expressions that follow.

    Simcha, I love this. I also am tagging you for a meme over at my blog, so come by and visit and play!

  11. I think if a couple have been treating their dog as a child, and then introduce a real baby, the dog could get jealous, and cause trouble. But then, I think what you would need is a dog training book, not a kids story book – oh, and possibly a psychologist!

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