It’s Not Easy Being a Big Brother

willsam_straightarm“Dad, you spend too much time with Sam and not enough with me.”

He’s right. It’s true. There’s no sugarcoating it or dodging those damning words that escaped the pouty lips of my 5-year-old. We do spend more time with Sam — mainly because newborns are soul-sucking bags of flesh who spend the first few months of their lives torturing the hell out of parents and using up all of our sleep, intelligence, and basic ability to function as human beings. Which is to say there’s not much time or energy left over after we’re done dealing with Sam, and Will has been getting shafted.

I looked into Will’s sad, soulful blue eyes and felt pity. Mainly because, well — it’s not going to get much easier for him as a big brother.

Being a big brother is hard. And wonderful. And shitty. And awesome. But also TERRIBLE. It means that in a few weeks, when Sam starts crawling, Will is going to find out quickly there’s no escape. Right now he can separate himself and go elsewhere when he’s annoyed, but when Sam can move around on his own he’ll be like every other little brother — attached to his older sibling as if the two have magnets implanted under their skin.

Then comes the talking. Oh sweet merciful shit, there will be talking. Nagging is more like it. Because little brothers don’t like their own toys. They want cool stuff. Big boy toys. They want everything their older brothers have.

Little brothers nag, and tug, and try to take things that aren’t theirs. They scream “MINE!” and “GIVE!” and then they turn on the waterworks. Parents, in an effort not to launch themselves off the cliffs of sanity, ultimately do something that drives big brothers crazy — they try to appeal to the older brother for reason.

“Can’t you just give him that toy and play with something else? You’re older and he doesn’t know any better,” we’ll say. Even though, as an older brother myself, I know that’s bullshit. Little brothers know EXACTLY what they’re doing from an early age. There’s something in their bratty DNA that sniffs out that parental weakness, and they proceed to exploit it for the rest of their lives.

Then there’s the tag-a-long factor.

“Take your brother with you,” we’ll say. You don’t want him there. He’s too little and he’s a pain in the ass and you don’t want to watch out for him. I get it. I lived it. It’s going to be especially hard for you, Will, because there are five years between the two of you. But allow me to impart some wisdom that you’ll ultimately completely ignore.

First of all, resign yourself to the fact that Sam will be tagging along with you almost every time. Mainly because you’re brothers and you should play together, but also because your mom and I want to sneak in a nooner. But seriously, when you finally stop your complaining and accept the situation, something amazing can happen. Instead of whining about how terrible it is having to play with a little kid, you’ll focus on helping your brother learn. Helping him improve his skills in whatever you’re playing. Because when a little brother has an older brother showing him how to do things, he learns that much more quickly. And I know you won’t believe at first, but it’s much cooler having a little brother who is good enough to keep you on your toes and give you a challenge every once in a while.

Plus, you’ll find yourself taking pride in his burgeoning skills. Even if you’d rather chew your own fingers off than admit that to him.

Will, being a big brother is difficult work. And it’s often a thankless job. But I know you, son. I know you’re a nurturer at heart, and a teacher. I watch you explain things to other kids, and I see you display more bravery than some adults when you stand up for classmates who are picked on or have no friends.

You have empathy my boy — it comes from your mother. And it will serve you well when some bully inevitably starts picking on Sam, because I have complete confidence you’ll be his backup when he needs it. Whether it’s a schoolyard fight or just helping him with his homework, you’ll always be there for him. I know you will.

And here’s the best part, kid. For as much as little brothers annoy big brothers, they revere them 1,000 times more. The closest anyone can come to feeling like a deity is having a little brother who looks up to them unconditionally. The sun will rise and set on you in Sam’s eyes. You won’t just be a role model, you’ll be a blueprint for Sam. He’ll want to be EXACTLY like you in every way — even if he’d rather eat dirt than admit it.

That’s no easy assignment, my friend. Sometimes you’ll love it, sometimes you’ll hate it, and sometimes you’ll fall short by taking advantage of it. And that’s OK — we all fall short sometimes. But in those moments, know that you mean the world to him and whether you like it or not, you have a responsibility. I know it’s not always going to be fair. But for a long time we worried there would be no Sam, and brotherhood was simply not something in the cards. But here he is. On the brink of walking, talking, and testing every fiber of your being for the foreseeable future.

It might seem he’s more pest than anything else, but Will, hear me now — your little brother is your biggest fan and best friend. Be his as well, because brothers are forever.

Now, go play with your brother while your mother and I run upstairs…

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2 thoughts on “It’s Not Easy Being a Big Brother

  1. Not easy being a big sister either. Her Barbies are just so much cooler for some reason. They all look the same to me!

  2. Been the little brother my whole life and so much of this rings true. Even when I got older and found my own way and independence, that link to big brother is never broken. There is always some level of attachment and motivation. Of course, our Molly only has the cat and dog as older siblings, but they have also realized crawling means bad news for them. =)

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