A new parenting dilemma is looming on the horizon. All of a sudden, during half-term, I realised it was on its way. I don’t know why I didn’t see it coming before.
My eldest is a tween. He’s not yet starting to pull away from Mummy and Daddy or (God forbid) find us ’embarrassing’, but he is definitely trying to detach himself from his sister and what she wants to do. The problem is, there’s only one of me and I have to look after all three of them at once.
My eldest is nearly five years older than his little sister. At nearly 6, and in Year 1, she is happy still to do almost pre-school stuff (although she is equally happy to do ‘dangerous’ climbing or watch Pirates of the Caribbean). At 10, with mainly 11 year old friends and in Year 6, her brother most definitely isn’t.
I am nine years older than my own sister, and my brother is six and a half years older than her. I don’t recall there ever being a problem when we were kids. I think the age gap was SO big, that we just did different things. By the time my sister was old enough to influence what the family did, we were old enough to do our own thing.
The kids and I are big fans of the (almost) local park. It’s great, there is so much to do. There’s a good playground, ducks to feed, animals to look at, lots of room to run around and play football or frisbee, an ice cream shop and trees to climb. In the winter we spend an hour or so there, but in summer we will spend four hours there without even noticing.
But when we went there during half-term, I sensed my son’s discomfort. He was the oldest child there. Many of the children were his sister’s age. Or younger.
My younger son, despite his intelligence and his closeness to his big brother, retains a lovely childish innocence. He is still happy, even excited, to be at the park. Even if he is also bigger than nearly everyone there. When we went to see Mister Maker off CBeebies, he was buzzing with the excitement of meeting someone ‘from the telly’ and remembered every word that Mister Maker had said to them. He wasn’t bothered by being surrounded by toddlers and pre-schoolers. Inspired, he rushed home to ‘make stuff’, while his brother sulked, moaned and grumbled.
So what do I do with my eldest? The problem isn’t going to go away, it’s only going to become more pronounced. My mum says ‘You’ll just have to leave him at home’. I don’t think that’s the solution for a number of reasons. For one thing, if I’m taking the kids to the park it’s because I want them to have fresh air and burn off some energy. If I leave him at home, he’s going to be reading (at best) or watching telly.
And I don’t think either of us are ready to leave him at home, anyway. He is only 10. I was left at his age, but I was incredibly mature and responsible. And I don’t think he is. He has some freedom – he can wander round the village on his own, both boys are allowed to walk to their Grandma’s (even taking their little sister with them) and if I’m in a shop, I will let him go into a nearby shop on his own. But at the moment, I think being left completely on his own is a step too far.
And, of course, he’s part of this family and I want him to remain part of the family. Families do things together. Even families with teenagers. We just need to work out what are the ‘right’ things for us to do together, without making either of them feel out of place. I guess, as ever, the answer lies with my younger son – find something which is right for the ‘in-between’ child and hopefully it won’t be too wrong for either of the others.
If you have been through this and have any suggestions, though, I would be very happy to hear them!