Sibling dynamics

One of the most fascinating aspects of being a father of three is watching the shifting dynamics between two boys and a girl separated by little more than four years.

For sure, there’s some sibling rivalry. Isaac (six) and Toby (four) have their fair share of spats, usually over who wants one specific car out of the 9,420 they own between them. Or the iPad. Always the iPad. (God forbid I should ever want to use it!)

Equally there has long been an element of competition between Toby and 22-month-old Kara. All Toby has to do is even sit down next to Heather or I and Kara will come running over with a face of thunder, interpose herself and, if necessary – or even if unnecessary – throw a well-aimed set of talons at him.

But the one relationship that seems to transcend any real competition or territorialism is the one between oldest and youngest.


Oldest and youngest – the strongest bond?

Kara has never shown any sign of jealousy towards Isaac. I’m not sure why exactly. He certainly has a more open, peaceful and attentive disposition than Toby – both of them are big on cuddles, which Toby dismisses as needless soppiness – and consciously takes pride in being the mature big brother. There’s probably a degree of tactical alignment in sidling up to her big brother too, creating a useful two-on-one when called on.

And there’s definitely a degree of hero-worship too. Kara watches Isaac like a hawk and wants to imitate everything he does. In her mind, she clearly thinks she’s six years old and can do anything her brothers can do. In return, Isaac gets a real kick out of adopting the ‘teacher’ role, patiently showing Kara how to do things. (To be fair, he does the same with Toby too, but his younger brother is less receptive to being bossed around taught.)

The dynamics never stop shifting, though. Kara is noticeably less violent competitive towards Toby than she was even a few weeks ago. And the relationship between the boys can turn on a sixpence, from joyful collaboration to petty bickering and back again, sometimes in the space of minutes.

But what’s best of all is those magic moments when all three of them are playing together. It doesn’t happen all the time (if only!) but it happens often enough. Sometimes the boys will build a den or concoct some elaborate role-playing game and go out of their way to include Kara (or, at least, not exclude her, which is often all she needs). Or, bound together by a common love – dancing and singing, picnic lunches, Top Gear – they will happily spend their time playing or sitting peaceably in their chairs as a threesome.

The ebb and flow of these interactions is all a new experience to both of us – Heather’s an only child, while the age gap between my brother and I is more significant at six years – but, rough or smooth, it’s fascinating to watch and be a part of.

The one thing we haven’t seen yet is all three of them ganging up on us. I’ve no idea how we’ll deal with that one. I might have to purchase that boxset of Outnumbered for hints and tips …

And then the fun began...
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16 thoughts on “Sibling dynamics

  1. What a gorgeous photo! I have three too, same age as yours except the youngest is slightly younger and a boy. They are basically one big mass of flailing arms and legs. i think ultimately the youngest will rule us all. As you say, is very interesting to see how the dynamic changes.

    • Oh, there’s no question that our daughter (the youngest of the three) rules the house. She definitely has the rest of us wrapped around her little finger. I doubt that will ever change!

  2. I was the third of four kids, and the dynamics between us were always changing, too. I’m so grateful for the experience of growing up with sisters and a brother (even if we bickered over messes and toys). I hope that someday my 8-month-old daughter will have the privilege of having a brother or sister, too.

    • It’s a very different experience for both my wife and I, as she was an only child and I have a brother who’s six years my junior. Watching our three interact is something of an education.

  3. Great snap and fab post. With the recent arrival of no3 we have already seen a change in dynamic in the elder 2 (4yo & 2yo) actually begining to play with each other which was always the masterplan. But how long it lasts I dont know :-)

    • Ha! Probably just long enough to lull you into a false sense of security, at which point they’ll be at each other’s throats …

  4. I love this post Tim! It’s so fascinating to see the different little personalities and the dynamics of the bonding between them. I can see it is that much more interesting with three! I know someone who said their eldest was violently opposed to having siblings, so much so that he would try and hit the middle baby when he was a newborn – wouldn’t that be upsetting! Nice to know your three clearly love each other and rub along well together for the most part! I remember my cousins (three siblings) opened up about what they got up to as a gang as children – I think they once managed to set the curtains on fire but they covered it up and their mum never knew! Good luck with that! ;-) Thanks so much for linking up with #thetruthabout this week – it’s lovely to have another linker! :-)

    • Thanks Sam. It’s funny, we always worried about sibling rivalry and actually both boys are fantastic about sharing both with each other and with their sister. The only one who ever resorts to physicality is Kara – she knows how to stand up for herself, which I guess is always going to happen in a house with two older brothers!

  5. A lovely post. There is a 26-month gap between my two and it is interesting watching how the sibling dynamics are evolving as they both get older. There are plenty of moments of squabbling but many beautiful moments of being adorable together too. I love the photo of Isaac and Kara together – just beautiful. Sounds like they all have a normal healthy sibling relationship :-)

    • We’re constantly amazed by how well they get on. But they keep us on our toes! Just when we think things are going perfectly, an argument will erupt … :-)

  6. We are very similar, ours are 8,5 (boys) and 2 (girl) and the dynamics in a lot of ways sound similar to yours (and our youngest is definitely the boss!). I love to watch the three of them interact, it is lovely and fascinating at the same time :) #thetruthabout

  7. Ebb and flow, just the right words as always – it’s such a moveable feast and the dynamics can sometimes change completely without warning, taking me completely by surprise!
    I know this sounds really weird but I kind of like it when the kids all ‘gang up’ on me to persuade me to do/provide/make something – I love it when they all pull together as one, and I hope it lays strong foundations for their future relationship. #thetruthabout

    • I know what you mean, Michelle. Similarly, I like it when they don’t just automatically take no for an answer and try to negotiate their way to a compromise. I often think children make the best negotiators!

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