Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve grown more and more comfortable letting Will become Owen’s just-in-the-other-room babysitter. I work in the kitchen and listen attentively as they play together in the living room. I peek in now and then of course (especially when I hear either total silence or unusual rambunctiousness or Owen sobs). In general, though, Will is sorting out how to be a kind, tolerant and usually semi-careful big brother.
My strategies for keeping peace between the brothers include: 1) Smothering my hover-mother instincts and trusting Will not to commit terrible crimes against Owen (the more I tell Will to be careful about something or not to do something, the more likely he is to do it) 2) Pointing out how much Owen enjoys playing with his big brother 3) Listening closely when Will wants to register an Owen complaint – as in “Mom, Owen pushed me!” and then asking Will “Well since Owen’s a baby, what do you think you should do about it?” (Usually Will doesn’t even bother answering the question; he just resumes playing with his brother.) 4) Reminding Will that Owen is learning how to do things from him, that he is his teacher, but refraining from lots of moralizing about how big brothers should behave. 5) Trying to be patient enough to let Will figure out solutions for keeping Owen happy. If I jump right in the second Owen starts crying and bark orders at Will he gets resistant. If I ask him questions and give him space to figure out how to keep Owen happy, he's more likely to come up with his own plan for better behavior. Today, for instance, he decided that it's best to run around with a sheet over your head in a different room from Owen -- after chasing the little guy around in his makeshift ghost costume prompted lots of cries of protest. Often it's five or ten minutes after an "incident" or a little power struggle before Will will be settled enough to devise one of these perfectly practical but not necessarily ingenious plans for himself. But when it comes from him, the solution's more likely to stick.
And Will seems proud of his role as big brother. Yesterday he said to me, “Mom, if Owen had another brother, he might not be nice to him. But I’m always nice to Owen.” And even if Will does slip up here and there – mostly by getting overly reckless or occasionally impulsively aggressive – he was pretty much speaking the truth.
Here's Will feeding Owen lunch today – the first time I asked him to do that job solo. It worked surprisingly well until they started sword-fighting with their spoons (which I swear was all Owen's idea).