Things fall apart: When you have kids, there is no one you can rely on like a sibling
02nd Jul 2018
In the last year, Liadan Hynes’ marriage fell apart. She is now working on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she is exploring the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves.
When your marriage ends, your relationship with your sibling changes.
In general, you tend to rely on your original family – family of origin? – more than you might have otherwise, if things had gone another way. It’s quite possible you will realise that you have got to know your parents as adults in a way you may not have, by dint of holidaying together, or helping together to raise a child. And you try to focus on how wonderful that is, rather than how much more awful it will be when they are, eventually, eventually, eventually, push-it-down-the-road-as-far-as-possible, no longer here.
I have one sibling, a younger brother. As children, he was a sweet-natured child to my somewhat bossy older sister, a role he allowed me to extend far beyond its sell-by date. I still remember the moment it dawned on him that he didn’t, in fact, have to do whatever I asked him to. The pause, when I asked if he would make a cup of tea, the look of wonder spreading over his young face, the testing out of the word no.
Now, he is again a sort of endlessly helpful sidekick, a person-to-be-called-upon more than most.
‘Well you have Herself sorted, what about you’, several friends have said to me recently upon asking how things are going.
This is not martyrdom motherhood on my part. Knowing herself is sorted is the greatest source of wellbeing for me. And she is at her most sorted, by which I mean happiest, in the company of her immediate family.
This past fortnight, everyone has had the temerity to go on holiday. Parents, best friend, former childminder who still helps out. And so the Brother has helped me and the ex to hold the fort. In the last two weeks he has made dinners, joined endless park trips, distracted a sun-exhausted three year old, endlessly timed her running up and down the garden, painted, played marbles, babysat on a Saturday night, mopped up vomit and calmed down a sick child, stayed for slumber parties, accompanied shopping trips on the hottest of days, played a unicorn, Frozen’s Anna, Lucky’s Spirit.
We’re divvying out the My Little Ponies for birthday presents, who’s getting her what. Twilight Sparkle, I say, which one’s that? The purple one, he says, not missing a beat. He knows which one is her favourite – I do not.
On Saturday night he calmly texts to say I might want to come home, she has been sick. I’m expecting crying at the sight of me, the way a child often releases the big emotions, with tears or tantrums, at their mother. But when I get home she is on the couch, watching Spirit, and nestles closer into ‘Uncle Da-bee’.
When you have kids, there is no one you can rely on like a sibling with as yet no children of their own. More energy than your parents, more experience than friends of seeing you at your most brattish. To whom else could you hand a screaming three week old and say ‘take her, I need to hide,’ before running to get under your parents duvet cover, too exhausted to cope.
Herself required torturous rocking for up to three hours to go to sleep as a baby. Seeing me approach breaking point, he would grimly put on the Baby Bjorn and take her. When a midwife advised that actually singing loud music- karaoke club loud- at a small child with reflux was in fact soothing for them, he joined me with gusto in bellowing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody at her as she drifted off to sleep. Unlikely, but true, we have the video.
Living abroad for the first years of her life, he would come home for summers and instantly step into the role of lifesaver. At age one, he hadn’t seen her in a year. The parents were away and for one week we had no childcare. I was leaving Herself with the brother and his then girlfriend, now fiancée. She may spend the entire week screaming in confusion at these apparent strangers, I told myself, but she is safe and loved. In fact, it was as if she remembered him from the last time they had met, when she was four months old. She has never made strange with him.
Talking to a sibling is almost like thinking aloud, but with the benefit of dialogue. It will go nowhere, be instantly forgotten. An outlet like this is necessary in the implosion of a marriage.
When you find yourself unexpectedly single, things you never gave any thought of before present themselves as worries. Much of this is ridiculous of course. Being married is no definitive proof against life. But, I have a morbid fear of how I shall deal with the rather steep, wooden stairs in my house when I am elderly. Shall I just have to give up going upstairs, live on the ground floor? My solution is that I am secretly planning to live in some sort of commune with the brother and his wife.
He has been, after all, nothing less than my best friend in all this.
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