Loving You Different: A Love Letter For Second-Borns

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Marty Hadding sisters square

I loved you instantly, of course.

It was the second time in my life that a delivery-room nurse had placed a wrinkled newborn girl in my arms.

When my lips brushed across your cheek, I knew it would be a cinch to love you as much as I loved your big sister. But I knew I’d need to love you differently.

I was smitten. And I was terrified—not of what you’d be like, but what I’d be like as your mother. What if I made comparisons? What if it were true that birth order would have a profound and lasting effect on the kind of grown-up you would become? And what if my sloppy parenting ruined you for life?

Sure, I loved you instantly. But what if I didn’t love you right?

My dog-eared pregnancy books didn’t yield answers. The right answers would need to be lived, over the rugged terrain of years.

Your older sister was the echo of my soul, my own mini-me. Mothering her has always felt like parenting an updated version of myself. But you, dear daughter? You were a mystery. Discipline techniques that worked on your sister would throw you into a red-faced toddler rage. You zigged when I zagged. You wanted to color outside the lines—and on the walls. We now know your inner artist was simply trying to find a way to bust loose.

My worst fear? That I would accidentally break what God created, while trying to recreate you in my own image.

Your sister is the classic firstborn—high-achieving, organized and responsible. She has a color-coordinated closet, shiny trophies, and clever stories to keep us entertained at the supper table.

I knew enough about birth order to know that you might grow up feeling like you were living in someone’s shadow. And your big sister has always cast a very big shadow.

Everybody talked about what a “perfect baby” your sister was. She was happy and precocious and whip-smart.

You’re nine years old now, and you found out a long time ago that your eleven-year-old sister is the life of the party and the top of the Honor Roll.

A few months ago, your sister held a microphone confidently at the front of a church, sharing about our family’s recent trip to Haiti. You sat beside me, and we held hands. I kept squeezing your hand, and pressing my forehead against yours, because I wanted you to know that I was as proud of you as I was of her. You were on that same trip, and you did some amazing things, too, like raising $2,000 for a basketball court at a Haitian school. You simply don’t enjoy telling a big crowd of people about it.

I tucked you in that night, and in the dark, I told God out loud how proud I was of you. (I don’t typically speak for God, but I think it’s safe to say that he agreed with me.)

Daughter, have I told you lately how talented and beautiful and smart and funny and compassionate and humble you are?

You live life more quietly than your sister, but not so quiet that I can’t hear who you really are.

For instance, I found out that you stuck up for a little boy at recess the other day. Some older girls were calling him names. You told them to stop being so mean, but they didn’t listen. Maybe they didn't hear. So you quietly pulled the boy aside and encouraged him to tell a teacher. And the next day, you helped that same little boy when he fell off a swing.

Most likely, nobody is going to hand you a microphone to tell that story. And even if they asked, you would probably quietly decline.

And if you did decline the offer? Your mama will be in the front row, with her palm out, waiting to hold your hand in hers.

Image by Marty Hadding. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Jennifer Dukes Lee, author of the forthcoming book Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval—and Seeing Yourself through God's Eyes (Tyndale Momentum 2014).