Reflections on Having and Being a Second Child
‘Second place, consolation prize, pipped-at-the-post.’
Remember your first time? Chances are you’ve forgotten all about your second. When it comes to second times, we’re often left with very little to say, as Lynn Berger realised when she became pregnant with her second child. There is a surfeit of books on early parenthood and the arrival of your first child, but books on a second child are hard to find. A curious omission, especially since two-child families are still the norm in most Western countries.
What is it like to have a child when you already have one? What are the effects on the first child of getting a new brother or sister? And what does being the second signify in a world that revolves around novelty and coming first? Second Thoughts: Reflections on Having and Being a Second Child is a fascinating quest, driven by that one burning desire: the desire to better understand the second child, and the second time. The arrival of a second child is nearly always less momentous and memorable, and the second in line never receives the exclusivity the first has enjoyed.
Berger explores the historical differences in the relationship between the oldest and younger siblings, changes in the family (the difference between being three or four), the advantages and disadvantages of comparing siblings, the effects of birth order on your personality, stories of jealousy and rivalry; the division of time and care between parents and the role of gender in this. Philosophical aspects are also addressed: how is time spent with children experienced? And attention is paid to demography: the arrival of a second child is connected to economic circumstances, social provisions and even the climate.
Lynn Berger’s style is literary, poetic, but transparent. She writes lovingly on family life without becoming saccharine and has a good eye for the joyous but grueling years with small children. Inspired by writers like Rachel Cusk, Lydia Davis and Valeria Luiselli, this essay combines sibling science with memoir and reflections on parenthood, drawing on insights from psychology, biology, neuroscience and demographics as well as conventional wisdom. A must-read for any future or present second time parents, and for second children themselves.