by Clay Nichols, Dadlabs.com co-founder, NICU veteran, & father of three
My wife and I share an important piece of personal history, one that bonded us early on in our relationship: as children, we fought like spartans with our younger sisters. Our childhoods shared a narrative — that of the long siege, defending the high ground against savage and bloodthirsty assailants, three years our junior.
Today everything is different, armistice declared on all fronts. We just returned from a delightful week-long vacation sharing a house with my sister-in-law, her husband and two kids, and I’m off soon to visit my sister and her family on the West Coast.
Still and all, my wife and I agreed completely on one thing as we embarked on parenthood together: We would never have two kids. Never. Our offspring would not be subjected to the man-to-man combat that we endured.
Back in 1998, when my wife’s troubled pregnancy ended with the premature birth of our son, that was that, as far as I was concerned. I became West Austin’s leading expert on only children, boring to tears anyone unfortunate enough to stand in my immediate vicinity. I cited studies and reports that defied the stereotypes, and indicated that only children were just as well-adjusted and happy as kids that regularly traded body blows with a sib.
I can see now that it was all for show, a misguided attempt to let my wife and me off the hook. I think I felt compelled as the memories of the anxious Ob/Gyn appointments, troubling ultrasounds and long days and nights in the NICU slowly faded, as we became a mom and dad outside of a crisis, as it became increasingly clear that being parents would utterly define us, to remind us of the price we paid. To make sure that we knew there was a completely acceptable alternative to having another baby.
Or, in our case, two.
As with most of my parenting theories, the technique of reducing sibling conflict by having more kids has met with decidedly mixed results. (A word of advice to President Obama: Peace is not best achieved by opening another front.) That said, the dynamics of the sibling conflicts among our three children are, at least, strange to me. And if parenting, even back to the NICU, has taught me anything, it’s to embrace the strange. As if it were your sister.
Clay Nichols is the chief creative officer of Dadlabs.com, a start-up company dedicated to providing creative media content and information products to strengthen families and benefit children by empowering today’s fathers. He is an award-winning playwright and author. Nichols is a veteran of a dozen years in the high school classroom, having taught in the areas of English, Creative Writing, Drama and Filmmaking. Nichols is a graduate of Dartmouth College and holds an MFA in playwriting from the University of Texas where he was a James A. Michener Fellow at the Texas Center for Writers. He is founder and director of the Theatre Focus program at St. Stephen’s School and the Texas Arts Project. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and three children ages eleven, eight and five.