Skip to content ↓
MIT staff blogger Ben Jones

You Guys Are Used To Getting No Sleep, But I Am Old by Ben Jones

To those of you who have siblings: what's the one piece of sibling-related parenting advice you'd give to parents?

Just when my 2-year-old finally starts sleeping through the night, we decide to go and do it all over again. What were we thinking?!? :-)

I’ll be out for most of June on paternity leave, but will still try to blog when I can find time. Hope you guys are having a great start to your summers.

To those of you who have siblings: what’s the one piece of sibling-related parenting advice you’d give to your own parents if you could go back in time?

[Edit: in other words, I want my kids to be as close as possible as they grow up, to learn from each other and to trust each other and to actually be friends. I know of course that this can’t be forced, but I also know that there are things can be done to nurture such relationships… any thoughts?]

33 responses to “You Guys Are Used To Getting No Sleep, But I Am Old”

  1. Trang says:

    Dear Ben,

    Sorry for this off-topic from your current post. But I just want to compliment you and Matt for the exceptional session about “blogging” at the NEACAC conference yesterday. I didn’t get a chance to thank you in person so here it is, “thank you”. My colleague and I were in awe at how exceptionally knowledgeable you and Matt are on this particular aspect of admission. I have been keeping an online journal for many years as well, but never thought that the idea could be applicable to admission. You guys are pioneers!

    Is it possible if I have a copy of the slides in your presentation yesterday? If so, I will email you later today.


  2. Well, I have an older sister (28 now) and a niece (~2 now).

    Advice I’d give in general? Foster the education.
    a) Public schools, not private schools. The social atmosphere is necessary for development of social skills (this is debatable of course, but ’tis how I’ll be raising my own kids).
    b) Either teach or grab a tutor for mathematics and/or literature (that is, literature, not “English”). Math is important. Especially elementary stuff, and the new constructivist math curricula are doing irreparable harm to thousands of kids, but I’ll go on that rant later.
    c) Be the parent. Check the homework, ask where he/she was, is, and is going, etc. Don’t go overboard, but it’s necessary.
    d) As a part of (c) DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT be overprotective. Your child needs a bit of leeway to go out and make his own mistakes. Your child needs a bit of freedom. If he wants to spend an extra hour playing with friends, so be it.
    e) Develop enough trust so that your child feels they can tell you anything and instill a true love of learning. Instead of G.I. Joe’s, grab them the game of 24, that sort of thing. Develop enough trust so you can comfortably talk about drugs, sex, cutting classes, that sort of thing.
    f) Don’t make your child sit at home all day. Let him go out and play with friends, let him play sports, run around, get dirty. Balance work + play, but make sure neither gets priority.

    Or maybe I’m wrong, who knows? :p We’ll see when I’m a father, haha.


  3. Tiffany says:

    Congratulations, Ben!

    I have a younger brother and an older sister. I would say to make sure that you don’t set double standards for your kids. My little brother is extremely spoiled while my older sister has enough freedom to do whatever she wants. My parents expect a lot more from me than they expect from my brother or sister, but I’m not rewarded as much as they are. Try to be as fair as possible. Good luck!

  4. Ben says:

    Hey Mike, thanks for the great advice! Just to clarify, I’m thinking more specifically of sibling-related advice – in other words, I want my kids to be as close as possible as they grow up, to learn from each other and to trust each other and to actually be friends. I know of course that this can’t be forced, but I also know that there are things can be done to nurture such relationships (a big one being: never compare one’s children to each other!). So that’s sorta where I was coming from with the original post. Thoughts?

    (I’ll add this to the original post too.)

  5. Ben says:

    Hi Tiffany – thanks, that’s great advice and I totally agree that double standards are bad bad bad. grin

  6. Kiersten says:

    YAY he’s back!!!!
    My brother is 7 years younger than me. My advice: make your kids understand that they each have only each other as siblings, and no one else can have that bond w/ them. That made sense in my head…hope it is readable:)

  7. leah says:

    The more annoying you are as a parent, the more your children will bond over complaining about you(I’m sort of kidding). I think it’s mostly luck how compatable your childrens’ personalities are, but the more they need to get along and work together, the less they will compete.

  8. Ben says:

    You guys are amazing! Such awesome advice all around – thank you so much!

    Trang – no problem at all; I’m out of the office for a bit, so please email Matt McGann for the powerpoint slides. Thanks for coming to the presentation!

  9. Nicole .R. says:

    I have an older sister (I’m 17 she’s 20) and we were very close as kids. Like insanely close, my mother use to brag about it all the time. Alot of factors contributed to our being able to depend on one another. One thing that my mom use to do that I think might have affected our relationship, whenever we got into a fight she didn’t give us a time out, or take something away or anything she made us stand nose to nose. This sounds stupid, but it worked. It only took about two minutes for one of us to break. Then it was a giggle-fest and it’s hard to be mad when your laughing. Then as we got older we use to spend hours trying to control our laughing so we could be angry with each other when we wanted to. We can now stare at each other for two hours without breaking, pretty good if I do say so myself.
    We shared a bedroom for like ever. Even when we had the space to seperate we stayed together (I don’t know if I’d recommend this past like 12 though, it became a real drag once puberty hit)
    One big piece of advice, try and make your first child not see his/her sibling as an outsider. Because I do remember when my younger sister came into the bunch we thought she was going to ruin things for us. We weren’t too nice to her………….. I think I owe my younger sister an appology so if you’ll excuse me…
    and congrats again!


  10. Preeya says:

    Congrats, Ben! =) I have a sister who’s six years younger than I am — that age gap sometimes helps the relationship, but strains it, too. I think that definitely the most important thing is to realize that both kids are different people, and act accordingly. Don’t compare them to each other or expect the younger one to do all the same things as the older. Don’t give one more freedom than the other if it’s not age-appropriate, etc. etc. I’d like to say more, but I’ve got to get to dinner. >.<

  11. Annie says:

    My brother and me couldn’t be more different (although he’s only two years older than me). Do not compare your children with one and the other. It is the worst thing. Unfortunatly, I was always the smart and active kid who did tons of things (of course, I was… I always read my brother’s school books two years before I should have!) and my brother always felt as though my parents tried to compare him with me.

    And no, do not put double-standards, even if one kid is a boy and one is a girl. I remember that my brother had the right to take the subway all by himself at the age of 12 and I was simply never granted that right. Thus, at one point, I just didn’t call my parents so they could come and pick me up and just took the subway. They then realized that making me take the subway all by myself at night would not kill me just because I’m a girl.

    All those things converge to a relationship that most people would consider as being not too great between my brother and me. But it isn’t so. Whenever one of my brother’s friend would tease me when I was little, my brother would tell him to shut up… he only had the right to tease me and this is a very strong sign of love.

    Now that we’re adults, I know he still deeply cares for me. All of his friends knew that I was going to MIT before I even told my friends. And I know that seeing me leave makes him sad… because he’s going to loose me… because, when I’m not at home, my parents have nobody to be overprotective on so they take it on him… because I’m leaving the house before he does (but I don’t worry too much, in two years from now, he should have enough money to buy his own house)

    How did we grow fond of each other in spite of the double-standards and the comparisons? I think we could only see who we really were when our parents weren’t home (forcing us to see a reality that wasn’t true). Thus, it’s the times when we were 10 and 12 and our parents would leave us to keep the home alone, the times when we were a bit older and that they left us for a one-week or two-week trip and that we had to work together: those are the times that made us bond.

    So, my advice to you would be to make sure your kids have some time together by themselves to truly discover who they are.

    Wow, was this comment long…

  12. An easy one to start things off right (which we did with our two children) is have the younger sibling (obviously you) buy a gift for the older sibling which is presented at the time they first meet.

    Our younger daughter gave our older daughter a nifty alien-type doll (OK, she was 3 1/2 at the time) which “gave birth” to its own baby. Mom and baby sang to each other.

    It was a way to focus some attention on the older child at a time when so much attention was being focused on the younger one.

    More to come, but that’s something you can do immediately.

  13. Melda says:

    Congratulations, Ben!!

    I have two younger siblings: a sister, age 11 and a brother, age 7, (I’m 17).

    Whatever you do, don’t set standards for your second child by your first child. My dad puts a lot of pressure on my sister to read as much as I do and to get into high level classes, do APs, etc like I did, and it’s having a negative effect on her. She simply rebels against what he wants and stops trying, even to the point where she makes herself hate a subject and nightly homework turns in a fight every time. Mike said in the first post “Be the parent. Check the homework, ask where he/she was, is, and is going, etc. Don’t go overboard, but it’s necessary.” and he’s absolutely right. But the key is to not be overbearing. You need to be sure to guide your child as he/she explores and discovers things on his/her own, but not push him/her down a particular path.

    I also agree with what Mike said about the math curricula. My experience has been that math just isn’t taught efficiently at all in the USA (I spent 6th grade abroad and it’s significantly different in speed and difficulty level, but it’s still doable). A tutor would be good at a young age to help your child get ahead in his/her studies. If a tutor isn’t possible, you could always introduce new subjects to him/her yourself (fractions, long division, basic algebra, etc). Actually, I know a great math school in Newton if you’d be interested. My sister goes there now and she’s doing much better in math class since she started going, and I went there for SATII, so they’re great for that too. It’s called The Russian School of Mathematics:

    I hate to admit it but i do feel closer to my brother than my sister and I don’t think it was anything my parents did or didn’t do. I still love them both immensely, but I find that my sister is more frequently the one that gets on my nerves. The good thing though, is that I can definitely feel the bond strengthening as we grow older. So it’s true that you can strengthen the bond between your children (everyone gave some great suggestions above), but only to a certain point. Some bonds just don’t happen as quickly, no matter what you do. The most important thing is to never give up on the bond and just let it emerge naturally between them over time and through their own interactions.

    Age is also an enormous factor in this, but it doesn’t look like that will be a problem for you. 2 years apart is a good amount of time, I believe smile

    Also, a little unrelated to sibling bonds (but still related in general), I believe it’s extremely important to let them spend time with cousins and aunts and uncles, as well as grandparents, as much as possible. The more time they spend with relatives, the more they’ll feel like part of a big, loving family, and I know from experience that that’s an invaluable thing to have. It creates feelings of being supported, understood, and loved at all times, which can only be a good thing.

    ooh, long post, sorry about that. I hope it helps though smile

  14. Congratulations! I’m a parent of four girls (our two oldest go to MIT). We had four babies in six years when my husband was in medical school. They had to stick together and be friends (today they are best friends) because otherwise their parents would go insane! :^)
    (Just kidding … sort of.)

    I would say, love your children, but don’t spoil them (this is obvious, sorry).
    Our religious faith and values helped a great deal. Also, the girls never watched much (if any) TV after they reached school age.
    We never compared them to each other, only complimented them on their uniqueness.

    Our two oldest shared a room, and the two youngest shared a room until they were teenagers (one was just too messy, the other neat, one a night-owl, etc.). They needed that space from each other (even though the older two didn’t.) Still, the younger two call each other “best friends” today.

    It’s great that you will emphasize friendship among your children. You sound like a great dad!

    (Oh, and having lots of children helps … four is a nice number, I think!!!!)

    I also second Kiersten’s advice.

  15. Ben, maybe you could send the younger kid to Tae Kwon Do lessons so he/she can keep the older kid in line. Until your younger kid has perfected martial arts, the older one can stay with Mike Borohovski, as he has expressed sometime before that he wanted your first born…

    And the best part is that if your younger kid is a girl… she can fend off all those bad boys so you don’t have to chase them away with a shovel in the middle of the night. It’s efficient and easy AND you can make up for the sleep you’re sacrificing now!

  16. intleyes says:

    Congratulations Ben and Family,

    I am one of seven children (no multiple births). I think the reason my siblings and I get along so great is that we had to depend on each other and be helpful to one another as my mom was so busy with so many kids and my dad was gone a lot due to being in the Navy. I made a point while raising my two children, boy who is 4 1/2 years older than sister, to have them nurture each other. I let one console the other through booboos and illnesses, of course I was always there playing an active part. However, it is special if you let one sibling “doctor” the other’s cut, bring gatorade when they’re sick,
    sit quietly and read to the other. The magic of a needed wet wash cloth given by someone with love creates a special bond. Think about you and your wife’s relationship. What brings you close will also bring your children close. If the two of you live an example of a mutual and loving relationship then your beautiful children can’t help but develop the same. Enjoy these wonderful times. I blinked and now my son is going to MIT.

  17. Quinton says:

    Congrats….and just when I was getting used to the 1 of you smile

    The Q

  18. Saad Zaheer says:

    u guys are really awesome! lots of grt things above, i can add nothing but just say I AGREE TO IT ALL!

    congrats Ben and grt job advertising the blogging thing, (Y)

  19. Sarah says:

    I totally agree with Annie. I am the oldest of four: I am 18, my sister is 17, my brother (who I share a room with, I know… kinda weird, but oh well) is 15, and I have a half-sister who is 6.
    Basically, my 17-year-old sister, brother, and me grew up together, and we had A LOT of bonding, depending on each other, working together time. My mom worked full-time, and my dad lived outside of the country (this was since the age of 9-ish?). I don’t really advise that much time for them (a bit outside the normal-realm, although, we do live in the 21st century where this is becoming more and more common, unfortunately). However, my sister, brother and I are a real team. We used to fight ALL THE TIME, and my parents thought we hated each other. But truthfully (even we didn’t realize it until we are older), we really couldn’t be closer. I guess you can’t help it when you played together everyday for years!!!

    Real advice-wise: you have one that is two years older than the other. Obviously, the older will get jealous of the younger’s attention, the older wont be able to play as fun games with the younger around (I babysit for a family where this exact senario is true), but I think they will be fine. So long as they grow up where family is important, where perhaps everyone has to eat dinner together, where perhaps the family will eventually have game nights, etc (sounds corny, but it is SO possible… just depends if you are willing to try for it), everything will, all odds are, turn out for the good.

    In short- emphasize your family and its time and activities together. Trust one another. Love one another. It sounds corny, but do things with one another. And for right now, the best thing you can do is put in the most love and care into building your new family as you possibly can. You seem like you are doing just that.

    Good luck! and Congradulations!!!!!!!

  20. Hmm, Katharine, I have thought and rethought it…and I’ve decided, upon threat of violence (that is, imagined) from one of the parents that frequents this blog, that I will not be vying for Ben’s first-born.

    That and I’m only 18. Jeez! I don’t need a kid right now! Whaddaareyaaa, crazyyyy?!

    On another note, turns out my mathematics teacher (whom I don’t like very much because he’s a bad teacher, but with good ideas) wrote up an Op/Ed in the New York Sun about the math curricula that suck so much, and so here it is.


  21. Asli says:

    I have a brother who’s 6 years older than I am, and we get along pretty well despite the age difference. When I was a kid, he was really protective of me (still is), and I took it to be a sign of love. We’ve also shared the same bedroom ever since I was able to sleep throughout the night, and I think doing so really helped us create the brother-sister bond that we have right now.

    Also, another think that help us get along is the fact that we are able to cooperate and accomplish things in between us without needing our parents (and to do that, we had our own private time, in our own room.) There were times when I knew where he was going while my parents had no clue, and I never had the idea of using the information to “blackmail” him. So the trust and cooperation that exists between us definitely contributed to our strong relationship.

    A few days ago, while I was helping him out with something that he really needed to get done, he said: “I haven’t seen a brother-sister that get along as well as we do!” and that absolutely made my day. =)

    I don’t know if this comment makes any sense…

    PS: Congratulations and I hope your kids are best friends, great siblings, forever and ever!

  22. Laura says:

    Yay! Congrats!

    Hmm I’d say you’re off to a good start already- 2 years is a reasonable age gap. I know it was already said, but don’t compare your kids. My sister and I are very different, and even though we both know that I’m better at school and she’s better at sports, neither of us likes being reminded by our parents. Yuck. =(

    I agree with Sarah- corny as it is, family game night or something like it seems like a good idea. In a similar note, I would look out for and foster common interests your children might have. If they both like baseball, they can play catch in the backyard and maybe play on the same rec team. (This is probably only a good idea if both agree to it. It can easily lead to comparison situations. See above.) I’m feeling pretty inarticulate today, so I hope that point came across. It’s important that your kids feel like individuals, but common interests can create bonding time.

    Best of luck!

  23. I heartily recommend the “family game night” concept. My sons are now 18 and 15.5 and we just had family game night last night, in fact! We graduated from little-kid board games and puzzles to strategy board games, cards, and pool as they aged, but we still try to find time together as a family to play and relax each week. And we always eat dinner together. (Well, for some value of “always” — we may miss 2 nights a month, unless one of us is traveling.) When they’re a little older, go hiking together, or skiing, or get a GPS and do Geocaching as a family ( )!

    All good suggestions — just be aware that your kids’ temperaments may get in the way of your best intentions. When you have two children at opposite ends of the spectrum (think the extreme version of Laura and her sister above), it may not be until they’re older that siblings gel as a closer unit. But they should always know they’re each loved for who they are, and that their sibling is their compatriot in memories and experiences.

    Congratulations to everyone. My short-term wish for you all is a good night’s sleep. And welcome to the world, little one!

  24. Jane W says:


    The “family game” idea is great, we used to do that all the time. My brother is 2 years older than me, so progressing to different and harder games wasn’t really a problem. I recommend taking turns choosing what game to play, with each family member choosing (not just the kids). That way there are fewer long discussions on what to play, and everyone gets to play what they want eventually.

    Another good idea, I think, is to get (or build) a swingset, assuming your backyard is large enough. My Dad built a swingset with 2 swings and a slide just before I was born. It also had monkey bars, right where the swings were hanging. That swingset was a place for endless fun for my brother and I. Imaginary adventures, stories told by Dad, and eventually, “swing-jumping” competitions. Swingsets are less boring when there’s nice soft grass in front of them, so it’s safe for the kids to jump off.

    Good luck!

  25. Laila Shabir says:

    Congratulations, Ben!
    ( quick question, do u distribute cigars when u have a kid? ) wink

  26. David A. says:

    Congrats to Ben, but much more to your wife >:)

    As the middle child, I’ve seen both sides as an older, and a younger brother.

    Some older siblings can feel a certain inadequacy, or insecurity regarding their younger sibling. Nothing would hurt more than feeling outperformed :-(

    On the other hand, a younger sibling can feel as if he/she can’t keep up with the older sibling. Two years is a huge difference! (In your case, diapers vs. potty trained!) In a few years, reading vs. not! In even more years, driving vs. not! In even MORE years, curfew vs. none!

    Treat both equally, and let them know that!

    Creative outlets help too. Chess games make kids intelligent, fighting only leads to bruises! Comparing two children can hurt them… be careful in doing so.

    Family time should be big… friends come and go, but family is forever.

    F.Y.I., In a couple of years you will probably hear “It’s not fair that [other sibling] got [random toy/privilege] on [obscure occasion] last [week/month/year]. You treat [other sibling] SO MUCH BETTER!!!” from both parties. tongue laugh

    But, congrats to Ben + Family!

  27. Kelly says:

    YAY Ben! YAY Ben’s wife whose identity is in no way defined by her husband except temporarily to me who doesn’t know her name!

    Ben, have them watch the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation series together. That way they can have cool inside jokes like “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!” Har har. It worked for my brother and me.


  28. Kiersten says:

    If you teach them how to play different instruments they could start a band. They could be The Joneses…or something cooler than that. I think Kelly has a good idea w/ the Star Trek thing, my sibling and I prefer Star Wars, but we also lip sync to the EC i3 video…I wish I was kidding:/ Also if they share responsibilities for a pet, that could bring them closer. Get a chinchilla:)

  29. Mike Axiak says:

    How come I can see five???
    Yea, all these are great for fostering a good relationship. Remember, each one will be different. Very different. They will have different needs and wants, it seems to me that the act of pushing anything onto kids causes the opposite reaction…
    Sometimes teachers don’t realize this. I remember when in middle school my brother had the same teacher as me, the teacher told my mother at open house “This will be great, now all my computer problems and blah blah are solved!”
    My mom immediately yelled at him and told him that my brother is a different person.
    They will get into fights, it’s normal. Just keep them in line and try not to let them kill themselves.

  30. Sarah says:

    As the older sibling, I always hated parenting inconsistencies. Little things, like having to wait until i was ten to watch pg-13 movies, while my younger brother got to watch them at a younger age. Also, my parents being more relaxed with my brother’s curfew and driving regulations than they were with mine.

  31. I don’t know the genders of your kids, but be careful if they are of different genders.

    Be careful of how you control the girl’s curfew/safety more than the boy’s curfew/safety. Inevitably this tends to happen, for obvious reasons. Boys don’t often get raped.

    Just be careful to either treat both completely equally, or have good explanations available as to why you are more protective of the girl than the boy.


  32. Jeremy says:

    Congrats, Ben!

    All I’ll say is to provide your kids with as many opportunities as you can, and foster their interests. With that, let them develop the interests that they like, and see where it goes. My brother (21) and I were given different opportunities based on the interests that we’d developed, and look at us now. Interest-wise, we share some interests, and are completely different with others.

    Academically, we’re much closer in interests (science and math oriented), although he’s studying chemisty (blech), and I’ll study aero/astro. And lucky him, I’ve found a way for us to spend one more year of school together wink

    Congrats again!