This is the fourth and last post in a series on preparing for a second baby. If you haven’t read them already, check out the first part What on earth were we thinking?, second part To tandem or not to tandem, and third part Move over: making room for one more in the bed.
It wasn't long until my anxiety about bringing a second child into our home gave way to the reality and excitement of introducing our little girl to the family. Our son was generally excited about having her around, but like any child he had his moments...moments where, for example, he said "Baby sister go back in mommy's tummy now." But those moments were few and far between and what I remember more than anything else was my son being a devoted big brother, one that was loving and helpful with his little sister. I remember him wanting to hold her and glowing when he did. I remember him getting her to giggle and laugh.
I think part of the reason things turned out so well is our capacity as humans to love. Our capacity as parents to expand our hearts and find so much more love. My son's capacity to open his heart to this new little intruder in his life. But the other reason things turned out so well was that we prepared and we adapted.
So what can you do to prepare your older child? How can you make things easier for the big brother or sister?
- Talking about the new baby: I remember hearing friends talk about one family that thought it was better to not mention anything to their child about the new baby. They figured that just having the baby appear would be better than the anxiety and worry that the lead-up to a new baby might bring. The effect was devastating. The older child was shocked, blindsided, hurt, and freaked out. So we talked. We talked about my growing belly and what was inside. We talked about what it would be like to have a baby in the house. We talked about how important the role of the big brother is. And we read books. In particular, we loved My New Baby, which shows breastfeeding and babywearing and Dad helping out. It has no actual words in the book, just pictures, so you can make up the story yourself and adapt it to your family.
- A gift from the new baby: One trick that we used and that several of our friends have used successfully is to have the new baby bring the older child a gift. Something really special. Although somewhat superficial, this is a great way to convince a toddler that the baby is bringing something to him instead of taking something away from him. It just helps to tilt perception about the intruder in the right direction.
- Make your lap bigger: After our daughter arrived, one of our favourite games became "my two babies". I would take both kids on my lap and cuddle them and say "my two babies" and give them both kisses and hugs. robin from woowoomama also found that expanding her lap, not kicking the older one out, was the way to go:
i asked for help, guidance and support from a few places to calm my late pregnancy panic attacks. my mom assured me that the way i felt was perfectly normal, other ap mama’s i knew assured me that i would somehow find a way to work it out (even if it meant me cosleeping with both kids which i had not originally wanted to do) and i relied on my spiritual path to help me. when i asked if i had made a mistake by getting pregnant or if i had failed the bean by not somehow assuring he was less attached to me when the baby was born i was given a clear and comforting answer “you do not have to kick the bean out of your lap, you just have to make your lap big enough for two.”
the weeks and months that followed the pea’s birth were certainly challenging and there were moments when i was pulling my hair out and feeling terribly lost and having bouts of other panic attacks, but we made it. spending some nights sleeping in a bed with two children is actually enjoyable in ways i had never imagined, and the bean self weaned the moment chickpea was born (something i had never imagined or heard of before). there have been tough times of transition but with support and an open mind and heart i was able to discover that the truth is that my lap is easily big enough for two.
- A big helper: My son became mommy's little helper. I made a big deal about asking him to help with things to make him feel important and involved. I would get him to fetch a clean diaper from the laundry basket for me. I would ask him to pass me the nursing pillow. I would get him to help me burp the baby. I would ask him to entertain her while I fixed him a snack or made a phone call. This continued from day one into today. He was the one holding her hand when she was getting used to walking. He often sits and reads her books. I'll ask him to get her a spoon if she needs one. It not only keeps him busy and keeps him from feeling left out, but it has also helped to build a really tight and beautiful relationship between them. He truly is a loving and wonderful big brother.
- Multi-tasking: When my son was little, I remember quiet times sitting in a chair feeding him. Or taking a quiet nap with him. When my daughter arrived, that was no longer possible (except on the days my wonderful mother came to help out!). So when I was at home with both kids I had to find a way to be a mother to my 2.5 year old while also taking care of the baby. I learned to do floor puzzles while sitting on the floor and nursing my daughter on a boppy pillow. I learned to nurse her in a sling and let her have naps in the sling so that we could go to the park or the museum or wherever without having to worry about when she would need to nurse or sleep.
There are times when it will be difficult. There will be rough nights. There will be days when you are tearing your hair out or when tears are streaming down your cheeks. But the task isn't impossible. And the love...all of the love...makes it so worthwhile.
Naomi from Mama's Applecores found that attachment parenting was critical to her ability to meet the needs of both of her children:
The transition really was fairly easy for our son I think – or at least he handled it well. Co-sleeping and tandem nursing were a big part of our picture, but it’s not so much those specific things as our lifestyle. I am sure that other families could find other ways to meet the needs of their children. Our children are both high-needs, and personally I cannot imagine not doing what we do. And as a working mother I sometimes think that I need these things as much as my children do.
My parting words of advice would be listen to your heart, respect the needs and feelings of both of your children, find a way to take some breaks for yourself, and multi-task! And on the really hard days, just remember this too shall pass.