New Babies and Big Siblings
By Dr. Melanie Smith
I still remember when my little sister was born. I’m the 3rd of 4 children in my family and for 6 glorious years, I had basked in the spotlight as the baby. My world was flipped upside down when they brought home this beautiful red-headed child. She had some interesting smells, got all the attention when she cried, and everyone else seemed to really REALLY like her. But not me. It was time to send her back - I wanted the spotlight again. But then she started smiling, and I guess it was kind of cute. She laughed and I couldn’t help but laugh with her. She wanted to hold my finger with her itty bitty hand. And ever since then, she’s been one of the coolest and most memorable changes that I’ve had in my life.
Becoming A Parent
Fast forward a few decades, and I was towards the end of my pregnancy with our second child. I was so nervous our oldest, Lizzy, would feel overlooked when our son arrived. I was torn between feeling excited about our newest arrival and feeling terrified about finding a balance. Could my heart expand to love our second child as much as I loved my first?! Would I be able to give them both the attention they deserved? I give that beautiful red-headed sister of mine a big part of the credit for reminding me that the challenges of expanding a family are well worth it. Here are some pointers that I found valuable and may help others who may be or are planning to be in this position.
Go Slow With Change
Try not to introduce big changes directly before or after the new baby is born if at all possible. Don’t stress yourself out to potty train your older child the month your new baby is born - or if you feel like it’s just something you have to do, don’t be too hard on yourself or your oldest if he/she regresses temporarily after the fact. Try to avoid taking away the pacifier, moving your oldest into a new room, or transitioning to a toddler bed too close to your due date. If you’re planning on starting your older child in school or daycare, consider doing so a few months before your baby is born to help spread out the transitions.
Engage Your Oldest
We bought Lizzy a little baby doll that she could hold, push in a stroller, and change the diaper...although she mostly gave him hugs that would surely have cut off blood flow if he wasn’t plastic and then dragged him by the leg across the floor. We bought her books about being a big sister and asked her what she wanted to name the baby; unfortunately, we vetoed all of her name suggestions. We just couldn’t name our son Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, or Poopie. We talked about “the new baby” and let her feel him kick in my belly (when we could get her almost 2-year-old self to sit still long enough to do so).
Try To Separate Yourself For The First Meeting
When you get home with your new baby (or if this is post-COVID and your oldest is allowed to visit in the hospital, yay!), try not to let his/her first interaction with you and the new baby be while you’re holding your new addition. Have the baby in a neutral place (bassinet, car seat, etc) and give your oldest a big hug! Then introduce them. Once we had 2 kids at home and were bringing home our 3rd, we got the older children a small “present from the baby” to help make the arrival home a little sweeter for our older 2 (and to give them something to play with while we got settled).
Use The Help
If possible, encourage dad to take some time each day for the first few weeks to really focus on your older child/children. Consider doing the same with family members and the rest of your support system. Use their help with the baby, too, so you can spend one-on-one time with your oldest. Go for walks and let your oldest walk next to you while you push the stroller or let him/her push the stroller (if that’s possible depending on age and agility!). Consider letting your oldest pick out the baby’s outfit, get the baby dressed, and bring you a diaper when it’s time to be changed. *That being said, it’s ok to set boundaries, such as “only kiss her feet or the top of her head,” “please don’t yell in the baby’s face while he’s sleeping,” “please stop trying to feed him your broccoli,” and/or “let’s not swing that wooden broom that close to her face.”We’re not raising barbarians around here!* Also, consider getting some puzzles, coloring books...anything that can help your oldest engage in independent play.
You’ve Got This
Most importantly, be patient with yourself. The transition to another child is a challenge for everyone involved. Children tend to thrive on routine and adding another child to the mix will change your old routine. There may be tantrums, fits, and sleep regressions while they adjust, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong. You will all adapt, you’ll carve out a new routine, and it will be great. Once you see your children smile together for the very first time, or laugh loudly at whatever they’re jibbering about on the couch, or stop pouting long enough to let you take a picture of them in the matching outfits you got them that they finally both fit into (the struggle is real), your heart will melt and you’ll realize you gave them the best gift of all. Just remember, the tough part will get easier. If it didn’t, like I tell all of my families, we wouldn’t have had a 3rd! 🤣
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