We love our child, we love the life we created for them, we are in our groove, and now we’re adding a new baby! This is exciting and scary. You may be thinking, “How can I ever love someone like I love my first born?” “How will I ever have time for my first born like I do now?” “How can we prevent sibling rivalry?” “How can I keep things the same?” The simple answer is: you can’t, but it will be alright. You love your children deeply for the individual relationships you have with each of them. Your children will get your love and attention, and they will also get love, nourishment, growth, and the playfulness that comes from the sibling bond.
Even if your child is very young while you are pregnant or adopting, get them involved. Talk to your child about the arrival their sibling. If you have a prenatal appointment, have them attend the appointment. If you are pregnant, many midwives, nurses, and ob/gyns will let your child take your blood pressure or assist with the Doppler ultrasound. If you are adopting, you can involve your child in some of the adoption procedures and visits. You could consider letting your child pick out their sibling’s middle name. If that feels a little too risky, then is it possible for them to pick out clothes, blankets, or supplies? Could you knit family hats or buy matching shirts? The idea is to make this experience a family experience, and not just something that is happening with mom.
By the time I was about to give birth to my second child, my son knew more about the female reproductive system than most adult men, maybe even women. He is very interested in biology and he loved learning what was going on in my body. We received weekly emails about the baby’s stages of development and I shared the information in these emails with my son so he could not only feel connected to his sibling, but also understand what was going on with my changing body. There are many children’s books that inform and illustrate pregnancy and adoption. Our children are so connected to us so even a change in our body or our mental state can affect them as well. I have found that trusting children with a certain amount of honesty helps them begin to make rational sense of something they are already aware of on some level. Children are quite smart and intuitive, and they are natural observers; the chances are they have already noticed changes. Being honest and giving them information is a way to diminish any anxiety that a child may be feeling about how their mother and family is changing. If you are pregnant, it is possible they have already seen you with your head in the toilet and now they may understand it more.
Even though children usually resist boundaries and schedules, they really do thrive with consistency. Let me start off by saying that when I was eight months pregnant with my second child we unexpectedly had to move, my husband was away for work for three weeks, we were planning a home birth, and put most of our belongings in storage. Then the business that my husband managed for eleven years closed. We ended up packing our belongings when my son was 7 weeks old and started traveling. I really did have the best intention for consistency, but I am very aware that life can be unpredictable at times. It is nice to have some consistent routine before and after your new arrival makes an appearance. School, preschool, or daycare can provide a consistent routine, and so can extracurricular activities like sports, music, or dance classes. Even something as simple as having tacos on Tuesdays or pancakes on Saturdays can provide a grounding feeling for kids (and adults). It sounds funny but your child can think, “Everything has changed in my life, but look we are still having pancakes on Saturday, so not everything has changed.” You don’t have to take this to an extreme; if you have a baby on Friday night, pancakes do not need to be on the table Saturday morning. The idea is to have some routine that generally stays the same before and after your new addition so your first born has a sense of rhythm.
Children of all ages love control, especially in the toddler and preschool years. Children’s lives can seem to be decided for them and this is part of the reason behind temper tantrums. Have you ever watched a child decide on something and hold on to it with unwavering fierceness? They are not going to have much control over their sibling’s sleep schedule or behavior. They will not have a lot of control over how much attention their parents need to give their new sibling. We cannot let a child call all the shots because we as adults have a lot of experience, and some of the decisions we make children may not understand. My son handled the arrival of his brother pretty well but his way of showing me his resistance to the new roles in the family was by subtle defiance. I remember asking him to put his shoes on and he calmly looked at me and said, “No, I am not going to do that.”
I suggest giving your child a sense of control over some decisions they can make. Some examples are, “Do you want to wear the red shoes or blue shoes?” or “Do you want spaghetti or pizza for dinner?” or “Would you like to go to the park or the lake?” It might give them a small sense of control, and the hope is they can then adjust easier to the things they can’t control.
I love ceremonies and rites of passage. I think our culture can let many monumental moments pass without taking time to honor them. Becoming a sibling is a tremendous honor and change in our lives and I like to treat it that way. Many women have blessing ways, mama circles, or showers to celebrate their passage into motherhood. I suggest doing something similar for siblings. At Mountain Breeze Preschool where I am the director and a teacher, we have a special ceremony when a child becomes a sibling. The child that will soon become a sibling picks a special stone, we sit in a circle, and we talk about how that child will be entering the world of older siblings. We all pass the stone around to each teacher and child. Some children choose to hold the rock and put their love into it. The children who are already older siblings hold the stone and share some words of advice. Then at the end the stone is passed to the child that will become an older sibling and they can take their stone home with them.
There are many ways to honor the transition into siblinghood: It could be a special hike, craft, meal, or gift. This ceremony could be done with just immediate family, or it could be a larger ceremony, but the idea is to honor the sibling transition. If I am visiting a family that has just welcomed a new child, I always make sure that I bring a gift for the older siblings and not just the new arrival. It can be simple like a balloon or card or more specialized such as an older sibling locket or clothing. The main point is to take some time to honor the child’s journey to becoming a sibling. P.S. Don’t forget to honor yourself too!
Choose Your Support
Think about how you and your family would like to be supported during the first few weeks of welcoming your new family member. Every family is different. Both of my children were born at home so we had the option to stay at home. When my first son was born, several people visited us right away, and I was out and about for walks pretty quickly. When I had my second son we did not have immediate family living close by and my intuition steered me to ask friends and family to hold off on visiting for a week or two. If my older son had big feelings come up about the change to our family, I wanted to let them arise without distractions. I also know that as wonderful as our family and friends are, sometimes kids just need their mom, especially during transitions.
One close friend was willing to be on call if we needed her for anything, like grocery shopping or support. We had another close friend available for playdates if my older son felt like he was ready to get out of the house for a bit and be with friends his age. Many friends happily signed up to bring us a meal everyday for three weeks after our birth. They dropped the meals and left. Having these nourishing meals brought to us without the commitment to socialize was the most supportive offering I have ever received. Again, each family is different but it is great to think about what kind of support you would like before the new arrival makes an appearance.
How Will Your Attention Change?
I suggest thinking about how you give your child attention now, then think if that will be affected once the new member of your family arrives. I am a playful parent; some of the ways that I give attention to my children is by building, wrestling, chasing, swinging, climbing, swimming, and playing games. When my second child was born we went from sunny summer to cold, rainy autumn very quickly. All of a sudden I had cold weather, a baby in my arms that wanted to nurse, a body that needed rest and healing, and a 3 year old that wanted to play with his mom. This was something I didn’t consider.
I found a few new ways I could give attention to myself, baby, and child at the same time. I had to forget about playing physically with my son and focus on using my voice. One way is to cuddle and read books in bed; audiobooks are also amazing. Something that worked wonderfully for us was setting up a train track that my son would play with. I sat close by on the bed with the baby and interacted by creating all sorts of scenarios such as, “Oh no, there has been a spill on track eight. It looks you need to send a train for assistance.” Both of my children felt cared for and I was able to feel comfortable laying down.
If your child likes to draw, you can ask them to draw all sorts of things for you. In my opinion playdough and kinetic sand are lifesavers; kids love to play and create and as a parent you can say things like, “Can you make me some spaghetti or build me a sand castle?” The idea is to give your child engaging projects where you are involved, but minimally. All this being said, I am sure my son watched a season or two of Diego on Netflix during those fuzzy first weeks after his brother’s arrival.
More important than anything that I just said, surrender to the fact that life will never be the same … and that’s just fine.
Rachel Maietta is a mom, certified parent coach, preschool teacher, and founder of Wholehearted Parent Coaching. She has worked with children of all ages, and loves to support parents. If you are interested in coaching and would like to start a 10-week parenting journey, you can receive a free consultation. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram for blogs, ideas, and parenting information, or use the form below to contact her directly.