Parenting is an imperfect venture. No one has all the answers… including me. I just want to throw that out there before I dare say anything else. I am an extremely imperfect parent. I passionately love my kids and seek to give them tons of attention… but I fail. I lose my patience. I say the wrong thing. I desperately long for sleep or just a minute’s worth of silence. Anyway, keep that in mind. Please don’t think this is a, “If you do what I do, your children will turn out to all be superheros” kind of article. But I do want to speak to one aspect of parenting that absolutely terrified me… something that was even more daunting than my first pregnancy….
Adding child number two.
I had paid attention, and I had noticed something: moms with one kid were tired. Moms with two kids or more, though, they were exhausted to the point of struggling to carry on conversations. One example: A dear friend of mine who is significantly more intelligent than me had a lunch play date with me one day. She had a three year old boy and a six month old baby girl. Dark circles framed her eyes. She stayed with conversation, but she lacked her normal upbeat cadence. When it was time to leave, I followed after her and discreetly removed her tray from the trash can from where she had unwittingly thrown it away. After doing so, I turned just in time to see her wave goodbye and… exit through the “Emergency Exit” door, which, of course, set off the alarm. In that moment as I was laughing it off with her and reassuring her that anyone could have done something like that, I knew: If this highly intelligent friend of mine was struggling so, my children wouldn’t have a prayer in the world.
Aside from my fears of living out life as a zombie, I was also (and even more so) terrified that my precious first born would have a hard time adjusting to a world in which she was not in the spot light of every second of every day. My Claire Bear was truly and completely my whole world, and the thought of losing that precious closeness that we had was devastating. To add to my fears, every time I turned around there was a random older woman assuring me that I was babying Claire too much and that “she’s gonna have a hard time when number two comes along.”
So, on this side of surviving the adjustment into being a mommy of two, here is what I would have wanted to know, and here is what worked wonderfully for me…
1) Your child still needs to be loved. Don’t feel like you should try to detach from her in any way, shape or form. (And don’t assume that just because she gets upset when you hold someone else’s baby that she’ll be upset with you holding your new baby. Claire would get so jealous if she ever saw me with another baby.) That being said, I do strongly suggest empowering your child with self-sufficiency, but that is a whole different blog post altogether. Hugs, cuddles, holding hands… nothing should take that from you or your child.
2) You are carrying your child’s brother or sister. This is huge. The baby growing inside of you will likely have a bond with his older sibling that is just as strong (if not stronger) than his bond with you. So even from this stage, you are teaching that older sibling to love her little sibling. Talk about how important she will be to her new brother.
3) As much as possible, talk about what to expect with your child. Point out babies to your child, and explain to her that her new brother will have to sleep all of the time when he gets here. Talk about how your child will need to help Mommy change diapers and so on. Show her the nursery, and help her understand what her life is going to look like when brother comes. Basically, paint a mental picture for your child that shows her that she is still completely important in this new life.
4) Don’t be afraid to potty train your child. Claire and I braved potty training during the first half of my pregnancy. She did great. I didn’t, because thanks to my lovely hormones, every accident she had would nearly push me to tears. However, it was worth it. I wasn’t trying to lift her on to the changing table when I was 8 months pregnant… and much to the chagrin of the naysayers, she didn’t have a major set back when Cam was born. It was pretty awesome to only have one kid at a time in diapers.
5) Make any major changes early on in the pregnancy so she doesn’t blame the baby AND so her world isn’t rocked any more than it has to be. Example: we moved Claire to a different room and moved her to a different bed sometime in the early stages of the second trimester. I didn’t want her to see Cam in her old crib and think that he was taking her place.
And when the baby comes…
6) You will be exhausted, and you will not want your older child under your feet constantly. She needs to be right there. She needs to be right in the middle of everything you’re doing, just like you promised her she would be. Let her help you change his diaper… she can hand you a diaper, and she can hand you a wipe. I promise, she won’t be traumatized by his naked body. She will want to be in your lap to watch you feed your baby, and that’s ok. Claire and I worked out a general rhythm to the point that I could say, “OK, it’s time to change sides,” (I breastfed) and she would immediately get up and allow me time to get Cam settled and latched before she’d climb up on the opposite side of my lap.
7) Use your baby’s nap times to rest and reconnect with your older child. I’m not going to lie, y’all–we watched a lot of TV during those first few months. And it was GREAT. I’d put Cam down for a nap, and Claire and I would snuggle up in the recliner and watch NickJr. It is what it is. As you’re healing physically and adjusting to life without sleep, don’t be too hard on yourself. You will notice that your older child will probably need a lot more cuddle time, and that’s ok. Claire has never been the cuddly type, but she definitely needed cuddle time during those first few months. Aside from this, she never had any of the other horrible problems that everyone else kept saying she would have adjusting to having a brother.
8) Get help from your husband. Make sure he’s on the same page as you as far as loving on your oldest child and helping her transition. (Also, if you can talk him into taking turns with the night shift for your new little one, that makes a HUGE difference. But there again, I digress.)
9) Point out your baby’s affection for your older child. Your baby can’t speak, and it’s very important to your older child to feel loved and accepted by your new little one. So something I started from the very beginning is to point out what Claire can’t see and understand. Examples: “Claire, he’s watching you.” “Look! He’s smiling at you! He likes you!” “Did you hear him laugh at you? You’re his favorite.” “He’s trying to take your toy because he wants to be in the middle of what you’re doing. He likes you.” When she’d say, “I love you, Cam,” I’d say, “He loves you too, sweetheart.” I am crossing my fingers that this helps to quell some of the expected sibling rivalry and helps them grow closer. So far, it seems to have paid off.
Now that my kids are 3.5 and 18 months, I can say that they are genuinely best friends. When Cameron wakes up, the first thing he does is go and find Claire. If she’s still in bed, he’ll throw her bedroom door open, saying, “Sissy, Sissy, Sissy…” He’ll then go to her bed, get right in her face, and squeal happily. She always giggles. I love hearing them play together. They are absolutely hysterical. And, as I’ve told her many times,Claire is a wonderful big sister.