Being a first-time mom or dad can be frightening, exciting and overwhelming all at once. There is so much to learn, and you never really feel like you get it all before the baby is born. When it’s time for baby number two, an entirely new set of emotions kick in, and you’re suddenly launched into feeling like a freshman all over again. Most would agree that parenting can be downright difficult with one child; once you double the number, you’re playing in a whole new ballfield.
One of the questions I encounter from moms and dads who have one child and another on the way concerns helping the oldest to transition into a being big brother or big sister. It’s a common worry for parents, and for good reason. We’ve all either been the older, somewhat-bitter-sibling (c’mon, admit it) or seen someone else go through it. If there’s a way to prevent that phase, why wouldn’t we make the attempt, right?
There are no perfect parents, and I will never say that my way is the only way to do anything regarding all children. I’ll only tell you that we were able to successfully welcome baby number two to our family, and make his older brother happy while doing it. Here’s a little of what we did to pull it off.
My oldest (Kingsley) was one-and-a-half years old when I was pregnant with Kensington. The first thing I decided to do was buy a baby doll and stroller for Kingsley. I know, I know, gasps all around. I never understood why a boy having a babydoll was some controversial concept. I simply realized that I would be having a baby soon, and I wanted to give him a tangible representation and understanding of what that might be like. So my 18-month-old would walk around the house pushing his “baby” in a stroller. We would hold the baby, rock it and talk about what it meant to take care of him. He was gentle and sweet, and he understood that it was important to be nice to the baby.
During this time, I did a lot of talking about the real baby and where it was. I would tell him that the baby was little and in mommy’s tummy, but he would come “out” one day. I think part of the reason it can be so difficult to have these conversations with children of all ages is that we don’t tell them the truth about how it all happens. This can be tricky, of course, because we all want to keep things age appropriate. You should decide what feels most comfortable in your family and choose accordingly. I found a suitable video of a woman giving birth in nature (literally right beside a river) online, fast-forwarded to a very quick exit (from a censored angle), and watched with Kingsley. Parents get uneasy with this idea, but our children regularly watch all sorts of animals giving birth in classrooms and on nature channels. What makes human birth so repulsive? It isn’t at all; it’s beautiful and should be celebrated.
Kingsley understood that his baby brother was in my tummy and would come out one day. He understood that Kensi would be very much like his babydoll: small, helpless and needing lots of patience and loving care. I made sure to tell him how much more he, as the older one, was capable of doing, compared to his little brother. Overall, he was prepared.
The day I gave birth, Kingsley entered the hospital room and Kensi was in my arms. He came over to me, and I excitedly asked him, “Who’s this?” He looked at me almost with sarcasm in his eyes and replied, “Kensi, mom.” The next few moments and months were key in developing a positive relationship between the two of them, but particularly so when it came to positive feelings we wanted to impart to Kingsley. We were sure to never leave him out. Moms, one of the things we struggle with as moms to newborns is wanting to make sure nobody (even siblings) hurts them. I’ve seen moms stop the older sibling as he or she went in for a hug or kiss because they feared germs. Trust me, I get it. But the biggest piece of advice I can give is to include the older sibling.
When Kingsley went to kiss Kensington, I let him. There were times when we were all sitting around at home and the baby was in my arms, and Kingsley wanted to hold him. I allowed it. I was cringing and wincing and praying on the inside, but I kept it hidden as I carefully let him sit beside me and hold the baby.
Kingsley and Kensington are a bit older today. The oldest has always been, and still is to this day, pretty protective of the youngest. I think his having an understanding of Kensi being little and fragile when he was still in utero later made Kingsley want to guard and support his little brother, whom he fondly calls “baby”. Kingsley’s father and I made sure to spend a little extra alone time with him after the baby was born, although Kingsley always seemed to want “his baby” to accompany us. We didn’t deal with much sibling rivalry or jealousy, and I believe these methods all contributed to that.
Becoming a big brother or sister doesn’t have to be stressful on a child. Introducing the baby as their brother or sister, instead of mommy and daddy’s baby, can help your oldest feel included. Give him or her the chance to participate in taking care of the little one, and never, ever stop your child from gentle kisses or affection toward the baby. There’s absolutely nothing like a sibling bond. Start nurturing it before baby number two even arrives, and watch it bloom throughout their lives!