(Even when sleep is not an option)
A new baby. The idea brings with it so many emotions – joy, nostalgia, anticipation, excitement. It can also bring with it anxiety and even fear. This can be even more true when the new baby is coming home to a family with older children. It’s not news that new babies are wonderful little miracles, nor is it news that a new baby is a big CHANGE for a family.
I brought home my own miracle one month ago. He is settling into his new family well. This transition was made much easier with some great advice I received. At my baby shower, my friends gave me a wonderful gift. Each friend filled out a card, “Advice for number two.” These tips were all a great reminder of our Six Seconds EQ Competencies. It was the best baby gift anyone could have given me.
1. Don’t greet the older children while holding the baby. Older children have a lot of fear knowing that their mother is in the hospital. They want to make sure that their mother is still there for them. As such, when your older child comes to the hospital to meet a new sibling, have someone else hold the baby. Let them hug their mother with no obstructions. The mother also benefits, knowing that she can still show her older children love and attention, even after a long or difficult labor.
2. Ask your older child to name their feelings – all of their feelings. Parents are well aware that an older sibling may experience a wide range of emotions but are uncomfortable hearing that the older sibling may be feeling “negative” emotions. As parents, it is our role to hear our children’s feelings –all of them. Be ready to hear really contradictory things. For example, “I am so happy to be a big sister. The baby is so cute. But, I am scared that our family is too big now and you won’t have time for me. Will you still love me as much as you do now?” Some children may express ambivalence to the new baby or even dislike, “I don’t love the baby. He doesn’t do anything.” You can reassure children that love comes with time. The most important message you can give is that no feelings are off limits or wrong. Feelings are information. They are learning about their relationship with their new sibling from these feelings.
This is a great opening to a conversation about change, families, and to connect with an older child. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you’re nervous and learning how you, yourself will fit into this bigger family. Tell them what helps you when change happens and what makes you exited and happy about your growing family. This helps orient both of you towards optimism while acknowledging all the information ALL your feelings give you.
3. Keep some time special just for parents and older children. When a new baby comes home – everything changes. Look for opportunities to keep some things consistent and unchanged. We made a conscious effort to make sure we still gave our daughter her as similar routines as she was used to. One of us works through her bedtime routine (including reading out loud and singing). We don’t bring the baby in her room at this time, even if he’s quiet and sleeping. I also made sure we kept our weekly “ice cream date.” Our older daughter knows how much we value our time with her and she rewards us by telling us things she probably wouldn’t otherwise. This is her time to connect and it keeps us aware when she is feeling stressed by the change.
4. Focus your attention and that of others towards your older child. People will send welcome gifts for the baby and stop by to see the baby. This is a chance to show your older child that they remain as important as ever to your family. We were given two pieces of advice – have a bag of gifts hidden for the older child. If someone sends something only for baby, dive into the bag. This can help older children feel appreciated, loved and that they are being treated fairly. When someone comes to visit, try putting the baby down for a moment and encourage the visitor to pay attention to the older child first. A way to “choreograph” this is to have the older child help opening the door (for smaller children, you’ll want to stand right behind them, of course). The visitor will have to acknowledge the older child first and you can pull back with the baby.
5. Share your own observations and epiphanies. I was genuinely afraid that my capacity for love was finite. It’s not. What if I had to split the love I felt for my first child with another? What I learned simply by living through it is that the new baby “grew the pie”. I just have more love to give now. I took the risk of telling my daughter this. She answered, “I was scared of that too. But love’s funny like that – it just keeps growing to fit everyone you love.” If only I’d known what she already knew.
6. Find the fun and affection! Children have great capacity for fun. They find it faster and in more things than adults. Let your older children suggest ways to be together as a whole family. At our daughter’s suggestion, on family game nights, we sit the new baby in a bouncy chair and have him play as a “team” with one of us. We include the baby even though he may not be able to “really play”. When you’re cuddling up with the baby, sit in the middle of the sofa and let your older children snuggle up on either side of you. The physical connection of a whole family will benefit all of you.
In short, as families expand – through a new baby, an adoption, a grandparent moving in, we have a great opportunity to choose ourselves. We can choose to honor all of our relationships, old and new while the love grows and takes care of itself.