A few people have asked in the last couple days if I have advice for helping kids transition to big siblings, and helping the family adjust to a new baby, overall. The thing is, I’m not an expert. I mean, I’ve done this 2x before, but I don’t know that the way I handle it is the “correct” way. I just know that my oldest children seem to have adjusted ok… in that they haven’t intentionally tried to eliminate their younger siblings forever. That I know of.
So, for what it’s worth, here are some ways we handle this part of growing a family.
We talk about it, but there is no BIG talk.
There is constant communication, but at no point do we sit everyone down and say, “There is going to be a new baby! I have 7 books I picked up to help us work through these feelings! We are going to push through this wall of emotions today!”
The baby is already a part of our family in that he’s a part of conversations. “When the baby gets here…” “What do you think about buying this for the baby…” “Can you believe the next time you have a baseball game, your new little brother will be here?!” “Mommy is really tired because this baby is getting so big! I wonder if he’ll be as big as you were.” There’s no need to force serious dialogue. We let the kids ask questions when they come, and do our best to be ready to answer then.
We set expectations, but we don’t intimidate them.
I want them to know that the baby is probably going to cry a lot, and that’s normal and okay. I want them to know that mom and dad might seem really stressed out sometimes, but it’s because we’re probably going to be really tired, and it has nothing to do with them. These are all good things to cover before the baby comes.
At the same time, while I’d love for my oldest to be able to help out with things like changing diapers, I’m not telling him that that’s expected of him. I don’t want there to be a sense of dread that this baby is going to bring more work and stress for THEM.
Most importantly, don’t treat this like a death.
I think, especially when you are having your 2nd baby, it’s easy to feel very sad about the end of this chapter. And that’s totally normal! I thought I was ruining my oldest child’s life by giving him a baby sister, and the guilt killed me. People can tell you, “Your heart will grow! It will be fine! I promise!” over and over, but you’ll likely still have these feelings until you hold that 2nd baby, or maybe even for a while after they arrive and you realize everything is going to work out. Again, that’s okay!
BUT, remember that children pick up on our anxiety, sadness, and fear – even toddlers (especially toddlers?). Don’t go crying while you rock them to sleep, apologizing to them about what is to come. Save your tears for when they aren’t looking. Write them a letter that you can slip in their baby book if you must. Process your emotions without risking them feeling like something bad is coming.
After baby comes, set aside time for baby-free dates.
With my first born, this was as easy as driving 2 miles down the road for a lunch at Taco Bueno while daddy watched baby sister for 45 minutes in between feedings. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate escape, or even a very long one. Take them to 7-11 for a Slurpee (and then let your partner deal with the sugar crash). And if you can’t get out of the house at all, have your partner or a support person take the baby in another room (or do this while they are napping) while you have special cuddle and snack time and watch big brother/sister’s favorite show together.
Just know that you are enough, there will be enough of you for everyone.
Now I’m the one telling you “It will be fine!” but seriously, it will be fine. It’s not going to be easy, and there will be struggles and possibly tears, but it will be fine. I’ve done the thing where I bought a gift for the older sibling for the “baby” to give to him- no impact at all. The biggest impact was just being there, before and after baby comes, to answer questions and give hugs and snuggles, and to also remind them that we’re still going to function the same way we always have. We’re going to have fun together, and we’re also going to have rules, and the baby is just going to be a part of all of that.