I will never forget the look on my oldest child’s face when he walked into the hospital room and saw me holding his baby sister for the first time. It was a look of pure betrayal—“Oh, so this is how it’s going to be, now?” Until that fateful day, after all, Jacob had had more than two and a half years of my undivided attention.
It took me a few weeks (OK, make that months) to realize that giving him a sibling was actually the best thing we ever did for him as parents. In Rebecca, Jacob had a friend, a partner in crime, an adoring fan (and true, also a sparring partner and rival, but I’d argue those are good things to grow up with).
Of course, in the midst of jealous tantrums and outbursts, which didn’t make the transition time any easier—but, here are a few things that did help take the edge off the big sibling blues:
Prepare your child for change
Depending on how old your older child is, give her a heads up that a baby is on the way around the time you’re visibly pregnant. There’s no need to spill the beans when the baby is just the size of a bean (9 months can seem like a very, very long time to a toddler or preschooler!), but when you’re waddling around, holding your back and don’t have the energy to play hide-and-go-seek 80 times in one afternoon, it might be a good time to make that exciting announcement.
I highly recommend the book, The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby Book to help make that transition more exciting and real for your older child. I know it was one of Jacob’s favorites!
Make your child feel important
Your oldest has been your “baby”—and now that role is going to someone else. Make him your very best helper by asking his opinion on everything related to the new baby. For younger kids, frame the questions as choices: “Do you think we should get the baby this blanket with the teddy bear or the one with the yellow puppies?” and “Should we put the diapers in this basket or in this drawer?” Be sure to praise your child’s choices and thank him for being helpful.
“Bribery” isn’t so bad…
Your older child used to be your only child—and now he’s one of two (or more if it was multiples!). Make him feel special with a “big sibling gift” that’s from the new arrival. You can make this gift a favorite toy he’s been longing for, or a small token. Bonus points if your gift will occupy him during nursing sessions and diaper changes. The Preschool Skills book will keep a toddler or preschooler busy for hours thanks to matching games, stickers and other games.
Stick to the old house rules
Before he became a big brother, Jacob rarely had tantrums, took three-hour afternoon naps and listened to what we told him to do with almost no resistance. But our “model child” quickly turned into a problem child when Rebecca was born. He began having loud, teary meltdowns over pretty much nothing, completely stopped napping and even woke up in the middle of the night multiple times and openly defied almost anything we asked him to do.
For a little while, neither of us had energy to deal with his shenanigans. You want another cookie? FINE. Have one. You want Daddy to sleep in your bed? FINE.
But soon we realized that the more permissive we got, the worse he behaved. So we reintroduced the dusty concept of a “time out” and the even dustier concept of “NO!” And within a few days, we had our old, sweet Jacob back. (I’d never realized until this experience, incidentally, how much children do really crave limits.)
Be easier on yourself
Maybe your house used to be spotless. Maybe your first child used to get home-cooked, organic meals before the baby arrived—and a long story time before bed, handmade teacher gifts and hours of patient arts and crafts projects. I hate to break it to you, but most of this “mommy perfection” is going to fall by the wayside once you’re operating on no sleep, nap strikes, potty training regression and newborn jaundice.
But that’s OK. It’s fine to lower your standards in the domestic goddess department if it means you’ll have more energy and patience for your little ones. Either hire a housekeeper or settle for a “presentable” rather than “perfect” house—I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the invention of disinfecting wipes (and love these wipes from Seventh Generation, which smell like lemongrass and thyme and are eco-friendly to boot!).
Whip out Annie’s Homegrown Classic Macaroni and Cheese instead of hand-grating the cheddar yourself…your child won’t mind, we promise!
Stuff your diaper bag with healthy, ready-to-eat snacks like GoGo Squeeze Applesauce On the Go and Annie’s Homegrown Organic Orchard Fruit Bites, so you’ll never get caught in a bind requiring junk food drive-through…but if you do hit the double-arches, I promise you, you and your child will be absolutely fine.
One day, when your baby is sleeping through the night, your older child has made peace with his new role in the family, and you’re starting to feel like your old self again, you can return to your previous perfectionism; but for now, take it one day at a time.
Jorie Mark is the Creative Director of Vitacost.com and mother to three children, ages 2 to 9.