When a new baby arrives, it’s darn near impossible to maintain a sense of normalcy in your household (and kind of naive if you think you can – been there, done that!). This is an even bigger challenge when you’ve got other children in the mix. So, I thought I’d share a two-part series of posts as we grow (very) close to adding a third to our brood.
This week, I’m chatting about ways for you, as a parent, to stay connected to your older kids (while still giving your little one the attention he or she needs).
Involve your older child if they’re a helper, but don’t push it if they’re not. Who knows your child better than you? Our almost-2-year-old daughter is extremely independent, recently running to grab a couple of diapers from her room before we left the house (I would have totally forgotten them). She puts away her laundry for us and begs to put everyone else’s away, as well. So, needless to say, asking her to get something that I need for the baby may continue the “I’m helping, I’m involved” feelings.
Our son is a helper, but to an extent. He has a couple of chores that he’s super proud to do for us, but I remember that after awhile the “get sister’s onesie” requests wore thin. So, this time around he may actually be relieved that he has a little sister to help with these requests! Either way, we’ll try not to overdo it and keep an eye out for the inevitable sighs when we do.
Try to keep a routine schedule but with some looseness. My mom has mentioned several times that, “Well, you’ll have Harper home with you a lot…” while I’m on leave, and I’m kind of thinking, “Well, not really.” We want to maintain some normalcy – and that includes sending her to my mother-in-law on most weekdays and, of course, sending our son to kindergarten. Keeping this structure is not only good for the baby and I, but for our older two, as well.
However, some of this scheduled structure is going to loosen, again, for the good of the whole family. Maybe Mommy (or Daddy) won’t be making lunches everyday and our son gets to have the cafeteria experience (he’s excited about the prospect of this). Maybe Daddy will take the kids to Barnes and Noble or out to eat (huge treats) while I stay home with the baby. Maybe we’ll take some family members up on their offers to have sleepovers more.
There are some things that are hugely important to our family, though, particularly our son. We still enjoy our PBS Kids Family Nights every Friday and will continue to do so. As the holidays (and our daughter’s birthday) get closer, we’ll find ways to celebrate our traditions simply but specially. So, a routine but with some flexibility thrown in is our goal; let’s hope we can achieve it!
Keep communication open. This can be a tough one to maintain since you may feel fried or be going through your own hormonal emotions, yourself, but I don’t mean that you have to discuss the transition CONSTANTLY and over every single behavior issue. Actually, that can make things worse, I’ve found.
Rather, before the baby arrives, have mini conversations here and there about how your child is feeling. This time around, our son says he’s SUPER excited (even if it’s not a boy, ha ha) and has formed more of a connection by talking to my belly or feeling for kicks. I’ve made sure to remind him of the changes in a matter-of-fact, neither-good-nor-bad kind of way. He’s been through them before, so it’s more of a refresher of what’s to come.
For our younger, less aware daughter, though, this communication has been more vague and we’re much looser in our conversations. Simple books and dollies help (even though she’s not really a nurturing doll mama type), but saying that she has a new baby friend coming (and not trying to dethrone her “baby” title – we interchange big girl and baby girl equally) that she can be a big helper with seems to be sinking in.
So, balance in communication is the goal. We found that over-discussing things with our son when his first sister came made things worse, but obviously ignoring issues or not being willing to take a moment to snuggle and chat about an issue might make your child feel a bit abandoned.
Do SIMPLE activities together. Don’t let Mom Guilt (or Parenting Guilt – my husband’s just as guilt-driven as I am) seep in while you’re in the midst of a huge transition, yourself! Paring back on the kid activities (in our case, we purposefully avoided getting our son involved with anything since kindergarten itself has been such a huge change and didn’t put our daughter into Kindermusik even though we’ve been considering it) is TOTALLY understandable.
Instead, I’m planning to take into consideration some priorities first but say “yes” more often. This means I’ll consider a) how I’m feeling, b) how baby’s doing (along with his/her schedule), and c) how much it’ll throw off the routine. If it’s a school night and we still have baths to give and it’s getting later by the minute and the baby’s having a rough time, nope. If it’s a Friday night or baths aren’t needed (we do them every other night unless they’ve gotten super dirty or sweaty) and the baby’s chill, regardless of how tired I may be or how messy the activity, I need to remember to say “yes” and remember that messes aren’t forever.
Simple activities can range from a dinner out or a trip to a library for story time, or, heck, just doing a super simple craft project together, coloring, playing Candyland, or watching an educational show together. These things recharge our children’s “Mom still has time for me!” batteries and reminds me to connect more.
Be genuinely involved when you can. Going hand-in-hand with the last tip is to be mindful about the time spent together. When the kids are home and the baby’s napping or being worn, the phone will be put aside and we’ll make a concerted effort to chat about things that are important to our littles. After all, every stage that we’re observing and experiencing in our kiddos – the early school age, the learning-new-words-and-talents-everyday phase, and, of course, the newborn stage – are fleeting. They’re all important and sweet and challenging and wonderful phases in their own ways, and before we know it they won’t WANT us as involved.
As fried as we sometimes get (especially thanks to sleep deprivation!), the kids crave that connection, and it’s our job to provide it, even by simply sitting with them and being there.
Don’t beat yourself up. Christmas is going to be simpler this year, as is my daughter’s birthday. We won’t be able to attend every awesome school function. We’ll welcome less visitors (unless they’re actually offering help of some kind) to visit with the new baby. Sometimes I WILL say “not today, buddy” when our son requests yet again to paint that darn bird feeder we’ve been avoiding painting for 5 months. The list goes on, and it’s all enough to really get down on myself about.
But, like I mentioned, this stage isn’t forever. One day, we’ll make Pinterest-perfect Christmas cookies together. (Maybe.) One day, we WILL sign up our daughter for Kindermusik and our son up for whatever sport or activity he has his mind set to try. One day, we’ll get to every single school function. And, yes, one day we WILL paint that bird feeder (heck, maybe the day the baby’s born some kind soul will break it open for our son to splatter paint all over – and I’ll be grateful because I know how much it meant to him). It just might not be today…and that’s okay.
To say nothing of the housecleaning…
Allow them transition time/leniency. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are lifelong connections. Just think about when you and your significant other first started dating. If you were forced to spend 24/7 together from the very beginning, you might have felt overwhelmed, frustrated, and not as “into” them as you did by simply dating and maintaining “me time.” Well, we bring a new forever friend home for our littles and expect them to be 100% okay with it.
Sometimes they are, but sometimes it comes out in poor behavior and choices or downright grumpiness. It may hurt to think that our littles don’t immediately take to their sibling, but remember that their relationship (like most family relationships) will be a marathon and a bumpy start doesn’t necessarily bode badly for the future. Allow these feelings to happen. Give it time.
Just remember to love on your first (and second, and third…) babies while you’re doing your best job loving on your newborn. Your love is the interconnecting thread that has created this silly, adorable lot in the first place, and is what holds it all together. That love is all it takes to heal any hurts or welcome a new little squish.
So, are any of you expecting a second, third, fourth (etc) child? Have you gone through it before? If so, we’d all love to hear your ideas and tips on making the transition easier and staying connected with your older child(ren) in the comments!