The most difficult part of adding a new baby to the family, if I remember correctly, was not the new baby, herself. The true stress came from the toddler in the background.
Her world was changed. Though she was happy with the new baby, the addition caused some hidden anxieties. They manifested themselves in clinging, fussing, whining, and altogether disruptive behavior. It was quite obvious that the lack of normalcy was stressing her out, and when a toddler’s stressed out, life can be miserable for the entire family.
Which is absolutely not helpful during a babymoon.
After a few weeks of adjusting to our new situation, she did calm down and get back to her normal two-year-old antics. But this is all on my mind again because we’re expecting a new baby this fall, and I’m crossing my fingers that the transition will be gentle. I have high hopes that because both of our older children are out of toddlerhood, they will be better able to understand and adjust to the baby’s presence.
But I’m also worried that an increased sense of understanding will be joined by increased anxieties. Our older kids won’t be easily distracted from sensing that they’re not getting as much attention from their parents. They might find new and frightening ways of acting out their jealousy.
Or, I could be overreacting (not an uncommon occurrence), and they’ll merely be thrilled to be big sisters and willing helpers.
Either way, I’d like to help this go as peacefully as possible. Here’s my massively technical two-pronged plan:
Build anticipation truthfully and maintain stability lovingly.
That’s it. Pretty serious business, right?
But it is! The girls are over-the-moon excited about having a new baby in the house, but I think their enthusiastic views of new-baby-bliss are skewed to unnatural expectations. I know they’re under the impression that babies are cute little bundles, and they’re right, but there’s so much more to it than that. They’ll need to know about the crying. The sleeping. The extra care. The changes in schedule.
We’re been telling stories (which our big kids think are hilarious) of what life with a new baby was like when they were born. They include vomit, poop, tears, and above all, honesty. And it’s related in a way that expresses how good it all was in the midst of stress.
But for all the preparation that comes before baby arrives, there’s still a lot of work to be done after the fact.
When visitors are showering the baby with attention and the parents with congratulations, siblings can get lost in the shuffle. In the early days, it’ll be helpful to include our big girls in those blessings, but also remember to keep their days consistent.
Their lives will still include school and holidays and play-dates, and maintaining the pre-baby stability is crucial. If others will be helping to care for the big kids, I’ll be stressing the importance of sticking to our routines and keeping mom or dad handy for snuggles on demand.
In the long-term, maintaining stability will include extra attention and conversation, as well as fun things planned just with the big kids in mind. It will be about sensing their needs and accepting that they might not express how out-of-sorts they feel.
I trust that the new baby will fit seamlessly into our lives, but I also know that it’s up to us to make sure the stitches stay straight and true.