You’ve seen it in the movies: the only child living in paradise. Mom and dad, being first-time parents, are wired into every movement of their first little one. If a cough is even a decibel off from its usual tone or length, they are calling the doctor with questions. Their lives are centralized around the one child —then suddenly, the only child is swooshed out of this dream-like state when mom and dad drop the news: a sibling is on the way. If life were a movie, your child would be plotting against the little one, angst-ridden with the fact they are no longer the sole beneficiary of their parents’ abundant affection. While it would make for an eventful movie, this angst can and should be avoided in real life for the sake of the family’s harmony. Luckily, we have some tips to make the welcoming of a new baby an exciting, formative, and angst-limited experience.
Finding out that you are pregnant with another child is, amongst many things, a significant moment. It can be full of excitement and anticipation, but conversely, it can also be full of uncertainty, especially in how your little one may react to the news. For instance, why the heck is mommy’s tummy becoming rounder and fuller week by week? Why is she getting sick in the morning? Further down the line, and perhaps of more concern, why is mom paying so much attention to the baby and not me? These are all questions you can anticipate hearing. Our advice in mitigating this uncertainty? Start the dialogue early and candidly.
By doing so, you can ease your child into the fact that they will no longer be an only child. Importantly, it grants you the time to set clear expectations for your little one. You can be candid with them, letting them know how exciting this journey will be. Establishing that a sibling is an exciting and welcome addition to your family is an excellent way to frame this to them. However, in communicating this positively, it’s important not to present having a baby in rose-tinted glasses. In that, you should not withhold that having another baby will be challenging at times. According to the Child Mind Institute, you want to ensure that you are as specific as appropriate for your child. Specifically, they state there is value in being clear of the baby’s lack of autonomy regarding feeding themselves and changing diapers, for instance.
An essential facet of setting clear expectations is taking the time to understand your limitations and try to create systems with your significant other or support group to maintain them. You are human and have your own needs; not allowing yourself and your energy to be subsumed into the motion and commotion of being a mom with another child on the way is critical. You may be thinking easier said than done- and you’d be correct. However, putting the energy towards addressing this difficult balance is well worth it. For example, if you know from your last pregnancy that you become tired quickly, try to work out a system with your significant other or support system that insulates the time you need for yourself. Perhaps, this manifests as a dedicated time for your partner to take your older child to the park while you get in that much-deserved power nap. It’s difficult to give yourself the time you need without experiencing “mom-guilt.” But, pregnancy is demanding, and recognizing that you are not invincible does not make you a bad mother. On the contrary, it makes you a stronger one for advocating for yourself and preserving your energy in the ways you need. All in all, by being transparent in expectations for things both exciting and challenging, you can help your child in understanding what to expect.
To further foster understanding, encourage your child to ask questions and be involved in the process. It can, and likely will, be at least a little confusing to them. Creating an environment where they feel comfortable asking questions will give them a better sense of confidence in this change, making them feel more involved than merely being an observer. To further encourage involvement, if your child is old enough, allowing them to participate in appropriate baby preparation activities- like assisting in decor for the nursery or thinking of names- is a way for your child to feel involved and important in the process. Additionally, try to start a dialogue in the role that they will play as a sibling. Telling your older child that they will be able to play a role in loving and teaching the baby will make them feel and be a valuable player in this transition. Ultimately, this helps bolster your child to feel more confident and included in this family transformation.
As important as it is in showing them the important role they play, your relationship with your child mustn’t be sacrificed in anticipation of your little one on the way. Instead, you must prioritize doing special activities with your child to emphasize that they are not losing your attention and love in this transformation. It is also worth remembering how challenging the early newborn and postpartum period can be. Hopefully, in giving your child the attention you can before delivery, you can mitigate feelings of lack of awareness.
To that point, even with the perfect intentions, your child will almost inevitably experience some feelings of jealousy towards the newborn. A common phenomenon for children in coping with this transition is what is known as regression. Children may start to regress from the development they have reached as a means of signaling a desire for attention. For example, your older child may notice that it may elicit you to respond with your attention when the baby performs a particular behavior. So, they will act in a way to prompt your attention and response. Psychologists note that this is often just a means of saying, “Hey, mom! Don’t forget me; I still need you!” While common, you must give them your attention, but in a way that champions developmental progression. Praise accomplishments that signal developmental progress, ultimately aiming to encourage your child to move forward continuously.
Overall, welcoming another sibling can be a beautiful experience, albeit with its unique set of challenges. Success in this experience is often predicated on setting clear expectations early, both for your little one, your support system, and yourself. By doing so, we are confident that you will welcome your new child into an environment that is well-prepared to embrace it, with any older-child angst minimized as much as possible.