This past fall, my wife and I had our second child. Our first, Kellan, was 2 1/2 when his little sister, Rory, was born. While we knew it’d be an adjustment for us to become parents of two, unlike our toddler, we had a long time to get used to the idea and plan for it.
Like many parents, we worried about how the transition to a family of four might affect our first-born child — and we worked proactively to prepare him as much as possible. Here’s what helped ease the adjustment period for us.
- Talk with the older sibling about what’s happening throughout the pregnancy (or adoption process) and how it will end. We used phrases like, “There’s a baby in Mommy’s belly. The baby is growing; once Baby is bigger, he or she will come out and live with us.”
- Help the older sibling understand what will change and what will stay the same once the baby comes home. This can happen through short conversations, books and imaginative play.
- Consider buying a baby doll to help your child practice — through play — interacting with the baby. Our son loved practicing holding the baby and singing lullabies.
- Get support, if possible, from other adults to ensure the older sibling isn’t always taking a back seat to the newborn — especially in the first few days or weeks. We were lucky enough to have my parents staying with us for a full week to ensure Kellan got lots of attention. Other ideas include organizing outings for the toddler with family/friends, such as a trip the children’s museum or zoo, play time at the park or even just having another adult come over to play with your older child at home.
- Enlist the help of the older sibling to help with care of Baby to the extent possible developmentally. Kellan loves to help give his sister baths, to hand us clean diapers and throw away the dirty ones. These tasks often take longer with the “help” of a toddler, but they ensure he doesn’t feel left out. Make sure your older child is interested and isn’t just completing chores; otherwise this step can backfire and cause the older sibling to become jealous or frustrated.
- Carve out quality time for each parent to spend with the older sibling. My wife and I alternate who puts Kellan to bed each night to ensure he isn’t missing out on time with one of us. If I’m home alone with both kids, I try to set Rory down or babywear to keep my hands and attention free to play with Kellan.
Looking back, I remember two things we did that helped Laura, our first child, prepare for the arrival of her baby brother, Kevin. When she was 2, we moved her out of her crib into a “big girl bed” so she would have a few months to adjust to the change and not feel displaced by the baby.
And shortly before her baby brother arrived, we gave Laura a special doll. We showed her how to feed, change and rock her baby, and talked about doing that soon for the baby who was coming.
But for some reason I forgot to explain that, when the baby arrived, I’d need to stay in the hospital for a couple of nights with the baby. Three decades later, I can still recall the sad look on Laura’s face as she left the hospital with her dad. That was an important detail we forgot!
Fast forward to September 2018 and the impending arrival of my second grandchild. I contemplated how my husband and I could best help the entire family adjust to the new baby; I didn’t want to forget anything important.
Sensing my daughter would go into labor early, I’d already packed my bags and turned on my out-of-office email when we got the text: She was in labor! We hopped in the car, drove to Colorado and arrived at their house just as they were getting home from the hospital. The first time I met Baby Rory, she had six adults and her big brother all vying to hold her, so my cuddle time was limited.
The days that followed were packed with lots of playtime with big brother Kellan. My husband and I took him on walks to neighborhood parks, read lots of books, played with all his favorite toys and gave him baths. He seemed to be adjusting well to having a new baby in the house and all that goes with it. We also made Target and grocery runs, cooked meals, did laundry and put the household garden to bed. I snuck in a little time here and there to hold the baby, but with all that was going on, I wasn’t getting my fill.
The night before we left, I could tell my daughter really needed sleep, and I was desperately craving cuddle time with my new granddaughter. So I forcefully suggested Laura go sleep, and leave the baby with me; I’d let her know if Rory needed her.
I had two full hours of blissful bonding, holding baby Rory. When Laura awoke, refreshed from her two-hour nap, and came to check on the baby, she said, “That was an amazing two hours!”
I couldn’t agree more!
My next visit I will make cuddle time with baby Rory a higher priority.
That detail is too important to forget!
Mary Rose Remington, a baby boomer grandmother living in Minneapolis, is documenting her journey in this occasional series with her daughter, Laura Groenjes Mitchell, a millennial mom who lives in Denver.