Your first child has you all to themselves and they like it that way, so if you have a second how will the first-born react?
When we found out we were having a second baby, after the initial wave of excitement and disbelief we remembered that this meant Little B was going to have to get used to having some competition.
I say remembered, he was probably standing in front of us either a) asking us to read Room on the Broom again b) holding his coat and saying ‘walk’ c) saying ‘Pasta’ and acting as if he hadn’t been fed for days d) crying because we were having a conversation not involving him.
And then we looked at Little B and felt a bit sorry for him. Our little prince. Not that he’s spoilt by any means, but he had basked in our undivided attention (well, unless one of us was out having a well-earned break) for the first year and a bit of his life.
He’d grown into a generally well-behaved toddler, with all the usual caveats of course, but the tantrums were short-lived, he usually ate his meals, and he’d been giving us fairly peaceful nights since the age of six months.
Then we realised we were about to drop a bomb into the midst of this parenting utopia.
So what did we do? Well, after the panicked vision of a post-apocalyptic home left devastated by the wrath of a spurned toddler had subsided, we started making plans.
We do love a list, especially Mrs B, so we had a think about the best way to ease his lordship into the brave new world we were planning to unveil in nine months time.
I’m not going to claim we got everything right but to date Little B has not put Baby F in the washing machine and he is still speaking to us and going to bed at 7pm (ish), so we must have ticked some boxes.
And so in the spirit of parental bonhomie here are my top tips on introducing your toddler to their new baby brother (or sister).
Before the birth
We started talking to Little B about his new baby brother early, once we felt secure about the pregnancy and had passed the 12 week milestone. We decided to find out which type of baby we were having so we could start imagining what our family would be like.
Having two boys is very different to a brother and sister I expect and I think it helped to be able to talk to Little B about his brother to be; it made it seem more real than talking about a generic baby.
We bought a couple of children’s books about a new baby coming. There are loads on the market but we chose ‘There’s A House Inside My Mummy’. We didn’t make a big fuss about it, left it with his other books, and he eventually asked to read it. There was a lot of looking and listening and wanting to go back to specific pictures.
I wasn’t sure how much understanding a toddler under two would have but he seemed to get the idea of a baby being inside his mummy. He’d enjoy pointing at the growing bump and putting his head against it to listen to his brother. And then he’d have phases of not wanting to talk about the baby at all, so we respected that and focused on him.
Who knows how this actually played out in Little B’s head. We still found it weird to try to envisage there being another person in our life and we’re meant to be grown ups!
To bring the concept to life a little we invested in a baby doll. The idea was that we’d teach him to hold the baby and be gentle with it. Unfortunately he spent a lot of time trying to poke it in the eyes.
We also bought Little B a new t-shirt, more for our benefit than his. Sadly it no longer fits him…
Plan the baby’s homecoming
This will all depend on your birth plans, and what help you can get with looking after your other child, but we were lucky to be able to ask grandparents to take Little B off for a couple of nights. We thought very hard about this, and whether it would make him feel like he was being pushed out of the nest. But the advice of family and friends was not to worry, and we knew that we would need help on the day we went into hospital as there was no way we could take Little B with us on the day.
Mrs B had a C-section and Baby F had to stay in hospital for some extra nights so in the end we were very grateful not to have the extra stress of having to look after his big brother when I was trekking back and forth to the hospital.
Fortunately, Little B is an independent soul and he was by all accounts having a brilliant holiday with Grandpa and Granny in the country. I’m amazed he wanted to come home!
We’d hoped to bring Little B back to the house first, give him an hour to settle back in with me and then I’d go and bring Mrs B and his new brother home. However, it took ages to be discharged from hospital (who knew maternity ward admin could be so complicated!?) and by the time we got home our toddler had gone to sleep.
In retrospect I think this was a blessing in disguise. It may have been too much excitement to have seen mummy and daddy again AND a new baby brother at the same time. So the next morning it was time for the big meeting…
Pick Your Moment
It’s a magical moment seeing your child meet their new baby brother or sister for the first time. You may not be able to plan it but I’m glad we were able to find a peaceful intermission to bring our new family together.
I went to get Little B from his bedroom the morning after we’d arrived home from hospital and led him up to our attic bedroom, telling him on the way that his new brother was here.
He walked up to the crib and peered in.
“Baby!” he said, sounding delighted.
This was going well so we lifted the tiny bundle out and all got on the bed together. There was some prodding and stroking while we both reminded Little B to be “Gentle, gentle!”
“Yes, he has a nose doesn’t he?”
“And a mouth, good boy, he likes milk but not toast.”
“Yes, those are his ears.”
“Yes, like your ears. Good boy. Do you like your brother.”
“Eeeyes!” screamed Little B.
“No! We don’t put our fingers in his eyes!”
Which reminds me. Try to…
Keep Calm (and carry on parenting)
Although I now know that the mind seems to be built to forget, I can remember the white knuckle panic we felt on coming home with our first baby. Constantly checking to see if he was breathing, being scared of hurting him when I was changing a nappy or dressing his tiny body, worrying he wasn’t getting enough milk and a hundred other daily worries.
This time we discovered there was no time to worry. Little B didn’t care that we had another person to look after. In fact, I think he upped his demands to test us. Fair enough I think, he was making sure that HE was still our number one priority, and even if that wasn’t always the case we did our best to fool him.
Thankfully new babies do sleep a lot in between the constant feeding and crying. So although we were both tired we made sure one of us was with Little B, making him feel loved and heading off crises before they blew up.
There have been times this month where we’ve looked at each other and wondered what we did with all our time when we only had one baby.
Somehow you magic extra minutes in the day but I confess that two is not double the work, it can feel like another fifty per cent on top.
My tip is to try to stay calm, easier said than done I know. But some things will have to slide; the laundry pile (dirty and clean) will grow even bigger, the dishwasher and sink will overflow, emails will remain unread. And yes, blogging and social media may have to be forgotten!
It’s a short time in your life. Give in to it, especially if, like us, you know you aren’t going to do it again. And this time around please trust your experience and instincts. You know your shit now, literally, so hunker down and don’t listen to the voices (in your head and the comments from family and friends and possibly complete strangers on trains) who think you aren’t coping.
Presents For All
Yes, everyone, you deserve it.
I think getting a present from the baby to your toddler (and other children) is a great idea. I used to think it was barmy but now I do believe they get the idea and it smooths the path to acceptance of the new person in their life.
And likewise, buying your older child a present to give to the baby in return is a lovely way to make them feel a part of welcoming their new brother or sister to the fold.
Some people might say that giving your toddler a gift is bribery or spoiling them or teaching them that you buy their love. Well that’s bollocks.
I have no idea what it’s like to have your two or three-year old world turned upside down by the appearance of another person that mummy and daddy and everyone else thinks is the best thing since
sliced bread gin and tonic in a can but it’s probably a massive shock. So a present is a distraction and a token of love.
Do the real love lots too. Shower your toddler with kisses and hugs at every opportunity. Do the same for each other. Don’t forget about each other. I know you may be sleeping some night in separate beds and barely grunting as you pass by each morning, carrying a child each, along with milk sodden clothes and blankets, trying desperately to eat, get dressed, or go to work. But you DID AN AMAZING THING. AGAIN. You nutters.
So be kind to yourselves. And remember to…
Take A Break
I’m not suggesting you go on holiday. I’m not deluded.
I’m talking about grabbing ten minutes to go into a dark room and sit down.
No one can keep going indefinitely on minimal sleep, bad food, and CBeebies on repeat. At some point someone will crack and if both parents implode the children will not thank you. So remember you are humans, not robots, and you need to take care.
Loads of mums and dads suffer from feelings of sadness, desperation, or anger in the weeks and months after having a baby; add a toddler to the mix and you’ve got a potential catastrophe brewing.
Whoever isn’t looking after the children all day (probably dad in the early weeks) can offer to take on all the childcare for an hour or two at the weekend while your beloved goes off to sit in a cafe, go for a walk, wander around some shops, fly a kite – whatever you used to love doing that will unwind and revitalise you. Don’t forget to return the favour.
If you are a single parent this still applies but clearly it’s going to be a hell of a lot tougher to pull off. Any family or friends who can pop round a give you an hour off is going to make all the difference.
Children need a break too. Being around your new brother or sister all day is tiresome and yes, that might be why your toddler just threw pasta all over the kitchen floor. So take them off to the park, spend time with them and remember that they can be cute and beautiful too; they’re still your baby. But babies who say no and like running through muddy puddles.
Finally, at the earliest possible opportunity hoodwink someone into babysitting for a night and go get drunk together again like you used to. It’ll only take one glass, cheap date.
All of the above is based on our experience. This may not be good advice for you. Everyone’s family is unique so all I can say is that if you’re embarking on a similar journey I hope some of these makes your life easier.
And finally, I can say that now we’re a gang of four something has fallen into place. I can’t explain it yet but I’m looking forward to getting to know how this little chap fits in to the puzzle. He definitely fits…