CO-AUTHORED POST By: Gretchen Covine & Cristi Comes
Nothing can break your heart or dampen your new-baby-bliss quite like signs of jealousy from your existing children. In fact, acting out by your older kids can sometimes be a trigger for PPD and other postpartum mood issues. So it’s definitely nothing to sneeze at.
This is such an important topic to discuss, because there are SO many challenges with bringing home subsequent children. It can really rock your world. But here’s where learning from other parents can be so helpful. There are tons of ideas to help make the transition easier.
So we wanted to share a few of ours, and hope you’ll share your ideas with us too.
Gretchen Covine, Mom of 3 boys ages 9, almost 7, and 19 months
A friend recently had her second child and we were discussing the challenges of helping existing children with the transition. Parents of multiple children (like us) know one thing for sure… no two children are alike. A tactic that works with one child may not work with the next, so being prepared with a lot of ideas can be so helpful.
I think it’s important to note that a new baby brings enormous changes to the family, and everyone Mom, Dad, siblings (and even pets) will need a little adjustment time with the new family make-up. If you’re goal is shooting for a perfectly smooth and seamless transition, you may be setting yourself up for failure. There are bumps along every new path.
Also, if you’re bringing a new baby home to a toddler, your toddler will still be a “toddler.” No matter how much you work with them through the new baby transition, the “terrible twos and threes” are still going to happen. And if they haven’t started prior to baby, the new family addition may jump start it. It’s good to remember its normal for a toddler to act out and push the envelope. Be careful not to over associate these behaviors with the new baby.
For me, prepping my firstborn for the new baby started well before baby’s arrival. As my belly grew I let Michael apply the “belly butter” I used to help avoid stretch marks on my belly. We included him in the nursery preparation. As we pulled out his old baby clothes we talked with him about times he spent in certain outfits. He told us about his favorites and we put his favorite outfits in one drawer. For the hospital we bought a gift from baby David to Michael for when he came to visit at the hospital. We also made sure that Tony and I were not holding the baby when he first came into the hospital room.
After David was born we introduced “school,” a special spot in our home just for Michael to show him that growing offers cool things too like getting to do school assignments and crafts. I would spend some time each day with him at “school”. I did this both with and without David in my arms. But when I first started I tried to make it special Michael and me time. But ultimately it didn’t work out well to not include David, and Michael liked “school” enough that he was OK with David being there too.
I turned nursing time for David into Mikey and me chill down time. Michael chose books to read, the quiet activity to do, or the cartoon to watch and we would kind of snuggle or sit close during this time. Sometimes Mikey and I would make up stories to tell the baby together or play silly word games during this time.
Tony spent quite a bit of Mikey and Daddy time together to play catch, wrestle time, and go for a walk or ice cream with Daddy. Mommy and David would stay behind, “David was a baby and not big enough for these things yet.”
I also used things with the new baby as an opportunity to tell a story about Michael. For instance, I might make up a story while dressing David about Michael wearing that outfit, and what we did that when he wore it as a baby or how Michael liked to be held or cuddled when he was this age.
Our friends and family participated in the transition by bringing gifts and treats for Michael when coming to visit baby David, playing with Michael while others held the baby and inviting Michael out on special “big boy expeditions.”
Cristi Comes, Mom of Ronin (almost 4 years) and Ellie (17 months)
For me, bringing home baby was a HUGE challenge. Ronin was incredibly shy, anxious and attached so we knew this was going to be an extra difficult transition for him.
He was always a terrible sleeper, and for all of his life, I handled the night time parenting during the week and John took over on the weekends. But we knew when Ellie arrived, my night time would be spent nursing and co-sleeping with E. So John took over the night time routine prior to Ellie’s arrival. A very difficult transition, but we hoped it would help him adjust to the fact that Mama was not with him at night, and not blame baby.
After I became pregnant, we bought him a baby doll of his own and started talking about the care and love of his own baby. My growing belly was too abstract for his 2-year-old mind to comprehend, so this was his introduction. We’d dress and feed the baby together, put the baby doll down for naps and spend time playing with the baby.
To ease his experience with us away for Ellie’s birth, my mom flew in from Florida and his Aunt Amber were both scheduled to stay with him over night. At this point, he had not spent much time with babysitters other than family, so we wanted to make sure he felt supported and was with people he truly loved and trusted. We had planned for John to go home and get him to come meet his sister for the first time in the hospital, so that his introduction to her would not be her invading his home. However, he unfortunately came down with a horrible Croop at the worst time possible, and could not come to the hospital.
The introduction was her invading his home, followed by his mama struggling to nurse his baby sister around the clock. John took a week off and my mom stayed for a few weeks, but he still felt incredibly jealous. He acted out, hitting and yelling, especially when I was nursing Ellie. He did NOT like this new addition. And I can tell you it’s the struggle of this time that truly pushed me into my own extra special bout of PPD.
I began asking friends for advice about what they had done to help with the transition, and got some wonderful feedback. One friend had a fun basket for her older child. It included special toys and books and activities that he could play with only while she was nursing. Another made nursing time snuggle and story time.
The best advice for me was to get out of the house as much as possible. I know it can be a challenge with two little ones but for me I found it the most helpful advice on a few levels. Ronin could get out and burn off his energy, whether at the park, playground, zoo, and museum or play area. Ellie could nap and nurse in my carrier, making her very happy. And while she was sleeping or nursing, I could focus my attention on Ronin, which he desperately needed. Lastly, it was good for me too. I was able to interact with other adults and get myself up and out of bed (my preferred location when depressed).
In the end, it’s important to do *something* to help your older siblings with the transition, and not expect that they’ll just get it and be happy with the new little one. Their whole life perspective is about to change, going from center of your universe to second place (in their little eyes, when baby is getting constant 24/7 attention). It is normal and it is natural.
What are your best tips & tricks for introducing baby and transitioning new baby into the family? Help another mother out and share what worked best for you.
Motherhood is challenging, but together, we’re not alone.