Let me begin with a little bit of background. My husband and I had our first baby, a boy. He was perfect in every way as all babies are, but he was more than just perfect. He really was amazing. He was always happy, slept great right from the beginning and he was as cute as can be. We felt as though we had hit the jackpot when it came to parenting a newborn. He continued to be an “easy” baby and toddler. Life was great. Parenting was great.
Then it happened, we became pregnant with baby 2. As soon as others learned we were pregnant the warnings began. People were always saying things like, “Baby 2 is going to be so different,” or, “just wait until baby 2 is here,” and even, “you know you aren’t lucky enough to have 2 easy babies.” I figured they were right. My pregnancy was more difficult this time and I could already tell that baby was more active than his brother before he was even born. For lack of a better word, we were doomed this time!
I was expecting a difficult baby. I was expecting to not have enough love left to give a second baby. Surely, there was no way I could love another baby boy as much as I loved my first. But then he arrived. I loved him so, so much. He was easy, even easier than my first baby. My recovery was easier. We were all feeling great.
But, what no one prepared me for was the feeling of not having enough love to give my first. Why didn’t I enjoy being with him as much? Why was I constantly loosing my patience and yelling? Why was he not listening? My nearly 3 year old who I had loved so much and had all of the patience in the world for was driving me absolutely bananas. He was constantly whining, crying and not listening to either of us, at all.
I felt so guilty. The mom guilt was so strong. My oldest was the best, sweetest, most gentle big brother right from the beginning. He was and still is always asking to hold the baby, helping get diapers for the baby, encouraging the baby to burp, talking sweetly to baby, etc. During all of this love he was showing for his baby brother it was like he forgot how to love us, and we forgot how to love him.
I began talking to other moms and doing some reading to find out what we could do to try to remedy the issues we were having. It became clear to me that although we thought we had prepared him, the fact was that his whole world had changed. Here are some of the things that I found to work best for our family, so they might work for yours too.
- Recognizing and calling out big brother’s needs to the baby. This makes my oldest light up with delight every time I do this. When the baby is crying, but can obviously wait a minute or two and big brother needs something I will say, “Hold on baby, you’re going to have to be patient, big brother needs _____ I am going to help him first.” This accomplishes two things. First, it recognizes that the older sibling still has needs. Second, it validates for the older sibling that they are still a priority to you.
- Let the older sibling help. Allow them to hold the baby, with help if needed. As long as baby isn’t nursing or has just fallen asleep, when big brother asks to hold baby, he gets to. If big brother says baby pooped, even when I know he hasn’t, we change his diaper. Can this be time consuming? Sure, but it has helped the boys to further their bond, and also has helped lift the resentment toward my husband and I. I am not sure why it has helped so much, maybe big brother just views himself as a caregiver as well.
- Establish expectations with your partner and child. This one is a big one. Both my husband and I were yelling more, and I was not OK with that. I did not want my son to be spending all day in time out for not listening either. My husband and I talked, and cried and talked some more about what to do. We agreed with asking big brother to correct his behavior one time nicely and clearly stating to him that that was his one nice warning. Then we would give him a stern warning, and if the behavior was still not corrected he would go to time out. The next morning we shared this expectation with our toddler. Guess who has been listening and hasn’t been to timeout at all? Clear and consistent expectations are key.
- Quality time outside of the home. Before the baby we were always busy doing things outside of the home. Baby arrived and that pretty much came to a screeching halt. My husband began taking my son out to breakfast once a week by himself. Once I was feeling up to it and baby’s sleep patterns were a little more established I began going on short outings with our oldest alone. Taking him outside of the home gives it a different dynamic and level of specialness than just playing with him at home.
- Ignore and up the positives. This one can be SO hard. Ignore the bad behavior. Basically give the kid a free pass so to say. Their world was turned upside down. Ignoring the negative as much as possible and praising the positive in an overkill manner, even for just a day or two helped us tremendously.
Adjusting to life with two has been an adventure that I wasn’t expecting. We are slowly but surely finding our new normal. Our family’s love is different, changed slightly, but grown exponentially.