When you become a second-time mom, everything can't wait. Your older child needs help adjusting. Our nurse and pediatrician reminded us of a classic analogy. How would I like it if my husband came home from work one day and said that he loved me so much and we were having so much fun that he decided it was time to bring home a second wife? No, I probably wouldn't take the news so well.
Yes, it can be wonderful to be a sibling, but it takes time to learn what that new role entails. Mom most likely can't give the older child everything he needs during the first few weeks postpartum. And if dad takes care of mom, he might not be able to tend to his needs either. We relied on our relatives, friends and a postpartum doula to give our son the attention he deserved and needed to enjoy being a big brother as much as possible.
How did you help your older child adjust to being a big brother or sister? Some of our favorite tips were:
1. When you are pregnant, don't hide the fact that he is going to be a big brother. Let him see baby during the ultrasounds and hear baby's heartbeat. Talk to him when you unpack/buy baby toys and clothes. You may be surprised by his reactions and how they change (positively and negatively) throughout your pregnancy.
2. Have some new things for him post baby. We keep a bag of small new toys in our closet "just in case" I need them. I've never needed them, but I like having a safety net. If I reach the end of my rope, I have something to grab on to.
3. Have some "new" things for him post baby. While getting ready for baby, we went through some of our old belongings and found a bunch of random stuff... an old box of highlighters, stickers, duct tape, etc. Many of these items can easily become fun projects for toddlers. If I think my son is in a rut, I take out a few of these random items and we have a fun and easy post-nap activity ready to go.
4. Think about ways to interact with your older child while tending to baby. We read A LOT of books, draw indoors with chalk, play with reusable stickers, listen to music, build with mega blocks, etc.
5. Give your older child 5 minutes of undivided attention. My son and I spend a lot of time together during the day. However, most of the time we could be interrupted by his sister needing my attention. In the first week or two, I made it a priority to give my son at least 5 minutes a day when he knew that my attention was on him and him only. We made it clear that someone else was tending to baby...a friend, our doula or my husband.
5. When taking care of baby, talk to your older child about what you are doing. Be honest. If baby is fussy, tell him that baby isn't feeling 100% and needs your attention now. Remind him how you do the same for him when he has a stomach ache or bumps his head.
6. Don't make promises that you can't keep. It's really easy to say "we'll do that later." Make sure "later" actually happens.
7. Take out the photo albums (even if it's just the photos saved on your phone). Show your older child photos of when he was a baby. It's a great way to talk about him while also explaining why baby needs a lot of attention right now.
I look forward to hearing your favorite tips for helping an older child adjust to a new sibling in the comments section.