Congrats, Mama! You have a new bundle of joy on the way, and you can’t wait to watch your child become a big brother or sister. Brace yourself: Nothing can prepare you for the moment your oldest child meets their new sibling. The love, the excitement… the pure terror.
For us, things were a little different than what I imagine most experience. We’d lost our baby a year prior when I was 16 weeks pregnant to an unexpected and sudden complication, and our daughter Daisy, then three weeks shy of turning 4, was heartbroken. She was so excited to become a big sister and the news of her baby brother not coming home shattered her tiny heart. For months after, she asked when we were going to “get another baby” and when she found out that we were finally expecting again she was both elated and skeptical, rightfully so. As the months passed, the idea of finally becoming a big sister and having a baby at home started becoming a reality, and it was all she could talk about. But boy, were we in for a real… treat?
She was so excited to be a big sister. To love and care for a baby, to help feed and change “her baby,” to be her mini-mom. I’ll never forget the moment when she came running through our front door after a day at preschool to meet her sister for the first time; wearing her long-awaited Big Sister shirt, her hair in several tiny bouncing braids which she’d requested from her teacher for the occasion, and the biggest grin on her face. She ran straight up to that baby, gave her the biggest hug, and scooped her onto her lap repeating over and over, “I can’t believe we finally got a baby. This feels like a dream!” with tears in her eyes. What could possibly go wrong?
If you’re welcoming a new baby into the family soon, prepare yourself for many ups, lots of downs, unprovoked meltdowns sandwiched between laughs, countless headaches, and yet somehow an even bigger heart that feels like it’s going to pound out of your chest at times. With that, here are a few answers to my own questions and things I wish that I wish I’d known before our family changed for the better, but so completely.
How am I going to have enough love? I love my oldest SO much. She’s my best friend, and I don’t want to do a thing without her! How the heck am I going to have enough love and attention to give them equally? What if I don’t have enough love for my second? If you’re asking yourself these questions, trust me, you are not alone. But also trust me on this: It’s true what everyone says. Somehow you just do. You have enough love and you do love them just as much. I have no idea how it happens, but the second you hold that baby in your arms for the first time it all makes sense, and everything just feels right and balanced. It’s incredible.
What about my husband and our relationship? Will it change? Oh, honey. YES. You will go from looking at one another with stars in your eyes oo-ing and ahh-ing over that sweet baby you made to a yelling match in point-two seconds because one of you didn’t do enough or said the wrong thing. The morning my husband had the nerve to tell me how tired he was after I was up literally all night feeding and comforting our screaming newborn was the day I thought he’d be coming home to his clothes in a pile in the front yard. I was running on fumes and only one cup of coffee (because hello, breastfeeding), and I just knew this would break us. But the sleepless nights tapered off after a few weeks, and we started learning how to divide and conquer. It’s not perfect yet, and we certainly have our moments, but each day is better than the last. It’s a lot to adapt to for everyone! Thankfully all the good outweighs the bad.
Start a special routine. Try doing something special that includes both kids and that you can do every day. Something that your oldest looks forward to, and something that you can carry on for several years. We do a special bedtime routine where we allow our oldest to snuggle the baby in her bed while we read a bedtime story. It’s so sweet watching her love on her baby sister and share her favorite books, and it also allows for bonding time between the two of them.
Be patient. This is new to all of you! There is no rule book or guide to follow. It’s something that will look different for every family, and you’ll eventually figure out what works for yours and what doesn’t. Give yourself, your partner, and your oldest some grace and just know that it will all get better in time.
Try to see it from your oldest child’s perspective. This is a BIG change for them, especially the younger kids. In our case, our daughter had been the only princess for nearly five years. That’s a long time to have all of the attention. When I start getting frustrated with her about how she’s reacting or things she wants to do (or not do), I try to see it from her perspective. It helps me from blowing up on her and come to a more sensible solution that we are both happy with.
Don’t blame the baby. This is some of the best advice I heard, and I wish I’d heard it sooner. Instead of saying things like, “I can’t right now because I’m feeding the baby,” or “We can’t go outside because the baby is sleeping,” try saying instead, “If you give me three more minutes I can help you with that,” or “It’s time for a rest right now but we will go outside and play in one hour.” This way they won’t resent the baby for getting in the way and not letting them have the fun or attention when they want it. It completely shifted reactions in our house once I started being more conscientious of this!
You’re going to have a messy house, and that’s okay. You have two kids to love and care for now, and it’s going to show. No one will judge you for having an imperfect home right now. You have your hands full, and any mom that walks into your house will completely relate! Don’t stress over it — you have enough on your plate. You’re welcome to come over to my house any time if you want to feel better about yours.
Resist the urge to interject. It’s hard, but I think it’s important. There are times when Daisy will do something to her baby sister that I could do quicker or more gently, but it’s important to let her be a part of daily tasks. I never realized how much the older kid wanting to help would make things harder at times, but in the long run, I know it will make things easier. We want to encourage her to help and I certainly appreciate it, but there’s definitely a fine line to walk. It’s hard for her to understand why she can’t carry the baby across the room or pick her up out of her bassinet the same way we do.
Prepare for big little feelings… and unprovoked meltdowns. Oof. This one is rough. Our sweet little girl was an angel. The best-behaved kid for five years with a heart of gold. But once the baby made it known that she was here to stay, so did the tantrums. One minute Daisy will be loving on her baby sister saying she’s her best friend, and the next she’ll be throwing herself on the floor because her temporary tattoo is a centimeter too far left on her arm. It’s way too easy to yell at them for being ridiculous and send them to their room, but try to remember that they are adapting to a lot and trying to process everything that comes along with being a kid in addition to a big sibling and having to share mom and dad’s attention. It’s been one of our biggest battles so far and something we are still working through. I wish you luck (and me, too!).
They’re going to demand your attention. Find ways to throw them extra compliments or share small yet meaningful acts with them. When I’m nursing Poppy, Daisy will say out of the blue, “I love you, Mom,” or “Hey Mom, watch this,” and show me some silly jump or stunt. It’s all for attention, of course, but I try to make an extra effort to be super excited about it. I think they just need to know we haven’t forgotten about them and that they haven’t been replaced. Letting her know that she’s such a big helper, so smart and the best big sister makes her eyes light up, so I try to remind her of those things daily!
If your oldest is in school or daycare, let them stay for most of the day. I initially thought I’d be picking up Daisy from pre-K early most days during my maternity leave to allow us all time to hang out together, but once I remembered how much attention a newborn needed that fairy tale vision quickly left my head. Her being in school allows her the stimulation and socialization she needs along with some normalcy — and allows me one-on-one time to bond with my new baby. If your oldest isn’t in school or daycare and will be home with you and the baby all day every day, I praise you! You, mama, are the real MVP.
Take your older child on a special date and explain all the big changes ahead. I so wish we had done this before we had the baby. We tried talking to her and reminding her about the baby, but we never had an in-depth conversation about the changes that come with a new baby, how to treat a newborn, and reassuring them that they won’t be this high-maintenance forever.
Bring a special gift home from the baby. A friend suggested this to me and I’m so glad I took her advice. When we got home from the hospital, the baby had a special gift for her big sister, just from her: a Big Sister book and a baby doll for her to care for when I am caring for the baby, and she still carries it around (and loves that it’s from her baby sissy) 12 weeks later. She even pretends to nurse her when I’m nursing Poppy, which I think is super sweet.
Honestly, this list could go on forever because is there really any way to fully prepare for a new baby to come in and take over an already established family and home? Probably not. I do hope, though, that hearing some of these suggestions (that I learned the hard way) can help you make the transition a little smoother. No matter how hard or easy, just remember the saying (that for some reason makes my skin crawl), “This too shall pass,” because it’s true. Kids are resilient and will adapt. You’ll find your groove, and things will get easier. And whatever comes your way, you’ll be so in love with your perfect little family that it’ll all be worth it and something you can look back on and tell your kids about when they’re older! That’s what I’m hoping for, at least. Stay strong, Mama, and know that we are all in this together.