For many parents expecting their second child, there’s a concern bigger than the pregnancy itself: the baby they already have at home. Whether a 1-year-old or a 7-year-old, the firstborn is likely the center of mom’s focus as she figures out how to incorporate a new bundle of joy into an already happy family. However, with extra patience and open communication, you can look forward to your kids enjoying a classic love-hate sibling relationship in no time.
“When should I share the news?” is the big question for many moms, and the answer really depends on the age of their children. Think about how long 40 weeks feels to you, and then think about how long it will feel to a 3-year-old. Many moms choose to wait until the first trimester has passed before telling their children, and some choose to wait until the news becomes apparent by way of the belly.
Do make sure that your child hears about the impending arrival from you and not someone else, and explain when she will become a big sister in a way that she can understand. For example, “Our baby will grow in my belly all winter and will be born right after your birthday, when it’s hot outside.” Encourage your little one to rub and talk to your belly to help her understand that there’s a little person in there, but don’t expect too much. Pregnancy can be hard for a child to comprehend, so a lack of interest in tummy chats doesn’t necessarily mean she won’t be interested in the baby.
Your child will likely want to talk about life with a baby, and you should encourage her to ask questions and vocalize her concerns or anticipations. Many older siblings expect a crawling, smiling infant to pop out of mom’s belly and aren’t as thrilled with a nonresponsive newborn. Take time to explain what the baby will be like for the first few weeks, and what she can do as a big sister (i.e., hold the baby’s hand, talk quietly to him, show him toys).
Older children might wonder how the baby got in there, and how you answer is completely up to you. Many experts recommend going ahead with the full birds-and-bees speech, but if you’re not comfortable with that, a generic and less involved response can work just as well. Also expect questions about how the baby will come out, and plan to have an age-appropriate reply at the ready. Honesty is often the best policy, but trust your instincts—only you know what’s best for your family.
You’ll want to talk to your child about how life will change once the baby comes as well. Explain that some babies cry a lot and that mommy might spend a lot of time nursing (and that mom and dad might both be a little more tired than usual!). Your little one will likely love hearing stories about when she was a baby, so tell her how she rolled and kicked in mommy’s belly and how she learned to crawl and eventually walk. It will be fun for her, and you’ll enjoy reliving such fond memories.
Before your due date rolls around, line up a babysitter to stay with your older child while you’re at the hospital, and have someone who knows your child well standing by for a middle-of-the-night phone call, just in case. Ensure your child is prepared for the big day by giving her a basic rundown of what will happen when it’s time to go to the hospital: “When it’s time for the baby to arrive, Grandma will come over and Mommy and Daddy will go to the hospital for a little while. You can come visit us the next day and meet your new baby brother or sister!”
Many children, particularly older ones, will be more concerned about their mom’s well-being than anything else. Assure your tot that you’ll be fine and remind her that people have babies all the time. If you plan to labor at home for a while, you might want to mention that it does hurt when your body is getting ready to give birth—but that the discomfort is completely natural and doesn’t last forever. It’s helpful to be as open as possible with your older child about the entire process. She doesn’t necessarily need a blow-by-blow of labor and delivery, but if she feels like she has an understanding of what’s going on, she’ll be more comfortable.
If you were an older child, you might remember how a new baby showing up on the doorstep totally transformed your family’s dynamic. Expect an adjustment period and continue to reiterate how much you love both your babies. Whenever you have the opportunity to spend time alone with your firstborn, take advantage of it. She’ll need lots of love and reassurance, so even if you’re exhausted and haven’t had a free moment since the baby came home, let your big girl curl up on the bed with you and read books to her while the baby nurses. Make sure she knows how special, important and loved she is, and any rough patches will smooth over in due time.
You can’t expect a sibling to automatically be gung ho about the new baby or magically adjust to the addition overnight. At first, your child may not want to interact with the latest family member at all, and that’s OK. Give her a little time, and she’ll come around. A person’s relationships with her siblings are some of the most complex around, but they’re also some of the best. Emphasize the importance of family, talk about your own brothers and sisters, and allow your big kid to get her feelings out in the open.
She might be angry, scared or sad, and she should know that those feelings are normal. Honesty, patience and a lot of love will ease the adjustment. In 10 years, when your kids are making fun of your taste in music from the backseat of the car, you’ll wonder how you ever could have worried about them getting along.