Last week I wrote my first post in a series about welcoming our new baby girl, Penelope, into our family. In that post, I shared personal insight into some of the fears and doubts that many moms, including myself, experience when it comes to the kind of impact introducing a new baby may have on your family dynamic. This week I am shifting gears to what it is like not just to introduce a new member, but a new sibling. Although this was my third pregnancy and my husband and I had already had one go round at introducing an older to a younger, there were a few factors at play that were brand new to us. Firstly, we faced a much bigger age gap this time and, secondly, we were expecting a girl this time! (Both of these things proved to be total game changers, by the way, in the best of all ways.) While I anticipated that the boys would be excited about the prospect of a new sibling (both of them had been campaigning for one for years), I thought that excitement would eventually plateau and, perhaps, even take a slight turn towards indifference.
Seldom right and wrong again, Ashley.
From the moment I told the boys that we were expecting, I realized immediately
what an idiot I was that I had underestimated just how deep their excitement would run and, furthermore, just how involved they would want to be. As they stood in the ultrasound room listening to their baby sister’s heartbeat for the first time, it was obvious that even at 4 and 6 years old they really appreciated what was happening. That appreciation continued through all 40 weeks as they peppered me with questions about pregnancy, babies, and newborns. They were all in, all the time. Tally this one up as yet another humbling moment of parenthood in which you discover you are actually a novice at everything and an expert at nothing.For 9 months, I projected forward to the moment the boys would eventually meet Penelope. It was, aside from my husband’s and my own first meeting, the event I had been anticipating the most. When the actual time came I learned that (much like everything else about pregnancy, childbirth, and newborns) you can never truly prepare for how you’re going to feel when the moment actually arrives. I expected happiness; but the elation, love, and joy that filled the room as my boys walked in to meet their baby sister was palpable. The love of these siblings was truly all-encompassing. It was pure magic.But, just like any good magical spell needs a good magician, this pregnancy taught me that there are real, tangible steps parents can take to help connect older siblings to a new baby right from the beginning. While I firmly believe that the love they feel for a new baby grows organically, the connection can be another story. So, I have compiled a list of things that my husband and I did throughout the pregnancy to help our boys feel like they were apart of this grand experience and not purely bystanders. The list below is geared primarily towards pre-school and school-aged children, since that is what we were dealing with, but it can also be adapted to older toddlers as well. For children younger than that on the brink of big sister/brother-hood — I just recommend prayer.
Make the announcement special. While I’m not someone who buys into the concept of grand announcements (let’s be serious, I didn’t even announce this pregnancy on social media), I think the style in which you break this kind of news to your other child(ren) needs to be dressed up a little. For us, it meant taking both boys to my 12 week ultrasound in which the sound of Penelope’s heartbeat signaled to them that we were soon to be a family of 5. I will never forget the looks in both of their eyes! The announcement doesn’t have to involve a circus act or be financially costly; it just needs to be done in a way that signals something truly special is happening to your family.
Take them along. My boys went with me to virtually every single doctor’s appointment (way more than my husband, in fact!). They got to know the team of medical staff that would be taking care of both mommy and their baby sister and formed relationships with them. They learned about the things mommy needed to do to keep herself and the baby safe until the baby was ready to be born. They listened to her heartbeat and saw her moving on an ultrasound screen, both things that made them realize she was a real human being who was growing bigger and stronger every day as opposed to simply a concept.
Talk it up. I am a firm believer in the importance of roles; understanding that everybody has one and that each one can be just as important and impactful as another. From the moment they knew I was pregnant, I made sure that both of my boys understood that the shift in their roles in the family would actually be a good thing that made them feel more important, not less. Being the oldest of 3 demands more responsibility and maturity, which encourages my oldest to be even more
bossy of a leader to his younger siblings. For the youngest, the transition from being the baby of the family to an older, wiser (?) sibling is actually a promotion. We also call our youngest son the “biggest little brother” instead of the middle child — the latter being a moniker I hope he never adopts for himself.
Be honest with them. Pregnancy is a miraculous thing. But it can also be exhausting, nauseating, painful, and stressful. My babies love to give me a hard time (picture all day, every day nausea and vomiting until 30 weeks or so), which would have been impossible to hide from either of my two older kids. So I took a position of total transparency; when I wasn’t feeling well, they had to know it and I explained to them why. When I couldn’t cook certain cuisines (damn near everything in the first 2.5 trimesters) or play certain games, they understood. It just made no sense to try and superhero my way through it. I found that the honesty gave them a new sense of compassion and even commiseration to understand why mommy was different than usual.
Gifts all around. Pregnancy is a gift. Parenthood is a gift. Siblings are a gift. Turns out, children just love gifts. My two boys began affectionately calling Penelope’s due date her “birthday,” which, in young children’s eyes — means presents. My two boys were insistent on buying their new little sister presents for her birthday. So, off to Target we went. They selected and purchased outfits and “stuffies” (stuffed animals, in our language) and proudly brought them to the hospital.
Get them involved. Involvement was probably the most crucial part of this process for us. Whether it be helping us assemble the nursery, hanging up clothes in her closet, or picking out her very first sets of hospital outfits, both boys were very much a part of the preparations prior to bringing Penelope home. Tasking them with baby-related “jobs” not only helped them
sort of understand some of the work a baby entails but it also made them feel like contributors which, in turn, made them feel important. My boys never miss an opportunity to point out the piece of wall art in her room that they picked out all on their own.
As with anything, this list is not completely fool proof! Nor is it something that needs to be followed to the tee in order to ensure success! Customize away and see what works for your family. At the end of the day, when it comes to bringing home a new baby, the most important thing is for both old and new siblings to feel loved, appreciated, and important. Stick with that trifecta and you can’t go wrong.