I’ve often heard women discuss the strange sense of loss they feel leading up to the delivery of their second child. It’s not that they’re unexcited for their new addition, but more about the guilt they feel over bringing a new person into their first born child’s life.
Unless there’s a significant age gap between the two, chances are your older child is still too young to really understand what’s going on. Sure, you can get books and talk about what it’s going to be like when the baby arrives, but no amount of planning ahead is really going to prepare them (or you) for the major shift that’s about to occur.
Someone equated it to this: Bringing a new baby home and expecting your first born child to just accept and love him or her without incident is like your husband bringing home a new wife and telling you to just go with it.
“Honey, this is Tiffany. She’s your sister wife. She’s going to live with us now and you’re going to love her. She’s going to be a second mommy to our children, and we’re all going to share our time with her, including me. This is her house now too. She’s part of our family now forever.”
I don’t know how things work in your home, but that shit would not fly in mine (unless Tiffany would agree to handle all the laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping, in which case, I could probably make an exception).
As I type, I’m 36 weeks and three days pregnant with a baby boy, and I’m starting to freak out…just a little. Truthfully, it makes me feel a bit like shit to admit that I’m nervous because my husband and I fought so hard for this pregnancy and this baby. But after three years of chaos, we have finally settled into a routine and life is, well, easy. Our decision to bring a new little person into this world is about to rock that equilibrium.
Our first born is a 3½-year-old little girl, and she is what you would call a “highly sensitive child.” She’s a stickler for her routine and doesn’t do well with change, especially if that change is something she doesn’t like. (To be fair, she sobbed when we took her to Paw Patrol Live despite loving the TV show, because she was “overwhelmed” by all her emotions. So, naturally, I’m a bit anxious about how she’s going to receive this new “forever family member” thing.)
Making the transition from couple to family was insane; navigating that first year brought me to my knees and just went things started to mellow out, my daughter started walking around, breathing fire and knocking down everything in her path like a baby Godzilla. When she turned 2, we could attempt to start reasoning with her (or bribing), but then we decided to move to a new city, which completely knocked off any sense of balance. Now that we’re finally settled and our daughter is thriving, we’re about to rock her world…again, and I can’t help but feel guilty.
I often hear people say that the greatest gift you could give your child is a sibling, but I’ve also heard that children without siblings rarely suffer from the “sibling issues” that so many of us have (*raises hand*). But ready or not, here he comes! We’re doing our best to lay the groundwork for her (and us) so that this transition is as smooth as it can be. Yes, we got her all the books despite knowing that they probably won’t make the biggest impact, and we talk ad nauseam about how mama and daddy will be spending a lot of time with the baby and how that might make her feel.
Because over-preparing is in my blood (despite knowing it doesn’t always work), I also reached out to a childhood development expert I know and asked her for advice on how to cope. Her approach seemed not only practical, but actually doable. She said, devote 10 to 15 minutes of uninterrupted, one-on-one playtime with my daughter every single day and call it “our special time.” She explained that it was important to let my daughter pick the activity, to give her really specific compliments about how she played the activity (i.e. “I really like that you worked so hard to figure out where the cow puzzle piece went”) and then, when the time is up, remind her that we’ll have “special time” again the next day and “I can’t wait to see what activity you pick for us to play!”
It seems simple enough, although finding 10 to 15 uninterrupted minutes when there’s a newborn in the house is like stumbling on a four-leaf clover, but I think it’s important to make that time not just for her, but for me. I have to admit, I’m going to miss how much time she and I have together now. She’s my best friend, and I don’t want her to feel like anyone is taking her place. If I’m being honest, I’d much rather be taking her to the beach or watching her at soccer class than sitting at home breastfeeding and sterilizing pump parts. I also know that I had ZERO idea how much I would love my daughter until she was born, and that I will feel the exact same way when my son is born.
Ultimately, I know that she’ll meet this change like the ones before: it will be difficult, but it will teach her resilience, flexibility and just how much love you can have for someone other than yourself. We’re so lucky that this little man will be a part of our family and I know our daughter’s going to be an incredible big sister. I also know that she’s going to torture him every single day until he’s big enough to turn the tables and begin to torture her…because, ultimately, that’s what siblings are for.
Leslie Bruce is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning entertainment journalist. She launched her parenting platform Unpacified as a place for like-minded women to come together on relatable ground, no matter how shaky, to discuss motherhood through an unfiltered, judgment-free lens of honesty and humor. Her motto is: ‘Being a mom is everything, but it's not all there is.’ Leslie lives in Laguna Beach, California with her husband, Yashaar, their 3-year-old daughter, Tallulah, and looks forward to welcoming a baby boy this spring.
Published May 2018