What You'll Learn
- Preparing To Add A Sibling
- Managing Guilt of Dividing Attention and Love
- Helping Older Children Cope When New Baby Arrives
- Concerns During The Transition
Do you worry about how your child will adjust to a sibling? Do you fear you will struggle with dividing your love and attention between children? Expanding your family comes with many mixed emotions about what this transition will mean for you and the relationship you have with your first child. Marriage and family therapist Bryana Kappadakunnel is here to help us ditch the worry and guilt about adding a sibling and embrace being imperfectly perfect for our children.
Preparing To Add A Sibling
“Being a mom is one thing. Being a mom of two is another thing. Being a child is one thing. Being a brother or a sister is another thing,” Bryana said.
Being a child is one thing. Being a brother or a sister is another thing.
Reading books—over and over again—about kids becoming siblings can help, and talking to your kid about what’s going to happen after the baby comes home helps. Bryana talked to her son about how she would probably have to sit in her chair to nurse a lot after the baby came.
She and her oldest child put together a basket of things he could do while she was feeding the baby, so he wouldn’t be bored. Their basket included things like a fresh diaper and pretend bottle that would help him be as involved with the feeding process as he wanted.
If you’ve gone from spending one hundred percent of your time with your oldest child to splitting that time, they may feel jealous sometimes. Working with the child in advance to make sure they feel included is a proactive way to handle that. But if we go into this expecting there will be moments of jealousy, we’re less likely to be rattled by it than if we assume it’s not going to happen.
Managing Guilt Of Dividing Attention and Love
“I don’t want my child to feel abandoned by me” is a fear that comes up a lot in my IG polls and in working with clients in therapy. Bryana explained this fear seems to come from the idea that children build attention based on how physically present and available we are.
“Children do not build attachment that way. In fact, the way children build attachment is through our ability to build self-awareness. It’s our ability to understand ourselves and get out of the way a little bit,” she said.
It’s true you won’t be able to spend as much time with the oldest once the new baby comes. “That is part of this transition,” Bryana said. But it doesn’t mean you love either child less.
“I like to say just like I grew a heart for you, I grew another heart for the new baby, so it’s not that you’re getting half of my love. You’re still getting all of my love, and the new baby will too,” Bryana explained.
“Toddlers can get a bit hands-on when they feel jealous,” Bryana said. We’re programmed to protect the baby, so it’s common for moms of more than one child to yell at the toddler, “Don’t hurt the baby!”
This is something a lot of moms carry guilt about, but it’s a very human moment. And you can repair it by using child-friendly language to let the older kid know we snapped because we were scared. It’s something we can work on while they work on keeping hands to themselves.
“Every single aspect of our health as mothers when it is cared for, treated with kindness, respect, grace, and compassion, all of that spills over into the relationship with the child,” Bryana said.
Helping Older Children Cope When New Baby Arrives
“The first three minutes of the day and the last ten minutes of the day are the most important,” Bryana said. Is there something you can do for a few minutes with that older child? Because that’s going to make the biggest impact.
These intentional few minutes are about filling this child’s cup. “How do we fill this child’s cup?” Bryana asked. “We fill their cup with words of affirmation. I like to recommend praising the process, not the outcome.”
“The research shows five minutes is the bare minimum. Fifteen minutes is the ideal,” Bryana said. Any amount of time between five and fifteen minutes of intentional time can meet a kid’s attachment needs.
Any amount of time between five and fifteen minutes of intentional time can meet a kid’s attachment needs.
When we add a sibling to our parenting dynamic, it can feel like we’re never doing enough. But five to fifteen minutes of quality playtime is very realistic. I can do that.
“There is this fake idea that the more you do as a mother, the better your child will be. The happier your child will be. The more successful your child will be,” she explained. But this idea that we all buy into isn’t even backed by research.
And self-compassion is really important in motherhood. We’re never going to be perfect, giving ourselves the grace not to be can be a game-changer. “It is the perfection that is killing our joy,” Bryana said.
“Your children actually need to learn to live in an imperfect world,” Bryana explained. “And the way children learn how to be in the world is how they learn to be in relationship with us.”
Concerns During The Transition
Moms are in survival mode when we add a sibling to the family. We just are. We’re physically healing and keeping multiple humans alive. It’s okay to get through one day and even one moment at a time right now.
A lot of second and third time moms find they don’t have as much support as they did the first time around, and that can be really hard. Lean into the help you do have, because you can’t be responsible for it all alone.
Lean into the help you do have, because you can’t be responsible for it all alone.
I made a FREE postpartum preplist that’s almost twenty pages long to help with this. It’s probably best to go through it before Baby arrives and have a plan. But it’s not too late. If you’re struggling right now, go through it and see if you can devise a plan.
The postpartum checklist also has suggestions for how to ask for help when you need it. It lists the steps we need for our own mental health, because when we’re not sleeping at night and juggling multiple humans, mental health can be the last thing on our minds.
Adding a new baby to our families can be so difficult, and you’re going to need help. If you’re struggling to prepare older kids for the arrival of a new baby, please check out the free sibling resource!