You are about to welcome baby #2. You think to yourself, “I’ve got this.” But do you? The answer is not a simple one. People always talk about how much harder it is to add another child to your family but it’s an abstract concept when you are expecting your second. The good news is, you know how to take care of a baby and stress resulting from that uncertainty most often decreases. However, the transition to having two children makes its mark on the entire family.
JFK once said “the Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger but recognize the opportunity.” While the family may be in crisis after bringing home another baby, the life task is to grow together and embrace this new opportunity. So what can you do to ease the transition for everyone?
Communication is key. Before you have your baby and as soon as you feel comfortable, start talking about the new baby. I enjoyed reading stories to my son about being a big brother when I was expecting my daughter. Take the time to answer questions and to try to help your eldest with expectations. For example, the baby will cry, the baby will need to be fed which requires a lot of a parent’s attention, and the baby will not be able to play yet but will grow and be able to do new things every day. Try to include your child as much as possible in the preparations for the new baby, to talk to the baby, to look at ultrasound images together, and to feel the baby move. Try to help your child anticipate who will take care of him/her when you go in to labor and discuss how you will be staying in the hospital but can be visited. You may mention that you might be tired when you get home and that it might take a little time to play in the way you did before the baby. The most important thing to remember is that your first-born is about to be “dethroned.” It’s a huge crisis for your child and your involvement can make a huge impact on his or her transition. There is not a beginning and end but transition is a process for your child.
So the baby is here. What can you do to help the new big brother/ sister adjust? Daily special time with your first child is essential- it doesn’t have to be much but enough for your child to know he or she has not be replaced. You can ask visitors to make sure to pay special attention to the big brother and sister as well. It is very useful to talk about when your first child was a baby, to “baby” your eldest as needed, as regression is likely to occur (for example, wrapping your eldest in a swaddle and rocking him/her like a baby). I used to tell my son that he would always be my first baby. Just as in pregnancy, you will want to include your child in the care of the baby and assign special jobs. It can be helpful to talk about all the perks of being born first (he can ride a bike, eat pizza, and swing all by himself). Again it’s crucial to allow your child to communicate his or her feelings about the baby either verbally, through drawings, or through play. Make sure you acknowledge your child’s feelings and spend time together bonding with the baby. If your child does not feel left out, the transition will be smoother. It’s best to think about minimizing other transitions. It is important to carefully plan your timing when enrolling your child in daycare or preschool for the first time as well as moving homes.
What about you and your partner? The most integral thing you can do for your own transition is to lower your expectations. You will not be able to give to your new baby like you did with your first. Many new parents feel an immense sense of guilt because they don’t have time to play with the baby as much, are unable to adhere to schedules, or don’t have the time and energy to make that homemade baby food like they may have done with their first. It’s 100% normal not to be able to stretch yourself that thin. It’s helpful to remember that your baby has new stimulation- a sibling! Keeping life simple is also helpful. If you can minimize stress by seeking and accepting help, please do it. Your attention will often be split between the children, there will be many moments of chaos, and you will have to adjust to attending to the child in greatest need at any given moment. You and your partner will be sleep deprived once again and will need to find time to love and support one another once the dust settles. Try to be clear about what you need from one another and communicate your needs with respect and sensitivity for your partner’s own transition.
Let’s not forget you. The transition is tough for individual parents as well. Once you become more acquainted with your baby and your new normal, prioritize self-care. The household chores are endless- there is always something to do, so please prioritize yourself. Maintain and connect with your support network. Your friends and family will help your get through any hard times ahead. You may need to fight for life balance by maintaining boundaries and being fully present whether you are with your children, your partner, or at work. If all else fails, remember that the level of stress involved in this transition is temporary. With time, you will ease into your new normal and embrace the life you have created.
Before you know it, you will not just be living your life with two children, but thriving with them. If you acknowledge your expectations, continue to re-evaluate what is truly important to you and your family, and remember adjustment is a process, you will be well on your way to answering, “Yes, I’ve got this.”