It’s been two weeks since our little boy was born, and my daughter was officially given the title of Big Sister. Since finding out we were expecting baby number 2, one of my greatest sources of anxiety was how my first baby would adjust to being the big kid. My daughter is a smart, funny, and sweet three and a half year old, and when we told her about being a big sister, she was excited. She loved wearing her “Super Sister” shirt, and my pregnancy was full of her belly rubbing, belly kisses, and sweet sister moments.
During pregnancy, I searched for advice on preparing siblings for the birth of a new baby, read all of the articles and implemented many ideas. When I talked to other parents, they assured me how my daughter would be the BEST big sister. I talked to my daughter about how a new baby meant MORE love for our whole family. And then he came. And my sweet sweet three year old wasn’t so excited anymore. She was struggling, and it. has been. hard.
I knew, logically, no matter how much we talked about it, or how great her “big sister” present from her little brother was, that it would be an adjustment, but I hadn’t anticipated how much her indifference- and even apparent dislike- toward the baby would hurt my postpartum heart.
Visiting family members made the first couple of days go smoothly. All of the grandparents and visitors were great about giving her plenty of attention (and she even got several big sister presents!). She was caught up in the excitement of seeing all of the people she loved most coming in and out that she didn’t really have a chance to be jealous or resentful of all the time we were spending with the baby. Real life set in by day 3. Our family had all gone home, and the baby was put under billi lights for jaundice.
Putting him in the “light box” was miserable. He hated it. He cried, so she cried. And it was not exactly portable, so either my husband or I were stationed with the box all the time. There was extra crying all around, and she was frustrated. That evening, I had taken him out to feed him, and she sat next to me and sadly asked “Don’t you want to spend time with me anymore?” Cue mom guilt to the extreme. I gave her lots of snuggles and reassurance and we colored together until she decided to go play. (At which point I let out the buckets of tears I had been holding back.) That was our low point.
Over the course of the next few days, there were times when she would ask me to put the baby down and hold only her. There were times when she would cry over made up things. It broke my heart to see her struggling to navigate her new little world. We gave her as much love, empathy, attention and understanding as possible. We did our best to help her work through her feelings. It was a tough week, but around day 8, she started to turn a corner.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still moments of frustration on everybody’s end, but she has started asking to hold her brother. She is talking to him sweetly, rubbing his head, and talking about how much fun he will be when he is bigger. Sure, there was that one time a couple of days ago when she asked me to “hand that ‘thingamabob’ (aka the baby) to Daddy”, so that we could snuggle, but every day has gotten markedly better, and we are only two weeks in.
Adjusting to a new baby is a big deal for everyone. It’s so important that we have realistic expectations for ourselves and for the other little people in our families. My daughter will definitely be a wonderful big sister, but it will take time and practice, and that’s okay. There’s absolutely no way to fully prepare an only child for the demands of a newborn. All I can do is love her through it, and know that the gift of a sibling is one that I am forever grateful for, and one that I hope she will appreciate someday, too.
How did your first react to the addition of a new baby? What tips do you have for growing families?