I am a hands-on mom. It may not be considered a defining characteristic but it's something that has been incredibly important for me to maintain as I think about the kind of parent I want to be. I didn't have help with my son when I lived in the US (other than my amazing mom) and in spite of living in india I've chosen not to keep designated domestic help for my daughter - atleast until I go back to work. Yes, people think I'm crazy to do that when I have other options and no, I'm not looking for parenting accolades either - it's just important for me to give as much of myself as I can to my kids at this age because frankly - they are not going to be that tiny for long. It's just as important if not more to have my kids love each other. Sure, they will fight once in a while, but overall I need the theme to be love - my brother and I would torture each other at times but we couldn't be closer as adults. Ok fine, I don't fully accept that he's an adult as he's my first baby and always will be though technically he just turned 27 .... and is handsome, single, good looking, about to graduate from Harvard Business school and is supposed to find me a super sister in law in case anyone was wondering. (In case I don't post next month or mysteriously disappear it's because he saw this !)
I digress.... This post is a little over due as I wanted to make sure that all the things I've been trying at home or reading and experimenting with, are actually working to create a smooth and loving relationship between my kids - and it really is. My son's day starts and ends with asking for and kissing his sister, and he often falls asleep holding on to her while I nurse her and tell him tales about him when he was smaller. So, here are my tried and tested tips on how to introduce siblings and make sure that they grow together to love each other while learning to share your time and affection (but not your love, as love I have learned recently, multiples and definitely does not get divided).
2. Don't blame it on the baby: it's even harder to be home bound or baby bound before you can introduce pumped milk (if you are nursing), when you have a toddler who wants you to drop him to school, go with him for classes and birthdays. Or even when they want you to sit on the floor and play or just pay them attention, but you're busy nursing, do not blame it on the baby. Tell them you have an "ouchie" that's going to take time to heal or is causing you to stay at home or stay in the sofa (You can even tell them that aliens are approaching and you need to hide, just don't tell them that it's because of the baby).
3. Let them come to the hospital: when introducing two puppies, or even a puppy and a new baby, it's recommended to do it on a neutral ground so that neither feels territorial about the space. I recommend it for your little one too - introduce them at the hospital, and the first time they come in make sure someone else is holding the baby and you hold your elder one, and then introduce them ( this is literally what I did when my pups met both my kids, but it worked!). The second meeting can be less structured. Your child may not want to leave you in the hospital though so be prepared to have dad bribe them with things to take them home.
4. Sibling gift: when they are the hospital without you , you can tell them that their new baby has sent gifts home for them. Also make sure you have gifts to distract them when you do go home with your little one. I've heard a lot of fuss made about how the sibling gift needs to be big and important but I think it should be small and distracting instead. It's better to give them a small gift a day that will keep them busy on each day then to give them one big gift that they may soon forget about. Make sure you tell them that the gifts are from their new baby.
5. Include them in feedings: I had a mini panic attack the first time my daughter wanted to nurse during hospital visiting hours, but then decided that since he's going to see it anyway, I may as well include him in it from the beginning. So I let him see it (now, at home, I nurse in a cover up tho he does often sneak inside to kiss his sister), and i made him sit next to me while I read him a book. I've fed him, made up stories, done puzzles and all kinds of things while nursing (even in a sling or just under a cover on the nursing pillow). It makes the whole feeding process less stressful for you if your elder one is not waiting (or wailing) for your attention.
6. Their baby stories: currently, every sentence starts with "when I was little," or "when my baby is bigger" (she can play with me on the trampoline etc). Fuel their imagination by telling them stories about when they were little and making sure they know that they really were your first (they need that right now), and then watch their minds take over as they begin to tell you (often fictitious) stories of when they were little. You can even show them some pictures and videos of when they were the same age, and make them literally see that you have cared for them just as much.
7. Matching clothes: this is so fun, and even though my babies are different genders, just putting them in the same color makes your elder one feel bonded and like a pack, with the baby.
8. Include them in everything: honestly, they can be a huge help to you! Have them pass you diapers, choose the baby's clothes and even rub lotion or massage oil on the baby. My son loves to do tummy time with his sister and have me rub lotion on both their backs. This wasn't as easy at first as he would get very disturbed when she cried. Even something as small as designating him to be the one to put on her mosquito patch every morning, makes him feel responsible for her and also included in this new dynamic we have at home. I even take him for all her doctors appointments and have him sit with her through vaccines.
9. Distract them: it wasn't so easy to involve him in everything at first. He would get disturbed when she cried during diaper changes and massages initially (which she did the first couple weeks), so I would distract him instead with a new toy, something he liked, garden time, and train tracks (my bestest friend in the early days). They can't always be included, and in those cases distraction is key.
10. Plan play dates: the greatest distraction technique is to keep them busy with someone else (even more so if your sending them to someone else's house! ). Though my son didn't want to leave me at all initially in which case I would call a friend home and he would happily play at home and I could get things done around the house.
11. Pay attention: when they need you attention, give it. It's not as easy thing to drop everything and do it, but try to the best of your ability (have your husband hold the baby and give them what they want). The request is usually small but the deed goes a long way. It will help your older one realize they are still loved unconditionally and are just as important, before the younger is old enough to demand attention.
12. Have guests pay them attention: yes, everyone will gather around and fuss over the new baby. But ensure that your elder gets attention too, or excuse yourself from the huddle around your baby and give your toddler attention yourself. You can't be in two places at the same time (though you will often find yourself wishing that you could), so take help from your visitors to ensure that either they or you are able to make both your babies feel special.
13. Be consistent: in your excuses (it's you, not the baby) and in your discipline (you can hug and kiss the little one but not yank her arms no matter how lovingly you intend it to be), no matter what the message. The messages settle in when they stay the same each time and from each parents.
14. Routines: children thrive on routine, and are calmer when they know what to expect and when to expect it. So try not to shake up their routine and timings even after the baby is here, and try to make sure that you continue to do some of the activities as exclusively as you did before. My son needs me at bedtime and won't sleep with anyone else (he did when I was pregnant and on bed rest but post the hospital he's been so thrilled to have be up and about he's given me the bedtime responsibility right back). And I'm happy to do it , along with his bath which has also been my sole responsibility since his birth - because that's the time of the day he needs me and when I know that he shares his thoughts, fears, kisses and cuddles. I do sometimes have to nurse my little one while putting him to bed - and he's okay with that because he knows that I'm still there for him at his bedtime as he needs.
15. Address the issue: bad behavior often goes away when ignored. However, feelings do not, and this is a time of tumultuous feelings for the elder one, who now has to share the time and affection that was solely theirs. So if you find them acting out, ask them what they are feeling (if they don't know - put words to their feelings - you were angry because…). And make sure they know you love them unconditionally no matter how they behave. You need not address the underlying issue of insecurity or jealously (if any) but if you address the other issues, they will come talk to you when they do feel deeper things. And if they do say something negative about the baby like (I don't want her here right now), it's still okay - address their feelings and pay them attention or if you don't have an option and need to nurse or keep the baby with you, distract them with a story about when they were little!
16. Good days and bad: there have been days when my son is extremely cranky, unreasonable or just exhibiting normal toddler behavior! It's their age and also the change they are dealing with. Indulge them (to reasonable limits), they are babies too who have overnight become the elder ones in the house hold. And don't fret too much - the good days will be back again, and they too will be grown u before you know it.
17. Accept the divide: the hardest part of having two kids is wanting to be with both at the same time (and sometimes with none, which is totally okay too). However your attention and time have to be divided; you cannot be at home nursing if you have to be in school with your toddler, and you cannot be out all day with your elder one specially if you plan to nurse your baby at regular intervals. But remember that your love is infinite - yours for your babies and theirs for each other. And soon, they will have for each other more love than you could possibly account for.
More to come!
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