Introducing a new sibling to our family is something I was so worried about, especially as Reuben, who was nearly 4 years old when Edith was born, and very aware of what was taking place around him, seemed to be really anxious about baby’s arrival. He was very excited, don’t get me wrong, but he was also very clingy, possessive and nervous of being left anywhere – even though he’d been to preschool, Grandma’s house, wherever so many times before. Toby, on the other hand, seemed to be in sweet oblivion, he was only just 2 years old so he didn’t really have much of a concept, we felt like maybe he would feel pushed out or like he wasn’t the ‘special’ baby anymore. I was unsure what he would make of me breast-feeding baby, especially as he was breast fed… would he be jealous? We spent a tonne of time before baby was due, planning out what to do to help everything go smoothly and make sure that no one feels pushed out.
I thought it might be helpful to put together a little list of things that we did to help introduce older siblings to the new arrival, so here goes, good luck!
Talk, talk and talk some more
Talking is possibly the most important thing you can do for helping to prepare your children for the new changes they are about to face, and I found it was just as important for after baby is here. During my pregnancy I talked to the boys about everything, in fact I wrote about that here , and it seemed natural to me to continue after my new baby was born. Question’s like ‘How did baby get out of your belly?’, ‘Why is baby eating your boobie?’, ‘Why can’t I come with you and Edie?’ are a few of the ones we had to navigate early on and I can honestly say, for us, the constant questions were a blessing – the boy’s (Reuben mostly) felt more involved if their questions were answered. I also found that honesty is the best policy – ‘Baby was born when mummy went to the hospital, she moved down what’s called a birth canal and then arrived into the world’, ‘Baby doesn’t eat Mummy’s boobie, she is drinking milk that comes from mummy’s boobie’ and ‘Baby has to stay with Mummy at all times because she can only drink from Mummy’s boobie, no one else has her special milk, so she has to stay with me. When she is a big girl like you, she will be able to stay with Daddy’ are just some of the answers we chose to give. Honest, but without too much detail! Basically what I’m saying is, no matter how tired you are, how touched out or fed up you’re feeling, don’t deflect the many, many questions that will come your way. Answer them, as best you can, and that will help.
Ask for help, not just from Daddy or other adults
I’m really surprised by how much I found this to be helpful in integrating Edith into our family and making the boys feel really happy and special in themselves. I asked both the boys to help me with little things like fetching me a nappy, picking up a packet of wipes or passing me muslin squares while I was feeding. This was especially helpful with Toby – Reuben was at the age where he was super helpful when he wanted but if not, he wouldn’t bother – but Toby loved to pick up little bits and bobs, it made him feel really useful and helpful (which he of course is!) but, most importantly, it made him feel involved. I can assure you that the helpfulness and the wanting to do things for his sister has faded over time, but every so often, all three of them give each other a hand.
Ask visitors to be thoughtful
Imagine every time your extended family members come to visit you there are cuddles and kisses, often toys or treats and then suddenly this new thing, this usurper, comes in, and you aren’t even the first person they say hello to anymore, the gifts aren’t for you, the treats aren’t for you and the kisses and cuddles are being showered on someone else. That would piss you off, right? You would probably feel like acting out for attention, but you wouldn’t, because you’re an adult and can control your emotions, but your child might not be able to. Before family members and friends come over to meet baby for the first time, make sure they know that you need them to think of your other children first. Things like making sure that they say hi to your kids first (this is actually the most common ‘mistake’ people don’t say hi, it’s surplus to requirements and they forget), then any kisses and cuddles that would normally happen should still go ahead, and finally, ask the children to show off their new sibling, ask their permission to hold the new sibling etc etc – involve them as much as possible. I know the temptation to just default to the new parents, ask about the labour, ask questions, congratulate etc is really strong, but make sure visitors know that the most important thing is to involve the kids and treat them as normal.
Bring the kids something they have been really desperate for from baby
We did this both times we have had a new baby, and each time it has been really effective. For weeks (maybe even longer!) Reuben was begging us for a special toy that he was in love with (you know, the way they are in love with every toy at age 4), we kept telling him that he had to wait until his birthday, however the day that we brought Edith home, we brought him his special toy and told him that his new baby sister brought it for him because she loves him and wanted to bring him something special. We obviously did the same for Toby, he didn’t quite get it so much, however it still put a big smile on his face! I realise this isn’t possible for everyone, babies are ridiculously expensive and adding in a little present can just seem like a complete waste of money, especially when you’re already tight. I want to really reiterate that this is NOT essential, don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong or “skipping a step” if it’s not the one for you – it’s simply a suggestion that you might want to try. The other ideas are by far the ones the kids remember and much more important.
It’s the most simple one to say, but the hardest one to actually do. This is something that requires work and is going to be a learning curve for everyone – you, Daddy, the kids and the baby. I find that bath times are a really good way to spend some time as a family. I got in the bath tub (or sometimes shower) with Edith and the boys came in with us, Daddy helped by getting everyone dry and sorting out pjs. If that isn’t an option, and you’re flying solo for bath times, it can still be a good time to secure that family time, you can use a bath support for the baby so you can stay out yourself if you’re nervous of slipping over in the tub, and the siblings can help you wash baby gently with a little cup. It’s a way to make ‘family time’ everyday. On top of that, when the baby is sleeping, you can do simple things like read a book with the kids, bake or even set them up to paint if you have the energy. Even sitting and watch a movie isn’t to be sniffed at, but it’s so easy to forget to do when you’re exhausted and you have a mountain of laundry and stuff to do. It’s the only way to enjoy time together, but don’t push yourself too hard!
So there you have it, this is how we integrated our new arrival into the home, I’d love to know if you have anything to add!