This post is part of the 2010 API Principles of Parenting blog carnival, a series of monthly parenting blog carnivals, hosted by API Speaks. Learn more about attachment parenting by visiting the API website.
When I became pregnant with my second child, Elea, I did my very best to prepare my eldest, Brianna, for her sister's arrival. Brianna came with us to many prenatal appointments, and my homebirth midwife Davi would involve - and educate - Brianna about her sister. Brianna would help take my blood pressure, and would listen with us to Elea's little heartbeat. She loved it. We also talked with Brianna frequently about how she was going to be a big sister, and how exciting that would be. We bought, and read, a little children's book about being a big sister, and she delighted in saying to Elea in my belly "I'm your big sister!"
Yet even with all that preparation, she completely fell apart after Elea was born. Already a high-energy child, Brianna became incredibly angry. Her tantrums grew frequent and lengthy. Every day living - especially now with the two - was incredibly difficult. I have many many now-laughable-then horrible memories, many of which occurred in our tiny little Honda Civic. She would scream and fight - turning red with exertion - when I wanted her to get in her car seat. She would take off her shoes and chuck them up at us in the front seat. I remember clearly - on more than one occasion - having to stop the car, get out and have a mommy time out while she screamed bloody murder inside the car. One day at the playground area of the mall, I told her Brianna was time to leave. I placed Elea in the pocket sling, bent down to help screaming Brianna put her shoes on, and Brianna smacked newborn Elea in the face. Then, she took off running. By the time I recovered from the shock of seeing my newborn smacked, she was halfway down the mall. Boy, those days were rough. To say the least.
I had absolutely no idea that Brianna would have such a hard time. I thought I had prepared her. Looking back though, I don't think there is anything that could have truly prepared her. I don't think there is anything any of us can do to help our olders really understand how much their life is going to change. There's nothing we can do to prepare them for how they're going to feel when that baby is out of the womb. They simply don't have the communication ability. Moreover, isn't it true that we humans simply don't know the reality of anything until we experience it first hand?
So, while it's important to do our very best to prepare them - read books, talk about feelings, talk about how life will change and how it will be better - it's even MORE important that we parents prepare OURSELVES our older child's reaction to the new sibling.
We need to truly understand how difficult it is for our older children when we bring a new sibling into the mix. Faber and Mazlish, in their book Siblings Without Rivalry, give us a stellar way to grasp what this feels like. They ask parents how they would feel if their husband/wife brought home a new spouse. How would you feel if your husband brought home another wife? You'd feel angry, betrayed, sad, and would clearly want that new spouse quickly kicked to the curb.
Yet, interestingly, we expect our oldest to be excited about the new arrival. We parents need to adjust our expectations.
We need to prepare ourselves if our child is angry and frustrated, if they scream and yell and hit and throw things. When we see these behaviors, instead of reacting with wonder (geez, why is she acting this way??) or anger, we need to feel, and express, compassion for our older child. We need them to know that their feelings are justified, and okay.
I believe we need to allow our children to express that energy. We need to let them scream without reacting. We need to let them hit - just have them re-direct to a pillow or bed or stuffed animal. We need to let them whine and cry. We can do this more easily because we understand where that emotion is coming from.
We also need to heap on our older children as much extra love, affection, and physical contact as we possibly can - both during the pregnancy, and after the baby is born. If you're not already attachment parenting, I highly recommend implementing it pronto. After Elea was born, we brought Brianna into our bed, and wore her in an Ergo at any opportunity, took special mom or dad and Brianna time with her... and it truly made a difference. She felt more loved... and as a result, her behavior greatly improved.
We are now expecting our third child. Brianna is now 6.5 and Elea is now almost 4. I can already see Elea reacting to the impending sibling. She wants to hold my breast (her comfort lovie) all the time. She wants us to feed her her dinner. She is "afraid" to go into her room or upstairs or downstairs (or wherever I am not) to get something - instead screaming that I must do it for her. This time around, I'm wiser. I am doing my very best to meet those needs - as frustrating as it can sometimes be. Because I understand how she feels. She's scared she'll won't be loved. She doesn't want to share me. She doesn't want to share my breasts.
Every night, as we all three girls snuggle together at bedtime, I tell them, "You'll always be my babies. I love you so much. Even when the baby is born, you'll always be my big girl babies." They tell me they love me too.
I surely hope this helps. I hope they feel reassured and loved and know their place in our home and hearts.
But if not - if when the baby's born, they're mad and crazy and hit and scream - well, I'm ready for that too. And it's okay by me.