How can we get a toddler ready for a not-quite-sibling?

Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.

Anie sent us a question about her growing poly family: How do you get a little kid ready for a baby who isn't a sibling, but is a big part of everyone's life?

Three kids berry picking
Photo by DQmountaingirl, used with Creative Commons license.
So I have a, perhaps unique, quandary. My husband and I are one half of a polyamorous quad. Our paramours have two children who sort of sated my baby urges when we first got together. Now, however, my husband and I are expecting a child of our own and I admit I'm a little worried.

There is plenty out there about how a young child, used to being the cute baby of the family, can have feelings of jealousy and resentment when a new baby comes along. I'm not worried about the paramours' older child, as he is 1) well-settled into his big brother role, and 2) is old enough to be fully aware of the coming baby and what that means. However, their younger son K has definitely been the much doted upon cute toddler — not only for his parents, but for us as well. It's something he's very clearly aware of and occasionally milks for all he can. I worry about how he'll react when we have a cute baby of our own (which I certainly hope his own parents will dote on as well) and he's forcibly upgraded to the "older child" role.

There are tons of books out there on how to prepare kids of various ages for becoming a big brother — the books discuss how you include them in a sense of responsibility and gradually shift their identity. But K won't be a big brother — not quite anyway. The reality might be very similar to that of a step or half-sibling, but I would feel a little dishonest using that language and expect it might be confusing for him as well.

So how do you prepare a toddler for a new baby entering his social sphere that won't exactly be a relative, but will definitely be a huge part of his life?

  1. So, what if you create a term that's seemingly ambiguous, but will prepare K for his role? Something like "soul brother" or "god-brother" or something similar? You could use the term, and then describe what that will mean for him in terms he's aware of (protecting, playing with, etc.).

  2. We don't have the polyamorous part of the deal, but we've always been extremely close with my sister and brother-in-law (he was my husband's and my best friend before he started dating my sis). Our daughter was four when their daughter was born and very used to being The Kid to everyone around her. I think they helped her adjust to her "big kid" role by going out of their way to show that she was stlil special to them in her own way.

    I think you're halfway there by just being aware that this will be a challenge for him.

  3. I live in a polyamorous grex (four adults in one house) and we have 3 kids between us. The situation was a bit similar but we all moved in together after our kids were all born. There's a 13 year old boy, a 6 year old girl, and my daughter, a 3 year old girl. We all moved in together when my daughter was about 7 months old. We kind of let the kids lead on what they want to call each other. The 6 year old calls my daughter her friend and says we are all a family. She will sometimes say: "My friend I live with" but talks about all of us as her family. My daughter pretty much says the same thing. I think it also depends on who she's talking to and how she might perceive how we are all viewed. I know this isn't a great definitive answer that you wanted, but it's what we've experienced.

  4. Do the kids call you Auntie, or something similar? I grew up with lots and lots of unrelated Aunties and all their kids we called our cousins. It leaves a nice sort of ambiguity about origins but retains the recognition of a close relation. My dad was an only child but I've still got a half dozen cousins on his side.

    • That's very much how it worked in our household. and cousin has been an ambiguous term fo close friends for ages…

    • This might be a great solution for this situation, but do check with all the partners first.

      My husband's family does this, but my family is smaller and much less extroverted than my husband's, plus I have to set some strong boundaries or can get bowled over by his extended clan. Also, it'll add confusion for my blended family when my kids will all be one race and so won't look like one of their 5 actual grandparents or my step-sister. I imagine it'll all work itself out, but to some people extending family titles is really not desirable.

  5. I'm all for the idea of making up a name for the role. Soul Brother made me giggle a little just because of Fatboy Slim's "Funk Soul Brother" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBClImpnfAg), but hey, whatever works!

    I have full blood siblings, half siblings, and step siblings. I don't bother with the semantics of it all, they're just my brother & sisters, that simple.

    If it were me in that scenario, I would say that Heart Brothers would be a nice way to get the point across. They may not be related by blood, but that won't need to change the way they feel about each other in the grand scheme of things.

    One thing I can say from experience: my brother's youngest son was very much the "baby" in the family until my niece was born. He struggled a little at first, but he really stepped up and fit into the Big Brother role with a gusto. He loves being a big brother to his baby sister, but still getting the attention of being younger than his older brothers.

    It's all about balance. Just make sure he knows he is still special and still a priority.

    • "Heart brothers" is a great term. I call my good friend's son my heart-nephew – I will not be having any children, and my brothers don't have any yet, so he's all of that for me!

  6. I agree there will likely be some growing pains for the little one. My nice lived with us when she had her baby & I had a baby three weeks before her. My then almost three year old was still breastfeeding too. So when our baby came, he did shockingly well. The transition was seamless really & I don't think he noticed any feelings of getting "less' from me than he had before (I tandem nursed). However, my niece had her baby & a year later we are still adjusting to some level of jealousy with her child. He adores his cousin while at the same time resenting her. Perhap sin worrying so much to prepare him by talking abou tHIS borther – none of us thought abou thow hard it would be for him to see her go from childless & doting on him all teh time, to busy momma with a totally new focus. She also was able to move out about 6 months after her baby was born & he still has a hard time with her leaving as well (although she didnt' live with us for all that long before the babies were born). So my point is – you ar eon top of it & that alone will likely make a difference. I worked so hard ot prepare him for our baby arriving that I *think* it did pay off & they are great friends & if anything, he is sweeter to the baby than the baby is to him. However, we overlooked his feelings about my niece & have had much more catch up to do in smoothing that situation over. :/ The fact that you are on top of it will likely avoid a lot of heartache in the future & shows how sensitive you will be.

  7. Ya, i agree that 'cousin' would probably be best, I think its what I'd do if i was in a similar situation. 'cousin' is a normal kinship word that is often used for fictive kin, and a close cousin relationship is probably going to be similar to the relationship between these kids. I think that 'half', 'step', and etc are confusing to kids a lot of times.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.