How will having a second child change our first?

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BFFs? Photo by CarbonNYC, used under Creative Commons license.
We are adding a second child to the family in about seven weeks, and so I am thinking more and more about how to help our older child, who will be two years and ten months, adjust.

We are trying to talk about the baby in Mommy’s tummy with him and I have read him books about pregnancy and being a big brother. I also prepared a photo album of the first year of his life that he likes to read with us, and I did it in part so that we can show him pictures of him doing the stuff the baby is doing once the baby is here — nursing, sitting in his vibrating seat, getting baths, etc. He is already transitioned to his big boy bed and the crib is already in the guest room/new baby room, so that is not going to be an issue.

We have been warned that his sleep will regress, so we are trying to prepare ourselves psychologically for that. We also know there might be behavior regressions, and we are already occasionally dealing with challenging twos moments with him. I think one of my biggest fears, in fact, is that his behavior will regress a lot and so we will end up having our time with him dominated by trying to gentle parent him through his difficulties, which will be harder to do with a 24-7 nursing infant and sleep deprivation!

How did you prepare older siblings for an impending birth? What were your first few weeks like? — Mary

Comments on How will having a second child change our first?

  1. I don’t have kids, but my mom made me a ‘nursing basket’ when my brother was born (and I was a little under 3). It had a bunch of awesome toys and books that I was only allowed to play with when my mom was nursing my brother. She also let me help out with taking care of him like feeding him is first solid food etc. I don’t remember ever being jealous of him and we had a great relationship until he got into drugs in his teens.

  2. No second kid for my Family Unit, at this point, but I can tell you what happened with me when my sister was born.

    I was just shy of 2 years old when the baby came… I became ultra protective of the baby, and was a little Mini Mommy. This behavior pattern stuck with me through out my entire childhood, and is still with me into adulthood. My mom had been prepared for me to try and compete for attention, rebel, regress, all that stuff you read about in the books, but nope. I became more mature, and tried to mimic the adults: all the adults were fussing & cooing over the baby, protecting the baby, trying to correct the baby when she did something wrong, parenting the baby… so that’s what I did. It drove my mom NUTS the older I got, because she couldn’t break me out of it as hard as she tried. I was always worrying about my sister, fussing over my sister, being a Mini Mommy. Once I hit 13 or 14, I calmed down quite a bit, and went through the whole “Oh, my little sister is such a *kid*, I don’t want her hanging out with me” teenage thing. But now that we’re adults, we’re tight as ever. That being said, I am definitely still VERY protective of my sister (and she is of me, too). But it has become a dynamic in our relationship that works well for us. She and I would kill, for each other.

    My cousins, on the other hand, utter chaos. Two sisters, with the same age difference as my sister and I. My aunt saw what happened with my sister and I, and thought the same would happen with her kids. NOPE! Not even a little. My older cousin was very jealous of the baby, acted out for attention, wound up developing a habit of biting people if she didn’t get her way, etc.

    Anyway, what I am trying to say is: relax. Take it as it comes. You really have no way of knowing how your kid is gonna react to the new baby until the new baby is here, and you see the kid interacting with the baby, because at the end of the day, every kid is different and their brains function differently.

    Just make sure you give the kiddo lots of love & support. *:)

  3. I feel like I became a much better parent when I had my second. I was like, “wow! Why was this so hard the first time?” Now, partially that was the temperament of my second vs. my first, but I was so much less stressed out about those BIG.PARENTING.CHOICES that it felt so much easier. My first obviously got less attention than before, but I guess it just worked out. She didn’t really regress. And while she got a little harder to deal with, I don’t know how much of it was the baby vs. regular changes that come with entering the “threes.”

    I know this isn’t really advice, but try not to worry too much. My OB said once, going from 1 to 2 is nowhere near as hard as going from 0 to 1. You’re already in “parenting mode,” so your whole life doesn’t change as drastically. You’re first might struggle, might be great, but whatever it is, you’ll do what you always do as a parent: adapt and do your best.

    Good luck!

  4. I was just over two myself when my sister was born, but there are a few things I can remember that I can assume came from that time.

    The biggest thing is to remember that the oldest is a kid, not a third parent. That seemed to be forgotten in the chaos of having two young kids in the house(and then two more) but it still haunts me as I was expected to look after my siblings, help my parents, get my chores done and THEN I could read, draw or some other thing for me. My siblings never seemed to have to live up to the same standard. In my adult reincarnation this hasn’t changed, I still take care of myself last unless it’s a really big deal. Even then not sometimes, and I always feel guilty when I do, though I am working on that.

    Secondly each kid needs time alone (w/o looking after younger kids) and with the parents. Not everyday, but now and again.

    I read in a book a chapter on oldest kids titled “Wasn’t I enough?”.(I don’t know the book off the top of my head). I don’t pretend to remember being two, but it does seem like a question a young child would ask. When/if my husband and I have kids it’s something I’ll try to keep in mind, among the other things I experienced. I’m not saying that it had a terrible experience, I love my sibling. But there were things that got lost in the chaos, as we are all human at the end of the day.

    • I second the “remember that the oldest is a kid, not a third parent.” It can lead to resenting the younger children and/or the parent(s).

    • That depends. I was 13 and 15 when my brothers were born and so I did become a third parent (and my 5 years younger sister kind of a 4th!) because of the age gap. And that was fine, and I learned how to take care of babies and my brothers are now teenagers and our relationship is more like auxiliary parent than sibling in a lot of ways (which, since our mom died recently, is probably better for them to have older sisters like that). I think it silly to expect sibling relationships to be the same no matter what the age gap. Also, in most farming cultures older children take care of younger children (even just a bit younger) instead of playing with dolls. So it depends on what’s right for your family and the individual dynamics at play. I second the notion that you just won’t know what to expect until it happens, there might be regression, there might be more responsibility, who knows.

  5. We found out about our second child about ten days after she was born, so we had a minimal amount of time to prepare our oldest for what was coming. And you know what? It turned out fine. Our kids are 22 months apart, so our big kid was a little younger and less verbal than a 2+ year old might be. We found she actually slept better (they started sharing a room when the baby was almost 5 months and both experienced improved sleep)and cherished opportunities to help with the new baby.

    I think the most challenging part was my own worry over dividing my attention. What I’ve experienced so far is that I’m a better parent with both my kids – my discipline with my oldest is a little sharper maybe, but she responds well to clear boundaries and I just have less time to fret over giving them to her which makes me a clearer communicator. And we are so much more relaxed with baby #2, which may contribute to her sunny relaxed personality. Our oldest grew up a lot in the couple months following her sister’s arrival in very good ways. She struggled here and there, but overall it doesn’t have to be awful.

    Best advice we got: involve the older child as much as you can safely with the baby’s care. If the oldest kiddo feels like the baby is “our” baby and not “mommy’s and daddy’s” baby that’s a good start toward a good sibling bond.

  6. I am very interested to see everyone’s responses, as my second is due a month before my son’s first birthday. My first is an angel, so I am pretty sure he will take the transition well. I just hope the second one or any others that come along don’t take it too harshly, because I want a big (3-5) family quick. I have heard that the closer age promotes bonding as long as each is encouraged to have the time and space for individuality, but are also encouraged to play together.

    I was part of a big family and there has been much discord lately due to lifelong issues between us, some of which stem from our age differences, and my older sister being forced to take a mommy/ more responsible role, while others were allowed to slack as mentioned in Adrini’s post, which was a source of resentment and anger for her. I guess one way I am going to try to prevent that feeling in my family is to hold each one to the same responsibilities at the same skill levels. Obviously, some will learn how to take care of themselves at an earlier age because of other physical or mental skills, but each will eventually learn how to contribute and be a part of the family. Each will be taught that though others have different skills and talents, and therefore will contribute differently, it doesn’t mean they are any less of a contributing helpful family member.

  7. My oldest will be 16 monthes when our newest is expected. Im doing lots to prepare but not sure how to prepare my oldest quit yet. I let her feel the baby kick and talk about her being a big sister but im not sure she understands it all yet. she gets jealous when anyone in the immediate family holds another baby aside from her so im nervous. We are trying to potty train her before the newest gets here so that we wont have to worry about diapers and we plan and starting to get her to sleep in her own room (shes been co sleeping since she was born). Im hoping this will help prepare her and I for the up coming baby! Good luck with your little ones!

    • Not to rain on your parade, but the vast majority of kids aren’t ready to be potty trained that young. You might just want to skip it entirely for now and do it after the new baby is a well established member of your household. There’s a much greater chance of a young child regressing with the potty training, and, while having 2 in diapers isn’t ideal for a variety of reasons, it’s a lot better than having to wash 4 loads of laundry per day between the two of them!

    • While it’s true, the vast majority aren’t potty trained by this age, it’s not impossible. My sister-in-law did it with her first (although I think she was 18 mo) and she didn’t regress at all. My 18 mo old little boy is also toilet trained bar night time which I’m SO glad about now we’re expecting #2…I can’t imagine changing poopy nappies AND being nauesous. BUT keep in mind, regression is a possibility and just don’t stress about it. She’ll come back around when she’s ready!

  8. Our two are around 27 months apart and they’re best friends. Nothing changed, they just had a buddy to play and get into mischief with. We didn’t have any problems with integration, so here’s what we did:
    -We talked about how much fun it is to have a little brother or sister.
    – We told Jazzy that there was a baby in my tummy as soon as we got past the 12 week mark.
    – She nicknamed the baby ‘Bubbles’
    – We answered questions, which were mostly “What will baby eat? Where will she sleep? Can I share my toys with the baby?”
    – Jazzy came along to some of the antenatal appointments, to hear the baby’s heart beat and watch the ultrasounds.
    – When I went in to hospital, I took along a small gift for Jazzy. When she came in, I hugged her first and gave her the present, a necklace with a little star.
    – Jazzy was one of the first people to hold Bubbles, after the initial disbelief. (No, the baby is in your tummy! *lifted my shirt to look* Oh, it’s squishy. Where did the baby go? Ah okay, there’s baby Bubbles!”)
    – I went home the same day, because my local hospital has an early discharge program with home visits from Clinical Nurse Midwives. I think it made everything much easier for Jazzy to get used to, because we went out in the evening and then she came to pick us up a little after lunchtime (similar to her routine for sleepovers at greatnana’s place).

  9. Just be there for him. Kids at the preoperational stage don’t really understand the idea of the other, so be patient. Prepare for a bit of jealousy, and behavior regression too. The blog woodturtle had a great ‘birth plan’ for her daughter that had in kid friendly terms what would happen (nothing anitomical) and it seemed like a wicked way of including her daughter. If you have local aunts and grandparents, plan special time with them for him. Good luck on your journey!

  10. I have been thinking about this lately as we are trying for baby number two. Our son just turned two so depending on conception he’ll be almost three or three when the new baby comes. I’m trying not to stress too much about the whole process and to just let him be around younger children that I hold, play with, etc, and to encourage him to ‘play nicely’ with them.

    I’m the oldest in my family and my sister and I are four years apart. I don’t really remember having any issues with it. Granted I was a laid back, very independent child. I think it helped that I started pre-school that year and then went to kindergarten the next. I also know that most people don’t like to wait so long between the first and second. In reference to that, my sister and I are best friends now. When we were younger, like 10 and 14, I usually wanted to strangle her, but I was always over protective of her at the same time. I still have the urge to protect her. I do remember that from when we were young. She was my baby sister, so you know, it was my job to protect her even if I wanted to kill her. Other people were not allowed to yell at her, or punish her, etc. I always took up the defensive.

  11. Since he’s so young, maybe you could get your son a baby doll? That way he participate in baby stuff without any risk to the actual baby. Plus, it may help with some jealousy if he has a baby of his very own, even if he just ends up boping it around.

  12. I am in the weeds with baby #2 right now! My second son is almost 4 weeks old and my firstborn is 26 months. We didn’t do all that much before baby was born because my 2 year old was a bit young to understand the concept, but we read Big Brother books and introduced a baby doll (which he hated).

    How’s it going?… A bit of a mixed bag. Big brother’s interactions with the baby are mainly positive, though for the most part he ignores him. He does usually smile and pet his head at least once a day. But there are definitely jealousy issues. His sleep has been pretty awful and he’s jealous that the baby sleeps in our bed right now. He’s not very verbal so I have to guess at most of his feelings, but he seems to act out more (sometimes a delayed reaction) when his special times with me are interrupted by a nursing or crying baby – like storytime, naptime, bedtime, etc. He has started up with an ear-shattering whining sound that’s a new invention and very hard for me to tolerate even though I know he badly needs compassion.

    Despite all that, I feel like overall he’s really doing well. It’s hard for me in the moment because sometimes I really have to dig deep, beneath the sleep deprivation and irritation, to be gentle and empathetic when he’s screaming or refusing to sleep… and let’s not forget I’m still hormonally crashing! But I think I’m doing pretty well too, or at least I’m trying pretty hard!

  13. My older son was 17 months when my younger son was born (he’s 3 months now.) and so far,so good! I think that since my older son is so young, he doesn’t really notice the baby. Occasionally, he’ll try to poke the baby and name his body parts (which is a little dangerous/ absolutely adorable) and the other day I caught him giving the baby a pacifier. Otherwise, we’ve been doing really well. No behavioral changes, no regressions. I found, with my experience, that you just kind of make things work, just like the first time.

  14. My sons are 3 years and 3 months apart. While I was pregnant we talked a lot about the baby in mummy’s tummy and how much fun it would be to have a little brother or sister. One thing I wish I had done differently was that I told my older son that when the baby was ready I would go to the hospital for a little while and then we would all bring the baby home together. Instead my younger son ended up in the NICU for 10 days and we spent that time shuttling between home and two different hospitals which was very confusing for my older son. However, once we were all home together surrounded by familiar things it was much, much better. For the most part my older son is interested in and protective of his little brother but both my husband and I try to remember that we chose to have another child. Our son didn’t choose to have a sibling so it’s to be expected that there are times he won’t love having another kid around. When these times happen I try to make sure that my older son is included in whatever activity I’m doing with the baby. I also talk a lot about how the baby is my older son’s little brother, and not just my other little boy. I want my older son to think about his brother in relation to himself. Also the half hour before bedtime is designated snuggle time for just the two of us. The baby either plays on his own or Daddy steps in. The newest situation we are dealing with is that the baby has started to grab things, including his brother’s toys. I remind my older son that the baby isn’t trying to take away his toys and that we have to teach him to share. So far this seems to be working but it will be a work in progress. Luckily my older son can tell me if he’s feeling neglected but from time to time I just ask him how he’s feeling or if we’re spending enough time together. Good luck!

  15. My family comes from rural farming stock on both sides, and have that kind of “it will or it won’t” attitude that results in passive parenting. My grandmother was the youngest of 12, so she got spanked by her oldest brothers if she misbehaved. Both my parents are one of five. Listening to their stories, my advice is parent actively and adaptively. Respond to what is actually happening, rather than assume based on anecdotes or the belief problems will work themselves out on their own. If they get along well, encourage that, but watch for changes as they get older (I got severe lectures for no longer wanting to play with my sibling when I hit middle school). If they didn’t get along, don’t panic, but try to tease out why. Jealousy? Just because or are you really not meeting their emotional needs or addressing fears? Fighting? Personality maybe? One child testing out his control of the world by seeing what reactions, including anger, they can get out of the other? And because of my own case, don’t rule out behavioral problems JUST as acting out. I have an inherited psych problem that came from my Dad’s side. He never mentioned it until after almost a decade of going untreated and unmedicated, with all that came with it. My Mom had written it off as drama and since I saw my sibling most a lot of it involved them. I’m not advocating medication or jumping to the conclusion of a worst case scenario; I am encouraging parenting actively.

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