Having Another Baby
written by Carol Castanon, Parent Consultant
Just the idea of more than one child can bring up strong adult emotions. These might be connected to your own experience in your family of origin, or to your now growing family. More than one can trigger feelings of anxiety or loss for the parent expecting their second child. More than one can make you feel overpowered and outnumbered. More than one can trigger guilt or sadness for and with the first child. More than one can feel like too many children needing too much of Mommy or Daddy or both. More than one can bring worry about sleep, schedules, finances, sibling rivalry, and time as a couple.
The joy of a bigger family is fully complex. Even the excitement of a new baby sister or brother, daughter or son might be tempered by the unfolding day to day relationships. There will be both laughter and tears for mamas, papas and babes. There is an extraordinary adjustment taking place. It turns out, that the dynamic quality of family is multi-relational. There is now the relationship of parent to child, parent to parent, and child to child. Each relationship requires nurture, touch, full attention, and play. And each relationship is entirely unique to your family.
The capacity to love and be available to another is literally multiplied. It is absolutely possible to be in love and head over heels with more than one child, and for more than one child to feel the love. The experience of sharing the love can be easier for some children than others. Sometimes, children adjust with little tension or resistance. Other children experience a deep loss of their beloved parent. These children go through a grieving transition before the onset of sibling affection and love. Often, sibling conflict and love is one of the most powerful relationships of our entire lives. With siblings, conflict and love live side by side. With the young older sibling, a parent will need to be near as a young child’s hands are not yet to be trusted. These big feelings may not yet be mastered physically or emotionally by this child. A young child may not yet know how to regulate emotions with the visceral feeling in their hands, feet or mouth. They are learning to navigate an expanded family, and share their mother and or father. An older brother or sister may also experience a range of feelings including jealousy. And why not? They have loved exclusively and intimately for their whole lives. The truth is a new baby can trigger difficult emotions regardless of birth order. You may witness this emotional push and pull many times throughout a day.
Parents are needed by the child to remain in charge, compassionate, and clear. If possible, plan ahead for other adult helping hands the first 10 – 12 weeks. Reach out and tell people what you think you’ll need. A new baby requires stamina, but more than one child may require helpers. Make sure you eat and drink, and nap when possible. Remember to breathe, slow down and stay in the moment. Most of the time, there is no emergency. Eat well, but simply. Open your arms wide for new baby and small/big child sharing lap time, nap time, and story time. If possible, make one-on-one time for the older sibling/s. This new baby will only know a shared parent experience with siblings, while the first or youngest thus far only knows their past sacred position in family.
Many times an older sibling will need you but not be able to tell you with words. You might see behavior cueing you that connection is needed. You may see crying, hitting, or yelling. You might say, “Let’s make sure we get special time together every day!” Or, “Come, come and hold my hand.” They are releasing their emotions by seeking attachment, understanding, and guidance through a stormy sea. Crying is ok. In fact, it is the basic language of upset. When there is calm again, you can talk about when they were a baby, look at baby pictures, tell them they are your one and only [put in their name], and let them know you will always be their mommy/daddy who takes care of them and keeps them safe. For those parents who are struggling as well, the reassurance you give your children will be felt in your nervous system too. If you cry, you can say, “I’m crying, and I still take care of you.” Children are egocentric. This means the world revolves around their world, and they wonder what did I do, or who will take care of me…
The first few months of a new baby are unlike any other time in child rearing. New babies can’t wait for their needs to be met. So there is a dilemma. How can I have special time with the older children when my new baby requires so much? Again, open your arms wide for more than one. Get down and close to the play of your older child, and bring new baby with you. This is floor time, where you are available and near, interested and calm. Floor time or special time is child centered, not a teaching time but rather an experience for the child of being seen, felt, and loved. Your body is speaking the language of connection. And connection nurtures resiliency and relationship. This is true regardless of how old your children are.
Many times, the older child now has the opportunity to develop a more intimate connection with another. The “other” than mother parent is now more available for play, going to the park, stories, cooking etc. Because there might be lots of tension in the older sibling’s body, and because growing children are often very physical, make sure there are positive outlets for climbing and running, throwing and kicking, pounding and squeezing. Play dough or clay fulfills both a sensory activity and a place for hands with big feelings. A gentle game of wrestle or chase can be fun too. But be careful, too much physical excitement can be over stimulating and end in tears. Often, the older child wants to be with other children, but again, too much fun can go awry depending on the age and stamina of the older child. Children may cry when an experience feels overwhelming. Crying is ok, and you are there to let them know they are heard. Simple reflection is perfect. You might say, “Oh dear, what a big day it is today.” They may need your arms around them to keep them safe and secure.
When children are upset, it is very difficult and unlikely that they can problem solve. The feeling part of their brains is fully engaged. When there is calm, there is time enough for reflecting on what happened and planning for the next time. Now they can hear, ponder and may even resolve a conflict or hurt. Staying with a child’s cry can be rough. Often adults are feeling the child’s pain too. Sometimes the same hurt or struggle re-emerges for a child, and adults feel like they’ve talked about “this” many times before. Often, the cry or anger of a child takes a large amount of adult energy. It feels exhausting, or too much because there is work to be done and dinner to be made. Sometimes it’s a reflex to want to stop children with big emotion, or push them away emotionally. This will happen at times, as parents are people too. That’s ok. No emergency here. You can go back, redirecting your reactivity to a responsive, reflective and kind connection. This builds the capacity to feel safe and loved as one grows bigger, and the world demands accommodation.
The stamina of parenting actually expands with this new child, as does laughter, joy and play. The older sibling is still seeking the capacity to delight you. This is secure attachment. Tell your child when they’ve done a job well done. You might say, thank you for waiting or you found your shoes or your seatbelt is on. A simple acknowledgement can go a very long way. Suddenly, and sometimes surprisingly, there is delight in more than one. There will be profound delight in seeing the sibling relationship unfold as well. This pleasure will never get old. The sibling relationship is theirs to conquer, and you’re there to nurture this important bond. The first few months of new baby can be challenging. But then, a new paradigm emerges filled with marvelous possibilities!