I recently received an email from a dear friend in a similar situation to myself, having babies very close together. My first two are 13 months apart and, as I type, my third bun in the oven will be only 16 months younger than my second. Here’s what she writes.
“I was wondering how did you “prepare” Ella Kate for Judah’s arrival since she was still very young? My daughter will be 15 months when baby No.2 is born and I wonder how she will deal with the fact that another baby will take up a lot of Mama’s time which she previously had all to herself. Especially since at 15 months they are still very dependent on Mama Bear.
Any thoughts and tips, fire them my way !! -H”
Excellent question, H. I grappled with this topic myself since I knew that my firstborn would be too young to have a conversation about the whole thing. It was more about preparing her as a tiny person to cope with change as opposed to preparing her mind for change, as you would an older child. Here are some thoughts.
1) Get her a baby doll and role play. An aunt suggested I get my oldest a baby doll and roll play changing a diaper, burping and feeding. We would both hold a baby and do this together (as approximate as it was) in hopes that when a real baby came home she would have a frame of reference to put it in. We didn’t do it every day but we did it frequently enough. I tried to hone in the concepts of baby and cry so the noise didn’t bother her, and we just hoped for the best. Then when the baby arrived, I made sure to give my daughter the baby doll and so she could feed, change and burp with me. She didn’t really turn into a copy cat baby mommy, but I think it helped her realize, even at her young age, what I was trying to communicate.
2) Give her individual play time so she is used to being comfortable and content on her own. I do harp on about children having time to play alone. In fact, as I type my daughter is playing in her room and my son is sleeping so I have at least 30 more minutes of personal time. She comes refreshed, I come out refreshed and we’re happy to be together again. It isn’t isolation, it isn’t punishment, on the contrary. This time alone also gives your child time to learn to occupy themselves. That way when the bay comes they aren’t sitting there saying “mommy mommy mommy” until you want to run away and hide or give them to the neighbour for a week. If they are never used to being alone then they will have an even harder time sharing you when your attention must be focused on the baby to feed it, change its diapers, or bathe it.
3) Create an ideal schedule before the baby arrives attempting to find individual time for both kids.
If you are a schedule maker (and this would cover the range of super rigid schedulers to loose general idea schedulers) then having one beforehand is a great thing. I made a schedule and tried to put my son on it in the hospital so when we came home everyone was on it. Chaos happened after he was born because my oldest ended up in the hospital but as soon as she came home the schedule worked well for us all. I fed my newborn when she was taking her naps and playing independently. Only one feed a day did I have to feed him while she was around and about. It meant I had individual time for both the newborn and my daughter (who was only 13 months old at the time) so I thought that helped to ease the entry of the new baby. If you don’t do schedules at all, then I suggest finding some activities that are new and fresh that your oldest can play near you while you’re taking care of the baby. If you have tricks up your sleeve it will prevent some jealous or attention grabbing tactics they try to pull.
4) Expect a little jealousy and have some tricks up your sleeve. Jealous is a harsh word, perhaps, but the Birth Order book says that all oldest children go through dethronement. Namely, their solitary and singular place in this world is now not what it was. They are not the only baby (no matter their age), the only cutie pie, the only one needing attention, the only one who does everything completely amazingly. They may be more emotional, more disobedient or more fussy. It is good to have some tricks up your sleeve like babysitting set up for the newborn (perhaps while they nap) so you can take your oldest for a walk or trip to the park alone. You can do things that show you are still focused on them, still love them and have not replaced them though there is another baby. If the baby is in a bouncy chair or on a play mat, use that time to hold, cuddle or read a book to your oldest. Show them that though there is another they are not replaced.
Teaching our children that they are the center of the universe is a disservice. We may not mean to, but it can be easily done. This is why the first child often has a lot harder time than subsequent children. #2 may not bat an eye when #3 comes along. #1 may bat an eye both times. The more we can do to show our firstborn they are a part of our family but not the reigning part, the easier it will be for them!
Congrats on the pregnancy, my friend, and I pray the upcoming transition will be smooth sailing!