When is the best time to tell your young child they are going to be a big sibling – and what exactly that means for them? How do you begin to explain this to a toddler? Read our Second Time Mom series to learn tips for how to prepare your child to be an older sibling, when to start preparing to deliver the news and what behaviors to expect (and how to react to them!). We did a quick Q&A with our own Amanda Nelson to see how she and her family fared through this transition.
How did you start preparing Dustin (your older child) to be an older sibling? (When did you first tell them? How old were they when you told them?) We told our first child, Dustin, at about 12 weeks; he was almost three years old at that time. We wanted to make sure the pregnancy was progressing normally before we let him in on the big news. We told him that Mommy had a baby in her belly and that we were going to have a baby “in a looong time”.
How did he take it at first? How did his initial reaction change over time? Dustin took his time to understand this and asked me several times over the first few weeks, “you have a baby in there mamma?”, like he wanted to test me over and over until he knew I was really telling him the truth. He wanted to lift up my shirt and see the baby, as if I was hiding one in my clothes. Gradually, as I got bigger, he realized that the baby was INSIDE my belly. He started to ask questions like, “is the baby hungry in there?”, “how does the baby go to the bathroom?”. My favorite was “does the baby have socks on in there? Is he cold?”
As Dustin was getting bigger, so was I, and his understanding of the pregnancy developed. He became more interested in what would happen once the baby was outside of my belly. He wanted to know if the baby could eat ice cream, and if the baby would cry a lot. It was very interesting to see how his emotional development changed over time and he began to really care about how this baby would exist in the word outside Mommy’s belly.
How were you preparing yourself? For this baby, I spent a lot of time and thought preparing for our new family member. I started stock piling diapers and wipes in our basement to prevent having to buy them once I was on leave. I moved Dustin into a twin bed so I could leave the crib set up in his room as a way of adjusting him to the idea of sharing what was once his beloved “cribby”. I took the time to read some literature on having your second baby, specifically, Siblings without Rivalry.
I did all my research for childcare during my second trimester, and made decisions regarding that early on to prevent any last minute anxieties over what would happen when I returned to work. We also just talked a lot as a family about responsibilities around the house and what life might be like with another kiddo. I really wanted us to take the time to consider as many angles as we could so that there would be less surprises once the baby was actually in our arms.
What has been most surprising to you now after you’ve had your second child? The most suprising thing to me is how much more I feel like a “family” now that I have my second, and how in love I am with it all. We were so blessed to have had a seamless entry for PJ into our lives; and now we are fully immersed in the “family”. There is no denying it- we are in the thick of it, and so captivated by the happiness that it brings us. After I had my first, I remember feeling a pang of sadness for that old life (late nights out with friends in the city, sleeping late, eating ALL our meals at restaurants); after my second, I am so in love with the new life we have. The surprise of being so happy about that is intoxicating. Now I look at our kitchen, with a half eaten sandwich on the table and toys scattered on the floor and I just think, I am so lucky. What a wonderful and amazing life we have made. This feeling, in comparrison to after my first has been the biggest (and best) surprise to me yet.
Now…taking a step back from the love train, I am still a human and still have a three and a half year old; and there was a HUGE surprise for me as well.
What surprised me the most, and what I had never even considered, was the guilt I felt toward my first once I was home with the baby. I would get so aggravated at Dustin for being a three year old (tantrums, having accidents in his underwear, being loud), then I would feel this IMMENSE guilt for being so irritated. Just days…hours before, he had been the only child. Every sound he made only impacted my husband and me, and now I was all wrapped up in this new baby getting very irritated at things that two or three days ago wouldn’t have bothered me for more than a few seconds. For Dustin, that must have been very confusing. I would swing back and forth on the emotional pendulum from feeling aggravation towards my first to sadness for feeling that way. I never anticipated that feeling of guilt, and in hindsight I should have done a little more to accommodate Dustin’s needs during those first two or three weeks.
How have things been going so far with your two children? Things have been going really well. My kids are three and a half years apart and that is a perfect age gap for us. Dustin is now four and PJ is about six months. We are all working really hard to be responsive and accommodating of each others’ needs.
When it was just the three of us, I would think, how can I fit another child into our already busy lives? Well…you can definitely do it. We are BUSY, no doubt about it. For that reason, I try really hard to schedule down time for everyone. Time when we can do absolutely nothing and relax.
All in all it’s busy, messy, chaotic and CRAZY, but at the end if the day after all the shenanigans have ceased, the stories have been read and the lights are turned off, I just stare into that bedroom where my two boys are slumbering and I feel a warm wave of happiness spread over me and I know that I am the luckiest person in the world.