Between our two children, we never had much sibling rivalry, and as I look back, I realize we took steps pretty early to prepare our elder child for the arrival of her brother. This was important to me, because I believe my own older sibling had a difficult time adjusting to my birth.
Our efforts began with simply talking to our almost two-year-old about “our baby”, including her in the ownership of him. Months before the birth, we borrowed books from the library about a baby in the house and being an older sister and read them to her frequently.
We planned a special welcome event. We bought a gift that the baby could “give” our daughter and a gift that our daughter chose to give the baby. We exchanged these gifts at the hospital when the children met for the first time. This promoted such good feelings right from the start. I believe she could still tell you today what that gift was. It meant something to her.
Once home, we showed her how to touch the baby, always gently, and where she could touch him – his hand, his back. We encouraged her to talk to him, and sing to him.
Most importantly, we made sure that mom and daughter still had some one-on-one time together. When nursing the baby, I would often read to her. At bedtime, my husband would take over with the baby for a while so I could do the bedtime routine with our daughter, just the two of us.
I’ll never forget one night, when tucking her in. She said, “Mama?”
“Hm?” I replied.
“What happened to us?”
I stared at her and my heart leapt up into my throat. Did she mean what I thought she meant? Was my daughter, just a few months past two, asking me to explain why things had changed?
“Well,” I began. “We have a baby in the family now,” the words stumbled out.
Yes, something had changed and she certainly noticed. Was the new baby a blessing or a curse? It would be another two years before he would be old enough to really play with her. But, then, ah… the magic would begin. A companion. A playmate. A source of inspiration and entertainment. And, a partial substitute for mom. Because when all is said and done, I can never really give her my undivided attention again.