The Second First Year

Following is an article I wrote for the April issue of Northeast Ohio Parent Magazine. I know, I know, that’s all I’ve been sharing lately. Don’t worry. I PROMISE to publish new, unique content here soon! I have so many posts already written in my head, I just can’t seem to find the time to sit down and write them out. Can someone PLEASE invent a way to add more hours to the day! 

Welcoming a new baby into the world is a time full of emotions; joy, excitement and perhaps even a little anxiety. To some, the first year can seem even more challenging the second time around. Now you’ve got a new baby AND their older sibling to care for. How do you manage all of their needs all at once?

Here is some advice from both parenting experts as well as experienced parents themselves on how to survive the first year, again.

Preparing for Baby

Helping your older child prepare before baby’s arrival will make the transition easier for everyone later on. Molly Edwards, School Psychologist at Gurney Elementary in Chagrin Falls remembers what her sister told her when she was pregnant. “Having a baby is like getting a new life-long roommate who is a stranger that you don’t get to interview.” “It’s totally understandable that a child might be nervous about what to expect,” says Edwards.

Dr. Elizabeth Feighan, MD, with Pediatricenter of Greater Cleveland, says that children ages three and over thrive on “the known.” She suggests to, “Find a way to make the older child feel secure. Practice showing them what it will be like when the baby comes.”

  • “Get out your child’s baby book or photos and talk about what it was like when he or she was a baby,” suggests Edwards. “Kids love talking about and hearing about when they were an infant.” There are also many appropriate books that you and your child can read together to prepare for a sibling’s birth.
  • Discuss with your child how things changed around the house when he/she was born. Edwards says that you and your child can come up with a list of ways you think life in your home may change when the new baby arrives (e.g. more visitors, the need to be quiet during nap time, etc.) Include both positive and potentially negative changes.
  • Show them bottles, diapers and all the gadgets that go with a new baby. Tell them how the baby will use them. You may consider mentioning any safety concerns like not giving the baby small toys or touching their head.
  • Let him or her help you set up the baby’s room, pick out new clothes, wash them and put them away.
  • Help your child pick out a special gift to give the baby when he or she arrives.
  • Put together a “treasure chest” of little activities, toys and books that you can allow your older child to choose something from in the early days while you’re nursing often. The dollar store is a great place to stock up on things like magic marker coloring books.
  • Consider holding off on potty training, “big boy beds” and visits from the Pacifier Fairy until after you have adjusted to life as a family of four. Older children can regress around their new baby siblings and you will certainly have times when you are happy to give the older child a pacifier and place them in their crib so they will nap… so you can too.
  • Perhaps most importantly, be sure to talk to your child about how your love for them will not change. “When I was about to deliver my second child, I recall being afraid of how I was going to love another child as much as I love my first,” says Sarah Kostura, Chagrin Falls mother of three boys. “As soon as number two arrived, my love for them both multiplied. “Love is not finite. It is boundless, especially when it comes to loving your children.” Sarah is expecting her fourth boy this July.

And Baby Makes Four

  • One benefit of caring for your second infant is that you can relax a little about some of the day to day matters that caused you worry the first time around. You know how to change diapers, you’ve worked through breast feeding once before, you survived the sleepless nights, you know how to work the carseat and how to fold the stroller. Have confidence in all that you know from the first child. While those early days are perhaps the most challenging because you’re recovering from childbirth and you’re very tired, you know now that they are also quickly fleeting. Cling to the sweet moments because you won’t get to do them again.
  • It will take some time to find your new normal. As you know from your first child’s first year, you can’t expect for there to be a routine for the first several weeks or even the first few months. But you know now what sleeping strategies work for you and those that don’t and you understand that the sleep deprivation is somewhat short lived. It makes it a little easier to get through those long nights when you know that they won’t last forever.
  • “Try your best to keep routines as consistent as possible for your older child before and after the new birth,” says Edwards. “As many of those little routines that can remain the same before and after the baby arrives will help keep your first born, and the whole family, from feeling like everything has changed.” Soon the new baby will adapt to the family’s schedule too.
  • “Always make a special effort to have one on one time with your older child,” says Kristen Thalman, mother of two ages 4 and 1. All day long they hear “Wait, I have to feed the baby” or “Be quiet, baby is sleeping.” Even if alone time is bath time, reading books together or a walk in the park, one on one time is important.
  • Psychologist Molly Edwards recommends that you acknowledge and validate your older child’s feelings. “Babies are great, but they do change the family dynamic in a huge way,” she says. “Let your older child know that it’s ok to be frustrated or disappointed and that it is normal to feel those things.”
  • Don’t forget to make time for yourself and with your spouse. It’s easy to feel guilty leaving two needy kids with a family member or a sitter. Even just an hour or two away to exercise, pamper yourself, have dinner together or shop by yourself can go a long way.
  • Lower your expectations of what you can accomplish or how you will react to challenging situations. “Not every day is going to be a gold star day,” says Sarah Kostura. “You will go to bed wishing you hadn’t lost your temper about the spilled milk, the crayon masterpieces on your furniture or potty accidents. You have to remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day and that you will keep trying again.”

Overall it’s important to simply take one day at a time. Just like in all of life’s challenges if you think too far ahead it is easy to become overwhelmed. If you focus on the task at hand this day, even just this hour, before you know it you’ll be as confident managing two children as you felt managing the first.

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