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You all know the family. The one in which the siblings seem to magically get along, support each other, work well together, and talk through difficult moments with little to no yelling, or homicidal threats. You also know there is a reason you probably only know one family like this. It is a rarity. It doesn’t exist in nature in large numbers. Parents aspire to have that sense of familial calm and sibling cohesion, and may feel that it will always be beyond their reach. Then, a new sibling is brought into the mix, and that aspiration for familial magic seems like an ever-more-distant hope.
Truth be told, familial magic can always be created. When parents already have a child, or children, and find out they are pregnant, there are a few tricks to put up your sleeve.
Try not to tell your children the news right before bedtime. As with all news that may stir up feelings, everything seems more difficult, upsetting and even scary when told to a child after the sun has gone down. It’s important that they have the day to do something nice with you after they hear the news, so they can see that they still “have” you to have fun with, no matter what.
If a change will have to take place – moving the older sibling to another room, moving the older sibling out of a crib, moving to a new residence – make sure that you don’t say it is happening “because of the baby”. Even if that is the reason, making the baby the reason for a difficult change or loss in your other child’s mind will be a sure-fire way to engage sibling rivalry even before the baby is born.
Now is the time to bolster your other children’s self-esteem. Take great interests in their interests, take pride in their good qualities and accomplishments, and let them know how much you love them unconditionally. For pregnant women, the good news is that you can do all this with your feet up, leaning against your full-body pillow, or while snacking.
Tell your children, before the baby comes home, that there will be a change in the amount of time you can spend with them, and that it’s important not to confuse time with love or caring. You will love them just as much as before, and you will care about them just as much as before, but you will also need to take care of the baby because babies are not yet able to do things for themselves. Let them know that if they are getting confused about that and are forgetting that it is just about time and not love and caring, they can check in with you and you will remind them about what spending more time with the baby means and what it doesn’t mean. You can also make sure they know that loves grows with each child. There is not a finite amount that then has to get divided up into smaller bits for each child. It is one of the most magical parts of this whole process.
Plan for the time the baby is brought home. I think it’s a good idea that the baby is brought into the home by someone else whom you love and trust, so your arms will be free to hold onto your other children.
Let those who are planning to visit know that you would like them to greet the siblings first and spend a bit of time with them before making a b-line over to the baby.
Stock up on a few gifts for your other children before the baby is born. One can be from the baby after it arrives, and the others can be presented every so often if/when the baby is showered with gifts, leaving the siblings always empty-handed.
Depending upon their ages, siblings can be asked to help decorate the baby’s room, make some artwork for the walls, and make a play-list for lullabies on a CD or I Pod. Older siblings can also make a humorous list of things for their new sibling to be aware of when they get older that they wished someone had tipped them off to. It can start something like this: “Mom doesn’t like finding dirty socks under the coffee table, so think of the hamper as your friend”.
And What About You
After the baby arrives, you may be under-slept, edgy, spacey, blissful, worried, in discomfort, feeling out of control, easily annoyed, and in love all at the same time. You may also not feel in love yet with your new baby, and if that occurs, give it time and also consider getting some support. Chances are, while all this is occurring, you will still be relied upon to tend to everyone else’s needs and feelings a lot of the time.
The other truth is, you can do it. You may need to delegate some responsibilities, you may need to make sure you put yourself and your needs first every so often, you may need time out of the house, and you most definitely will need to tell your family and friends what you need from them (and what you don’t need, or want), and THEN you will be able to do it all. Parents throughout the ages have relied upon each other for support and wisdom during this time. If you don’t have a group of caring and supportive people around you, find them. They are there if you look.You don’t have to do this alone.
Rachel Bernstein has a Masters in Education and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She is the School Counselor at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Schools and has a private practice in Encino. She has been working with children, couples and families for 20 years.