I've been around a lot of pregnant women in my adult life. I've empathized, commiserated, rejoiced, cried, and laughed right along with them. I've also given a lot of advice. Some of it was probably pretty good but some was probably unwanted. As I get older and, hopefully wiser, I've learned to shut my mouth more and open my ears to listen instead. So when I recently met a mom of an almost 2 year old, expecting her 2nd baby, I refrained from saying what was on my mind because I didn't want to offer unsolicited advice. I didn't want to push my thoughts on someone who may not want them. So I decided to write them here instead, in hopes that they help a nervous mom out there expecting her 2nd child.
My mom's little sister was born 11 months after she was born. She had a lot of health issues and required a lot of attention. My mom always said she felt kicked out of the crib. So as I was expecting my 2nd child, just a mere 14 months after my first was born, I was filled with worry that my oldest would feel "kicked out of the crib" as well. When I came home from the hospital two days after giving birth to my son, as I tried to give my 14 month old daughter a hug, she pulled away from me. That was the beginning of some major mama guilt I would experience over the next few years.
My daughter was a typical toddler (although I didn't fully realize this until years later). She was active and funny and loved to test her boundaries. She would slap the baby just to see how I would react, which was usually pretty poorly. She would pile toys and blankets on him. She never showed any interest in holding him and so I never offered. I just kept thinking it was my fault that she didn't love her brother. She didn't want a brother so soon. He was stealing me away from her. My guilt grew and grew.
Do you ever see those sweet sibling pictures of the little toddlers holding and hugging their little baby brother or sister? They just melt your heart, right? Well, they just broke mine. I wondered why all these other toddlers loved their siblings so much. I was sure it was because I had them too close in age. I was sure if I had been smarter and spaced them apart better, they would have been best friends. So you can imagine how I felt when I found out I was expecting #3 just 18 months after #2.
I cried. I cried a lot. I cried because I knew how hard it was going to be to have a baby plus TWO toddlers! I cried because my body was tired from being pregnant and/or nursing almost nonstop for over two years. I cried because I felt even more guilty that another of my toddlers was going to be deprived of their mom.
When my third was born, I was going to do things differently. I was going to make sure #2 loved him! The second we got home from the hospital, I forced the baby on my 18 month old toddler. I made him sit and hold him because I was sure this was the way to form a bond. You know what? My 18 month old had no desire to hold his little brother. He had no interest in him whatsoever. Oh no! I did it again! I was convinced I had ruined my second toddler too. That he would hate me forever just as my daughter would for forcing another sibling on them.
One day around when my daughter was four, I realized I had done an excellent job in raising a spoiled little girl. My guilt at forcing her to have two little brothers caused me to give in to her every little demand. And I realized that had to stop. I stopped giving into the screaming. I stopped giving her the first choice on snack or color of plate or tv show or whatever.
My daughter was almost 6 years old when I had my 4th and by then, things had changed. The kids were different. I was different. I had time to grow into the role of mom. I figured out ways to not give into my kids. I learned to control my guilt and not let it control me. I had sweet, happy kids. And I had learned from my mistakes.
First one was to not force the baby on the older siblings. I offered to let each of them hold the baby if they wanted. #1 and #3 happily did so. #2 was not interested. In fact, he didn't even touch his baby brother until he was a couple weeks old. And that was okay. It was just his personality. And it didn't mean he was upset at me for having another baby. He just didn't want to hold him. And I didn't make him.
That was the second lesson I learned, not to read into every little thing my toddler did and assume it was my fault. Because, let's be real, they're toddlers. They're crazy, little, irrational beings. They're not sending me a message. They're not disobeying to teach me a lesson. They're just themselves, unique personality and all. And they honestly had no idea that my having another baby was within my control. They just thought that was how life went. They didn't think anything of it. I wasn't "ruining" them.
My third lesson was that it was never too late to change how I parented. As I would watch Dr. Phil and see the issues moms had with their older children, I was convinced that was my future because I had spoiled my kids for too long. I was wrong. I could change. And my kids did improve. And all my fears that they hated having siblings because it took me away from them melted away as they got older and I realized that I had actually given them the best gift there is: each other. I gave them built-in best friends and playmates. Those times when the 2 year old would cry because the 1 year old had the toy she wanted didn't matter anymore as they scootered around our street later at 8 and 7 years old, or jumped on the trampoline at 13 and 12 years old. That was my fourth lesson, that having another baby may be tough at first, but I'm blessing them with siblings and life-long friends, it just took a few years to see it.
So to all you second time moms (and beyond), my lessons are my advice. Give the toddler time to adapt to the baby. Let go of the guilt. Change your parenting when needed. And remember that they will love having a little sibling to play with some day.
Here are some of my proud sibling pictures that it took almost six years to get!
Birth Boot Camp Certified Doula (BBCD)