Monday, December 14, 2015
Adjusting to Life with a Toddler and a New Baby
Despite what a balancing act having a child is, many of us venture to have more than one. I went on to have four. Parental concerns shift with subsequent babies from "How do I take care of a newborn?" to "How will my toddler and I cope with my attention being so focused on the new baby?"
With older children it is different, because they can communicate their feelings more clearly. Toddlers, who are often still in diapers and just learning how to string several words together, are the ones parents tend to worry about the most.
These are the most common concerns parents have about how their toddlers will cope with the new baby:
1) What is the best way to introduce my toddler to the new baby?
Every family has different wishes for the first meeting. Some parents experienced a rough birth and prefer their toddlers to visit when they're feeling less sore and more present. Others want the toddler to be brought over right away. Some are even present for the birth. Whatever feels right for your family is likely the best plan.
What parents are often afraid of is their toddler reacting negatively to the new baby at that first precious meeting. It can happen, and it is best to not take it personally, or as a sign that things aren't starting on the right foot. Toddlers are unpredictable, and don't always show up emotionally in the way we hope.
Having the toddler be introduced to their sibling in the presence of someone else they are attached to is an appealing idea to many families. If the older child becomes upset, Grandma or Uncle can be there as the safe harbour. It is around this time many toddlers begin to see that it is not only Mom or Dad who can provide a loving haven. And it can be hard for some parents to see this happening, as they interpret it as a withdrawal from them. They feel guilty. But in fact it is okay to let "the village" help.
Many parents have a tradition of giving the toddler a gift from the new baby, as a way to honour them for being a wonderful big sibling. This can definitely smooth the rough edges for some kids.
Encouraging visitors who come to see the new baby to take time to connect with the toddler helps too. In all the new baby excitement, the older kids can definitely feel overlooked, which enforces their feelings of exclusion.
2) Will my toddler regress in behaviour?
Most likely? Yes, to a greater or lesser extent. Without being able to communicate skillfully with words, it makes sense they'll articulate their feelings, intentionally or not, through their actions.
It is normal for kids who were perhaps using the toilet to begin having accidents, or even giving up the toilet all together for a while. Night waking can be more frequent, and bottles/breast may be requested again.
Many parents want to have their toddlers be a little more grown up before the baby arrives, and think about stopping some of their comfort seeking behaviours. But stripping away too many of the things that may provide their toddlers with comfort (binkies, blankies, and bears, for example) at a time they may most need to have some security, may not be most helpful.
Either way a parent decides, if a new habit has been formed, regression for a while is normal. This too shall pass.
3) Will my toddler be jealous with all the time I spend with the baby?
Yes, they will probably be jealous. It is absolutely normal for a little one who is used to their parents' consistent attention to feel jealous when a new baby comes. We cannot reason that feeling out of a kid. The reason parents ask this is not because they can't handle the behavioural acting out the kid will likely do as a result of their tender feelings, but because their hearts are broken at the thought of their beloved child being sad.
To minimize some of the jealous feelings, some parents play the "Being a Baby is SO Boring" game. It gently encourages the toddler to feel proud to be a bigger kid. It goes like this: "See Baby having her milk? Poor Baby, she doesn't get to eat big kid food like you do. She only gets milk. And she can't understand the books we read together. It's not as fun for Baby, because she's not big like you. How about you eat your snack and I read to you while Baby drinks her milk?"
The goal isn't to push the toddler into any given behaviour, but to suggest that it's kind of cool to not be a baby anymore. As cushy as baby life might look being in Mom's or Dad's arms a lot, baby life is comparatively limited.
4) How will I ever love my new baby as much as I love my toddler?
As a mother of four, I have learned that the heart is not like a loaf of bread. It is not a finite thing that is sliced up into pieces and given away in increments, leaving the possibility of nothing left. With the intense love we've shared with our older kid since their birth, we can worry we're down to the heel of the loaf.
The good news is that the heart is infinite. It has an absolutely endless supply of love. It has the capacity to welcome and include our new arrivals with as much intensity as we share with our older kids.
5) I hate to say this, but I find my toddler annoying.
What often concerns the birth giver most is that there can be a period in which they feel like they actually love the new baby more. This can be unexpected and distressing, something they may not admit to people, even though it is quite normal. Hormonally, our bodies are geared towards bonding fiercely with and protecting our babies. Toddlers can appear suddenly huge, loud, and demanding.
Let's repeat our parental mantra: This too shall pass. In a normal situation, hormones adjust, toddlers adjust, and everyone finds their place a little more comfortably in the family. The love will then generally not be seen as "more or less", simply as different, because our children are different people.
Parent hearts are often so very tender over the fact their toddler is having to go through some tough emotional adjustments. As loving parents we want to spare our children from pain. It hurts us to see them sad. And the sadness that can be expressed in a myriad of toddler ways in response to Baby fills parents with guilt and worry.
If we think about it, almost all major life transitions contain elements of pain. Growth can hurt. It is a natural part of the process of being human. Even for toddlers. If we can connect with our toddlers time to time in the authenticity of their pain and simply love them without trying to fix the feelings we wish they wouldn't have, we honour the human growth work they are doing.
The acknowledgement, "you are sad, this is hard, and I love you exactly as you are," can be more effective in facilitating growth and healing than drowning out the reality of pain with gifts, distraction, or words like "but don't you want to be a good big brother/sister?"
While it can be hard to come to terms with the role adjustment of going from being "the baby" to being a big sibling, we do get used to it. And we can even end up enjoying it.