We’ve been preparing our two boys (4 1/2 and 3 years old) for the arrival of their new sibling since I entered the second trimester. I loved the advice I read here on preparing your child for a new baby—especially #2. (In our case, bedrooms aren’t changing, but we’ll definitely be shifting our car seating situation around a few weeks in advance of the little one’s arrival this summer).
Here are the four tips I’d add to these recommendations:
1. Prepare for feeding times when you—literally—can’t get up.
Cooper was 20 months old when Franklin was born. To prepare him for the times when I was stuck on the couch feeding the baby, I started reading books around 8 months into my pregnancy. I would sit on the couch and read to myself. When he asked me to do something (ANYTHING), I would say, “Sure. I’ll help you ___ as soon as I finish this paragraph I’m reading.” That way, I wasn’t saying no. He knew I would do what he asked, but he was just going to have to wait for a minute. I would show him how far I was going to read, and then I would do it. I wouldn’t get up—no matter what. He just had to learn to wait.
I started with a paragraph, then moved to finishing the page I was on, then the section or chapter… gradually lengthening the time Cooper had to wait for me to get up and attend to his needs. Obviously there are exceptions – fire, flood, etc. But most of the time, your older kid can wait and the learning the skill of patience and delayed gratification is important – especially when you’re going to be feeding a newborn round the clock for several months!
I’m a total bookworm, so reading on the couch is something I can easily commit to, and I want to model to my kids that reading is important and something I enjoy for myself. If reading a book doesn’t do it for you right now, find something that does—knitting, reading a magazine, writing, drawing, whatever. Find something that occupies your hands because they’re going to be full of baby and bottle/boob. You can still sing and talk and read to your older kid if you want, just don’t get up until you get to the stopping point that you said you would. You could also set a timer and tell your child that you’ll be ready to help him when the timer goes off.
2. Help with the countdown.
Watching my kids struggle with the idea of time is fascinating, and I totally agree with this piece on pushing to Let Your Kids Live in the Moment. That said, once your kid(s) know a baby is coming, the idea of waiting for something for 40 weeks is so far out there. I wanted to address their inevitable, “Is the baby coming today?” questions in a thoughtful way. First, we told them that the baby would be here after Cooper’s birthday (which is the biggest landmark on the calendar near the due date that they would remember). But even that is just so conceptual…
To make the wait a little more concrete, I made a paper chain. Each link has the week number, the comparable fruit or vegetable size-wise to the baby, and the length and weight measurement. I used a website like this to get the needed data. We hung the paper chain near our dining table so that we would remember it and posted an ultrasound picture of the baby on the window. Every Monday, we take off a link and read it together. We get out a tape measure and sometimes find an object to hold that is the baby’s size. We compare the new size to last week and talk about how the baby has grown. Finally, we tape the new link under the baby’s picture.
In addition to the million and four teachable moments this offers (math! vocabulary! science!), this ritual has had a side effect I didn’t anticipate but really appreciate. Sometimes pregnancy can feel a little isolating…especially when you’re not showing yet. People—even sweet husbands—seem to forget that there’s a little being growing in me…whose presence affects almost every decision I make: what I eat, what I drink, how I feel, how I sleep, if I exercise, if I sit too long, if I’ll be able to attend my good friend’s wedding in four months, etc. Having the chain and the baby’s picture ‘at the table’ with us has been a great visual reminder of the fifth person who will be joining our family. For example, it has lead my littlest one to wonder if the baby is eating the dinner I’m eating and drinking the water I’m drinking, and I think that we’ve had a lot of conversations about the baby and how I’m growing just because of the picture and the paper chain.
3. Prepare for those human body and reproduction questions.
Asking about what the baby is eating and drinking is just the tip of the iceberg. We love to nurture our children’s curiosity, and my husband and I are committed to always giving truthful (and age-appropriate) answers to any question they pose. If your kid can string words together to form a question, then having an answer for, “How does the baby come out of you?” is a must.
At first, I would answer in general terms: “The baby comes out through the birth canal.” That’s the truth, and that was enough at first. But again, 40 weeks is a long time to think about babies and where they come from, and Cooper wanted to know more. I wanted to show him what was going on inside me in very simple terms, so I pulled up this site to show him the stages of pregnancy. I think the diagrams are great. They are basic but detailed enough to get a sense of my body’s changes and the baby’s growth.
For the “How did the baby get in there?” part, I found this awesome resource and recently got the book to share with the boys the next time the question comes up. What Makes a Baby is a “book for every kind of family and every kind of kid.” It uses the real terms (egg, sperm, vagina, etc) for baby making but doesn’t fall back on the outdated man and woman climbing in a bed together or a stork or some other nebulous explanation. It’s wonderful and leaves it open for the parent reading to the child to describe as much or as little as the kid needs at the time. For older kids, you would obviously want something a little more concrete. However, the author, Cory Silverberg, offers this amazing resource guide to help adults figure out what kids are really asking when they ask about the mysterious and wonderful human body. Even if you don’t get the book, check out the free guide. It’s really quite good and works for in vetro fertilization, adoptive, blended, LBGTQ, and hetero families as well as both vaginal and cesarean birth stories.
4. Get a baby doll.
If you don’t have one already, now is the time to get a life-size baby doll. We have both my doll (a plastic, realistic-if-not-scary-looking doll) and my husband’s baby doll that his mother made him (think Cabbage Patch head sewn onto a fluff-stuffed body). Cooper wasn’t really interested in them before Franklin arrived, but once the new baby was here, the baby doll became one of our central toys.
Without any prompting from us, Cooper would pretend the baby doll was him and he was Mommy. Sometimes, the baby doll was baby Franklin. He would stick the doll up his shirt and walk around with a ‘baby in [his] belly’ and then pull the baby out and announce his birth. Sometimes, he would hold the baby up to his chest and ‘feed the baby’ like Mommy. Sometimes, the baby doll was just another toy to throw.
Sometimes he would slam the baby doll’s head on the ground or carry it upside down or put a chair over it. That was all fine. We talked about how it was ok to play with the baby doll like that but never ok to play with a real baby like that. It really seemed to help Cooper work through his new shared reality with his little brother.
Our transition to two kids was relatively smooth (if you don’t count the whole healing from labor and delivery, fatigue from having a newborn, fatigue from parenting a toddler, etc.), and I’m confident our transition to three kids will be as well. Of course, there’s only so much you can do to prepare your family for a new baby. Tell me what I’m missing! What words of wisdom do you have to add?