Settling a new baby in – coping with sibling rivalry
The second baby is easy, barring problems with colic / tongue tie / *insert newborn difficulty here*. If you’ve a thriving happy baby, they are no trouble at all. You can change nappies in your sleep, and sometimes are very close to doing so, you care less what anyone thinks so you parent them by instinct and it’s hard to believe you ever thought having a newborn was hard work. What is a massive adjustment is being a parent to more than one child. It is simply not possible to meet your first child’s needs as completely as you did when she was your one and only. There is still only the same amount of you to go around. This created huge internal conflict for me at times – when two children are both crying, how do you decide who to look after first? (The one whose crying grates most on your nerves was my answer). You’re constantly making choices and prioritising one over the other, and if you were an uber-responsive parent who never let your first child cry, that takes some time to get used to.
What also takes some getting used to are the expressions of jealousy and the ugly, but entirely normal, behaviour sometimes displayed by your older child. From the time my son could sit out on the floor, he was constantly being pushed over by his sister, two years older. She tolerated him for the first few months, but once he began to infringe on her play territory, it was war. For a while, I couldn’t turn my back or there’d be screaming within 10 seconds and, 3 years on, he’s still not safe – he just can generally manage to escape. He’s a fast runner. I often wondered would they ever have any relationship at all, as she swung between ignoring him and battering him. (They do, by the way).
So now you are coping with huge feelings emanating from your tiny toddler, but there’s less of you to deal with them than before as you’re also caring for a baby. This can be overwhelming, and you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have some sort of crisis (or several – daily), as you find your feet as a parent of two. What helped me was to be honest about what was going on with others, as invariably someone would have a story of their equally psychopathic toddler who grew up to be quite nice to their sibling in the end. Mini-breakdowns at Cuidiú ParentLink mornings are a fairly regular occurrence – that’s why we need them! It’s far nicer having a breakdown when there’s someone there to make the tea, and hand you cake.
Things that helped:
Mindfulness: If you’ve been practicing mindfulness during pregnancy, and if you’re using the GentleBirth progamme you should be, this will really stand to you after. Mindfulness helps you to make the best of the good moments, realise the bad ones will pass quickly, and manage your reactions when the new situation is pushing you to your limits. I think I might have cracked up (more often) without it. Mindfulness also makes you more accepting of the situation – just as you realise when you meet your first child that they are an entirely new person with their own ideas about things, so you realise second time around that your children’s relationship is, to a great degree, beyond your control. You can foster a good relationship between them but ultimately how they get on will be largely personality dependent.
Talking: Giving my daughter space to express negative feelings towards the baby and letting her know I understood how difficult it was for her told her I was still on her side. Allowing her to voice that she wanted the baby to go back in, or that she didn’t like the baby, while empathising and not judging her feelings, built trust between us. It was also helpful for me to be reminded of just how much her life has been turned upside down when I was feeling frustrated and irritated by difficult-to-manage behaviour.
Getting out: Having somewhere to go every day, or just getting up and getting out of the house and letting the toddler burn off energy. In the mornings, I’d get us out after breakfast and head off with the toddler in the buggy and the baby in the sling. If the weather was good, we’d stay out all day until it was time to come home and make dinner.
Making one-to-one time: Luckily, my second baby wasn’t a big cluster feeder so this meant I could still put my daughter to bed at night. I’d feed the baby and give him to my husband, who’d put him in the sling, and we’d go read stories and cuddle. If the baby didn’t settle immediately, my husband would take a quick walk around the block or, very occasionally, he’d have to bring him up to me to feed again. It was lovely for me and my daughter to have that time to reconnect alone at the end of each day. Until I had to start bedtimes on my own. Then what helped was…
Being flexible: We were very routine driven with our first – she self-settled from very early on and could be just put down to bed and left with a quick goodnight. Her bedroom routine never changed from when she was tiny, and it was sacrosanct. But it just wasn’t possible to continue that with another little person thrown into the mix..after a few months, I had to start doing bedtimes on my own as my husband wasn’t around in the evenings.It was tough at first but we found our feet – the easiest way to make it work was to put them both to sleep together at the same time up in my bed. That meant that a child who had slept in her own cot practically from birth became a cosleeper. But it was what worked – and I’m all about the easiest way possible.
Support: Online support via the Gentle Discipline Facebook group and face-to-face support through my Cuidiú buddies got me through many a tough day. I’m lucky to be surrounded by women secure enough in their parenting to be able to share when things are less than perfect – and they’re always less than perfect.
But probably the most helpful thing is to remember that it is not just your toddler who is adjusting – you are, and when you have gotten into your stride, you will cope, even if the sibling rivalry is still fierce. Know that it’s normal for this to take a while – one of the last things my home birth midwife said to me was, ‘It takes a good six months to settle a new baby into a family. Be as patient with yourself as you are with your children’. She was right – and I hope you also find her wisdom helpful as you embark on a whole new adventure.
Check out the book Siblings Without Rivalry to help you on your way.
For details of Cuidiú groups in your area, check the branch list here: http://www.cuidiu-ict.ie/branches_list