Thinking of having another baby? Already expecting? Then you’ve probably been thinking about how you want to prepare your preexisting child (similar to a “preexisting medical condition”) for the new addition to the family. Or maybe you’re just planning on “winging it” and hoping they’ll bond naturally.
You need to plan ahead. Your soon-to-be eldest needs to be prepared for the grim reality of having an infant in the house. These seven tips will get you started:
1. Be up-front about the permanence of the situation. Many parents seem to want to dance around the topic and make it sound like the baby is a passing interloper or an exciting new plaything. That’s why so many firstborns have been known to proclaim, “I’m done having a baby brother! Put him back in your belly!” It’s better to tell your child, preferably from the pitch-dark of her closet with a flashlight shining under your chin (and in a hissing, whispery voice), “The baby is coming… And it will never, EVER go away…”
2. Explain about the attention shift. Right now, when your firstborn wants Mommy, he gets Mommy. Pfft! No more of that entitled nonsense! You might be icing your blown-out vagina, breast-feeding, or sprawled out on the couch drooling in a slack-jawed coma while the baby (finally) sleeps for a brief spell. Regardless of how you’re spending your time, that is time you used to reserve for your eldest, and now it’s been brutally snatched from his chubby little palms. Don’t you think he deserves a little forewarning?
3. Prepare your child for her new-found independence. Gently inform your child that when the baby comes, you will be totally unavailable. Practically invisible–like magic! She’ll like that for sure. Kids love magic! Teach her to prepare her own breakfast independently. Eggs in the microwave are a nutritional choice; the protein and fat will keep her full for hours so you won’t have the hassle of cooking for her later. Be sure to provide a step-ladder. You don’t want her dragging a chair across the kitchen to climb up on the stove to get to the microwave. She might scuff the floor!
Granola bars are another excellent breakfast choice that involves practically zero effort on your part. But cut the tops off all the wrappers in advance so she doesn’t come whining to you (like a helpless infant) to open it for her. They probably won’t go bad. And be sure to put some Capri Suns on the floor of the pantry next to the dog food, so they’re within easy reach.
4. Prepare your kid for the “fun gap.” You gotta go easy on the “baby brothers are fun!” talk. Everyone wants their kid to be jazzed about their new sibling, but really? Infants are notthat fun, especially from the perspective of a little kid: They sleep allll the time, unless they’re awake; then they’re crying. They defiantly refrain from reaching out their flabby, useless arms to grab your favorite toy which you’ve so generously thought to share and have dangled right in front of their face. Ungrateful!
5. Tell your firstborn that babies do eventually become fun! But it takes forever. Remember Christmastime as a kid, how you were dying with anticipation for Santa to come, and your parents told you “only ten more days until Christmas!” and those ten days took about five million years? Exactly. And remember: The younger the child, the broader their perception of time. Since my son was only three during my pregnancy, we wisely implied that his sister would be swaddled in a blanket and stinking of poo for about twenty-two years. And we nailed it: She started becoming fun right about the time he started expecting her to.
6. Buy a baby doll for practice. If your preexisting kid is anything like mine was, you’re going to want to practice “gentle” on inanimate objects or sturdy individuals who can take a beating. During my pregnancy with my daughter, I made the innocent mistake of bringing my son with me to visit a friend who had recently given birth. When he asked to touch the baby, I said in my sweetest motherly coo, “Of course, sweetie, but be verrrry gentle… like this!” and demonstrated a soft stroking motion on my son’s arm… to which he promptly responded by whacking my friend’s newborn baby in the head.
I went to Wal-Mart that very same afternoon and bought my son a baby doll so we could practice “gentle.” Best move ever, and I didn’t even read about that one in a book. I take full credit. Not only were we able to practice “gentle,” but I taught my eldest child how to change diapers, give the baby a bottle, pace around the floor with the baby when it won’t stop crying, and most importantly, how to effectively administer a time-out when the baby is being “bad.”
7. Line up your loved ones for the “older-sibling praise-parade.” I’m being sarcastic, obviously. Your friends and loved ones will be frothing at the mouth to get a hold of your baby, and will all but forget your older child who is standing alone on the sidelines sniffling with rejection. Babies can do that to people. And that’s okay! Your preexisting child needs to learn that it’s not always about her. That’s a selfish way to think. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to deny your friends the thrill of holding your precious new little bundle just because your preexisting child has “needs.” If your eldest is really desperate to feel included, teach her how to make a martini. (Go ahead and have one; you deserve it. That’s why they invented pump and dump.)
My kids are nine and five, and they get along fantastically well, with only infrequent bouts of bickering. People constantly comment on how close they are and ask me if it was something I did. I usually smile modestly and pretend like they are just perfect little blessings from heaven and that I had nothing to do with it. Which, obviously, is complete and utter nonsense.
Now the secret’s out.
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