One of my two younger sisters birthed her third baby girl last week. Numbers one and two are 3-year-old twins. My sis turns 40 next spring. She’s nuts.
Not really. But damn, she does have her hands full.
I remember the day I brought our newborn home to meet his almost 3-year-old sister. There was only one of her, thank goodness. As excited as she was to meet the baby, she was more thrilled to have her mama back. And she wasn’t ready to share.
After about 10 minutes of “ooohhhing” and “aaahhhing” over her baby brother, she asked: “When is he going back to the hospital?”
I explained that the baby was not going back to the hospital, but would be living with us—forever. She looked shocked. Then the baby started crying and I whipped out a breast to feed him. My girl watched closely for a few seconds. Then she grabbed the baby by his tender ears and tried to force him away from her mama.
Yowza! Actually, I think I screamed something more colorful, and then realized that my reaction would only upset her more.
I was reminded of the picture book, Truelove, by Babette Cole. The story’s about a little mutt who’s superseded by his owners’ new baby. He does crazy things like swing from the chandelier to get their attention, but the couple only has eyes for the newborn. When the owners leave the dog, aptly named Truelove, outside during a thunderstorm, he takes off for the big city. There, he falls in with a group of dirty but lovable mutts, who get arrested after they steal a car, realize none of them can drive, and crash into “Ye Olde Sausage Shoppe.” The couple finally notices Truelove is missing and rescue him from his holding cell—- along with all of his scruffy doggie friends. The moral, of course, being that there’s always enough love to go around.
But it’s difficult when you have a needy, helpless baby to find the time and energy for older kidlings. To some extent, we’re hardwired to care for newborns without much regard or interest for the rest of the world. Survival of the species demands that we ignore much that we usually treasure, including dogs, spouses, alone time, and kids who can, to some extent, fend for themselves.
About 10 minutes after she brought the new baby home, one of my sister’s twins said, “bye-bye baby,” grabbed mom’s hand, and pulled her away.
Part of me isn’t sure if older kids ever completely recover from being displaced by the younger. Sibling rivalry, particularly for parental attention, can be fierce. I’m not sure I’m handling it well with my two.
My advice for my sis, therefore, is tainted with possible failure and limited experience, but here goes.
First, try to spend time with the older kids daily—even if you have to hire a baby sitter to do so. For me, having a schedule helps. My kids know that I’ll spend some alone time with each of them before bed. Now that they no longer bathe together (and I have two bathrooms—hurrah!), it’s easy to separate them and spend a bit of time with both.
Second, don’t freak out, like I did, when the older kids try to hurt the younger. Kids are like puppies—when they chew on the couch and you yell at them, they recognize that they’ve gotten what they want—your attention. By yelling at them, you’re actually reinforcing their behavior. Next time they feel they’re being ignored and want attention, they’ll go gnaw on the sofa again.
Firm redirection works for my kids when they’re trying to maim one another (most of the time). Talking to them later, when emotions aren’t as high, seems to penetrate their undeveloped frontal lobes a bit deeper than when we’re in the thick of family fight club. Of course, this takes Herculean effort on the part of the parents. If you can do it consistently, you deserve major kudos and big rewards. Go get a professional massage, kay?
Finally, try to involve the older kids with the care of the babe. Explain why the baby cries and what it means and how they can help. Encourage their nurturing natures. Feeling responsible for something small and helpless often brings out the best in humans. Even tiny ones.
Good luck, sis. In a few years, you’ll remember this time in your life and laugh. Or cry some more.