As a parent expecting my second child, I remember wondering how it was possible that I could love another child as fully as I did my first son. I silently worried about the impact having a baby would have on him. I was concerned that somehow I would be causing irreparable harm by diluting what seemed like finite resources of time and love. I fretted as I tried to grapple with this change. I even quilted a bedspread for my son (the only one I ever completed) pouring my angst out as I tried to create something that would be comforting and memorable that could symbolize my love for him. Then, I would feel guilty about the possibility that I might not be able to love my unborn child as much as I thought I should and the impact THAT might have… so I made a smaller baby quilt for my newborn son. But that didn’t help either!
Love is Not a Pie Chart
Eventually, I confided how I was feeling with my midwife who wisely informed me, “Love is not a pie chart. Love is a source – an unending well of energy that defies containment and measurement.” And while I thought I was taking away love and attention from my son, in fact, I was only ADDING to the potential as introducing a sibling meant the possibility of deepening that well of energy. They would, in time, become the best of friends and each other’s source of love and support.
But it didn’t start that way… In fact, my son’s first response to the announcement that he had a new brother was a tearful “NO POP OUT! PUT IT BACK!” This probably had more to do with the fact that he had just woken up and was unexpectedly greeted by an enthusiastic aunt instead of his doting mother than to do with his actual dislike of his brother, but his outcry heightened my concerns. It took him a while to warm up to the idea but eventually he settled into his new role as a big brother. And I learned some valuable lessons on how to introduce a new sibling through my own experience. Now I assist families through this adjustment as a midwife.
The older sibling’s behaviour to the introduction of a new baby brother or sister may be more understandable when compared to your life-partner bringing home someone new. Imagine how you might feel if suddenly your partner came home and said, “This is Bobby. He is cute and adorable and very demanding so he is going to sleep in our room and take a lot of my attention – but I still love you.” That might take a bit of getting used to! Recognizing these feelings of jealousy, insecurity and displacement may assist you in empathizing with your child, and at once help make sense of some of their seemingly irrational behaviours.
You Are a Big Brother or Sister Now…
This is why the first introduction of a newborn to a child is so important: it sets the tone for their relationship. Consider what meeting a new sibling is like from a child’s perspective: People have been talking for months about the abstract concept of a “baby.” Then one day/night their parents disappear to have “the baby.” Often this is the first time a child is away from their parents. Or, just like my son, they awaken to find an unfamiliar face and are caught off guard. “What is going on?” and “Where is my mama?” They are often distracted from their anxiety and concern by the excitement whipped up around them by well-meaning family and friends. “You are a big brother or sister now… Isn’t that GREAT!”
At this point, they might not be sure about how they feel about this. They might be confused and likely missing you. The unfortunate set-up of this situation is that when they finally get to see you again, someone inevitably thrusts the new baby in between them and you and announces “THIS is your new brother or sister!” At that moment, the baby becomes very real and may become the source of separation anxiety.
An Alternative Introduction
To avoid this, I suggest an alternative introduction. Instruct family and friends to contain their excitement and not to “hype up” the new baby. Tell them to reassure your child that they are going to see you. When they arrive, put down the baby or have someone hold the baby and let the child come directly to you. The truth is they are often less excited about the baby, and first need reassurance that despite all the disruption things are still good between you and them. Take the time to reassure them and let them know that you missed them too. As they get more comfortable they will become more curious and then discover the baby on their own terms and in their own time. As they succumb to the magic of a newborn they will be drawn-in and fall in love. Bring your child close and “unwrap” the baby together–like a wonderful gift that you have made especially for them.