When I found out I was pregnant the second-time, I was excited to have a new baby but I was also nervous at how having a second child would change the dynamic I had with my older daughter. Life with my older daughter was life-altering (to say the least) as I was learning how to be a mom through a series of firsts – breastfeeding, not sleeping, walking, talking and constant exploration– that I felt would be completely different with my new baby.
I knew I would love being a mom again (and love my second child), but I also didn’t want the relationship I had with my older daughter to change. To preserve what we had as well as talk about her new role as a big sister I stuck to a routine, spent quality time together and tried new classes with her that has really helped her thrive post-baby.
Here are some tips to making your first child feel special before and after baby arrives.
Stick to a Routine. I am a firm believer in routine. Although my daughter sometime fights her bedtime, I do try to stick with a routine of bath, stories, brushing teeth and bed. We have done this since she was born so I think it helps understand the structure of the evening as well as what is to come next. She also has a preschool program that she goes to everyday, so she knows that she is always with familiar and loving people. When my new baby arrived this really helped me out incredibly as she had a place she loved to go to as well as a nighttime routine that was familiar to her. Keeping things as close to what she was used to was really important during the transition with the new baby.
Spend as Much Time Together. Obviously you will be spending time with your child but I really tried to make that time all about quality. Since I was working in an office at the time, I tried to make our time together special with no phones or TV or computers. She loves cooking together, art and reading so I tried to keep that the focus as well as a lot of outdoor activity.
Have Special Day Together. Once the baby arrived, everything did change but it wasn’t as drastic as I expected. I did feel strained from trying to play with my older daughter when the baby was crying or trying to put the baby to sleep when my older daughter was having a fit. There were so many different emotional levels and a new dynamic that I was trying to figure out as well as give them both the attention that they needed. Through the various levels of emotions and crying, I realized that my older daughter needed my attention in a very different way. She needed to connect and do activities with me that we couldn’t with the baby. So, when my husband was home or I had a helping hand, I try to take my older daughter out on a special ‘date.’ This can be something as simple as a lunch out or something that involves some planning like an outing to a show or kids performance. I love our special dates and have found that she enjoys doing something that only ‘big kids’ can do. This allows me to give her 100% of my attention and not feel pulled into different directions when I am trying to juggle both of them.
Let Them Help. This is easier for older kids (3 and up) where they can learn all about their new brother or sister while also lending a helpful hand. For us, this was a way for my daughter to bond with the baby as she helped me get diapers or with feedings or wash the baby (all supervised, of course!). It is amazing how much she has taken to helping and now wants to go for the diaper if I need one or help me pack the baby’s diaper bag. I am constantly amazed at how helpful she is and how she is embracing her new role and responsibility as a big sister.
Try Something New. When the baby was born my daughter was 3.5 years old and ready to try a new interest. For the longest time she had been dancing and bopping around the house, so my husband and I thought dance classes would be perfect for her. Right after the baby was born we signed her up for drop-off dance classes with one of her friends. This was also great for me because I was recovering from my C-section so I could have a few hours with just the baby while my older daughter was doing something she enjoyed.
Life with two is certainly not easy, but it is also not as challenging as I had imagined. A little planning and shifting has allowed my older child to thrive as she is embracing her new role as the big sister. Eight months in with our new baby and we are still learning new ways to give them the attention they need as well feel special.