Toddler Tuesday: Sibling Fears

The emotional impact on your soon-to-be big sib might be more positive than you think.

When I was hugely uncomfortable and overdue with my second son, I spent days lumbering around Central Park with my mom in an attempt to coax him out. But as eager as I was for this baby to make his entrance into the world, I was also anxious about the impending change that my little family was about to experience.

Cracks of confidence in my ability to parent two children widened as we walked, and tears of anxiety burned my eyes as I confessed my deepest fears to my mom. My fears were not about being unable to love two children—I trusted in my heart to grow and expand with this new arrival. And I wasn’t particularly nervous about caring for two—after all, women across the globe have successfully raised much larger families for eons.

What festered were deeper fears about the emotional impact that a new baby would have on my older son and on our sacred relationship. I circled that lawn with a lump in my throat that rivaled the size of my belly and a list of worries that was as long as I was pregnant.

Three fears especially echoed the loudest and (along with unrelenting heartburn) kept me awake at night. Not coincidentally—almost five years out from welcoming my second son—these three fears are still the most common ones I hear in my practice working with new and expectant second-time parents.

What parents on the cusp of welcoming a new baby don’t realize, and what I didn’t understand as I waddled in the park that day, is that so many of our fears are unfounded. Here’s a few reasons to let go of those fears, and trust in the path ahead.

FEAR: I’m ruining my older child’s life by having another baby and he’ll hate me for it.
REALITY: You’re not ruining it. You’re changing it. For the better.

I worried constantly that a new sibling would rock my oldest son’s world. As our first, he was the sun around which we orbited day and night, the fingers around which we were tightly wrapped and the willing beneficiary of 100% of our attention.

At barely 2 years old, he was only just beginning to grasp the concept of sharing a toy—we hardly expected him to make a leap from that to sharing his parents. We knew that with the impulsivity and lack of patience typical of a toddler, as well as his inability to reason or wait for anything, introducing a baby into our family would be a significant shock to his system.

And in many ways, we were right. How could a new family member NOT disrupt the balance and stability that once was? We as parents, were knocked off course ourselves with the arrival of a newborn, so it’s only natural that our toddler would be as well.

We had our share of challenges & breakdowns (for him and me!)…fits of jealousy and frustration, but I eventually realized that for the many tears that fell, there were a dozen more moments of laughter and smiles. There were gazes of wonderment from big brother as he cradled his new baby and bursts of delight as he declared himself a BIG BOY!

Where we once feared we would ruin his life, we came to understand we merely changed his status in life. He never would have known or experienced the role of “big brother” and all the influence, clout, responsibility and chest-puffing pride that comes along with that title without a baby brother.

I have no doubt there have been times over the years where my older son has felt powerful anger and rage towards me for some reason or another, but I am certain giving him a sibling is not one of those reasons.

FEAR: The new baby will compromise and forever alter my relationship with my firstborn.
REALITY: Adding a new baby allows you and your firstborn to gain some space…which actually brings you closer.

I stayed at home with my first son as his full-time caretaker. I cherished the time we had just the two of us, carefree days exploring our great city together, discovering and learning about one another.

I felt myself mourning the loss of my one-on-one time with my son before the baby even arrived…counting down our “lasts” together with melancholy and nostalgia. Last time visiting the zoo before the baby. Last swim lesson or holiday as a family of three. It was hard to fully relish the excitement of a new baby when the occasion was also tinged with a sense of sadness over what would change.

However, after having our second, I began to regard my older son as more of a person and less of a baby. With an infant in the house, his capabilities, opinions and competencies were that much more highlighted. Sure, he was still only 2, but he could do things! He could be independent! And helpful!

There were plenty of refrains about sending the baby back and frequent demands to “put the baby down!” but with our guidance and empathy, we also saw our toddler’s tolerance, patience and independence bloom.

In turn, I began to give my older son more choices and freedoms. I let him try things to encourage him to develop new traits and skills that may not have occurred to me had I not been desperately trying to juggle him and a newborn.

I let him climb higher at the playground because I was nursing the baby on the park bench. I encouraged him to get himself undressed and into the tub while I swayed the baby to sleep nearby. I allowed him to walk beside me and hold my hand while we pushed the baby in the stroller. And, oh how he flourished! It’s as if by discovering all the things I couldn’t do, he discovered so many more things that he could do, things that were significant and important to his burgeoning autonomy.

Instead of change, our relationship evolved. The more trust and independence I gave him, the more he blossomed—and the more he trusted me in return. I stepped back out of necessity but also because he began to prove he didn’t need me as much. Ironically, in giving him space, we actually grew closer. Having a new baby made my relationship with my firstborn richer and deeper and more connected…the exact opposite of what I worried would happen.

FEAR: None of my second child’s “firsts” will be as exciting as those same milestones with my first.
REALITY: You will actually enjoy them more because you are more relaxed and prepared!

It was unclear to me how our second son’s firsts would be exciting after we had celebrated, photo-documented, emailed, texted and otherwise overshared our first son’s every milestone. Not only did I not think they would be significant, I wasn’t sure I would have the energy to record each first with the same diligence and care.

But what I discovered was that every first with our oldest son was new and exciting because we didn’t know what to expect or what they would lead to. We had no past experience against which to compare it and the learning curve was indeed steep.

We didn’t know that while a first tooth is exciting, it can also draw blood while nursing. Or that while first solids can cause tummy trouble. Along with those first steps comes the first major goose egg on the forehead, and whoops…that first time in the pool means we quickly learned about swim diapers. These firsts, while meaningful, also caused significant stress and anxiety.

While the second child’s firsts aren’t necessarily new, they are still exciting because now you know what they mean and what’s to come. The second time around, you have a historical database from the first that allows you to greet each milestone with confidence and ease and you can savor each first even more.

Now that we know what to expect, we can dream about the future of our two children together. First steps mean soon your baby will one day be chasing after his big sibling, and the first tooth will soon be followed by a family dinner for four. And that first birthday–while bittersweet–is only the beginning of memorable milestones yet to come.

We bring so much more knowledge and experience into parenthood the second time around—a new arrival allows us to put into practice all that we have learned and helps us to tame our fears by replacing them with new discoveries…unexpected learnings about ourselves, and our older children, and surprising realizations about how competent and capable we really are.

Are you expecting your second? What have been some of your fears? How do you think having a second will impact your relationship with your first?

Image source.

Rachel Cedar

Rachel Cedar

Rachel Cedar, MSW is the founder and owner of You Plus 2 Parenting, a parenting support & education service. She specializes in teaching parenting skills to parents of toddlers & preschool-aged children as well as new and expectant 2nd time parents. Rachel's writing and 28 Days of Play project has been featured on numerous sites including The Huffington Post, The Today Show.com, NBC.com, & Mamalode and her first children's book "When Mommy Has our Baby" will be available May 2014. While Californian at heart, Rachel is now living and raising her two young boys in New York City. Follow along with her on Facebook, twitter, and Instagram, and check out her new book, When Mommy Has Our Baby.

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