I am so happy to have Rachel Rainbolt of Sage Parenting on the Bloom Project today. I first met Rachel during her baby massage class when my daughter was born. When my son was born a few years later I contacted her again, and told her about some of the struggles my oldest was having with the adjustment to becoming a big sister. Rachel had so much loving wisdom to share on this topic, and I knew I needed to share her golden nuggets of experience and wisdom with you. If your child or children are going to be getting a new sibling, read on.
My name is Rachel Rainbolt and I am the parenting coach behind Sage Parenting, which basically means that I empower parents to confidently connect with their adorably exasperating little ones. As a mama of 3 (Sky, Bay, and West) with a master’s degree in family therapy, I have supported over a thousand families through their challenges and the transition of adding another sweet babe to the brood is one of the scariest. You have given your whole heart to this connection and when that love begins to be pulled in a new direction, panic can set in. Thankfully, there is much you can do to ease this transition and set your family on a long-term path of secure attachment and heartfullness.
Select a sibling-friendly care practitioner.
It is important to find a sibling-friendly OB/GYN or midwife. Discuss your hopes and expectations right from the beginning so that you can ensure that you have a care provider on the same page. Make sure you discuss in great detail with your doctor, midwife, and the facility personnel your big sibling-friendly plans.
Bring them to your prenatal appointments.
Big Sister or Brother doesn’t have to attend every appointment, but there are two main values to this. First, prenatal appointments are big bonding opportunities. Siblings can hear the heartbeat, help measure your belly, even see the baby on a sonogram. Second, you are choosing the path of “taking care of Baby doesn’t mean abandoning you.” If you start off your mother-of-two journey under this parenting paradigm, you will send a clear and comforting message to them, build your relational dynamic around it, and likely continue it after birth.
Watch their birth video.
Little ones love to watch their birth video; it is a movie in which they are the star! If you don’t have a video of the blessed event, put the photos of the day they were born in a child-friendly album. While watching the video and looking at photos with your child, tap into the pride, reverence, and love of the experience.
Talk about the birth.
Don’t distract from questions about the birth—dive in. Allow your child to lead the conversation and give age-appropriate answers that prepare them for the pregnancy and birth they too are a part of experiencing. If the thought of watching the video of your baby being born makes you uncomfortable, then you shouldn’t have a baby, because guess what? That baby in your belly will most likely come out of your vagina. That’s right—I said vagina. It’s not a cuss word, and if you want your child to be comfortable and excited to welcome their new baby into the world, then you need to be comfortable and excited.
Include them in the nesting process.
When registering, allow them to scan some things they would like for their baby and some things they might need in their new role as big brother or sister (e.g., a new toy to play with when Baby needs Mommy’s hands, eyes, and words, a big brother or sister shirt, a special baby blanket they can use to cover Baby’s legs when they think they are cold). Do some special things together like painting a picture for Baby’s room or building bears (let them build one for them both). Making room in your house for baby is a huge and relevant metaphor for making room for baby in your life and in your heart.
Establish their new identity as Big Sister or Brother.
Just as having a baby changes who you are, it changes who your child is. They are no longer just Mommy’s child; they are Baby’s big brother or sister. You have nine months to mold a new, positive narrative for your child around being a big sister or brother, and you will need every single day of those nine months. The power of language cannot be underestimated. It is not your baby, it is “our” baby. Hold your little one’s hand and stroke your belly saying, “Gentle—touch baby gently.” Do the same with baby dolls. Buy some! And role-play the behavior you would like to see. “Baby is sleeping—shhhhhh.” (Little ones love to make the shhhh sound.)
Make as many lifestyle adjustments as possible before baby arrives.
Will you be changing strollers? Do it well before the baby comes (“You’re such a big boy now you can have a bench seat!”). A perfect example of this is the car. My husband or I always used to ride in the backseat with my son. Once I was about five months pregnant, we stopped riding in the backseat. We said absolutely nothing about the baby. We just “needed more room.” When I was about six months along, we moved his seat to the side so he could “see out the window.” When I was about seven months, we installed the baby car seat and allowed him to use it for his “guys” and dolls. When it was sunny we would close the shade and when it was cold we would use the cover. By the time I was nine months pregnant, he thought his spot in the car was “his spot” (not that he was ousted to make room for Baby), he was over (bored with) playing with the car seat and used to its presence. So when Baby was born, there was a place in the car, and his heart, for his new baby brother.
Include Big Brother or Sister in the birth.
The level of inclusion will vary from family to family and child to child, but a big brother or sister who is involved in the birth is invested in the baby. If you labor for 36 hours and end with a c-section, they are obviously not going to be present for every minute or even every hour. But they should be involved as much as possible. The key is that they feel that they are contributing to bringing the baby into the world. They can roar with you like a lion while you are laboring at home together. They can pack a Big Brother or Sister bag while you pack yours. They can rest with you while you rest, and most importantly, they can fill the room with their love where your baby will be born. They can put their new baby blanket on Baby after he is born. These are all just ideas but you can tailor the specifics to your child and family. They should feel completely welcome, like the space and experience belong to them too, while free to move in and out of what can be a lengthy process.
Note: Frequently you are told “no” when trying to create an experience outside the norm. Empower yourself to make the experience you want (the experience you believe to be in the best interest of your family). Don’t take no for an answer; forge a new path. Get to the bottom of why the answer is no and address those concerns in your plan. My children were present for the births of our babies through the labor, delivery, and overnight in the hospital.
Allow for regression.
It is common for a recently toileting child to revert after the birth of a baby. Baby gets all the attention and so they want to be more like a baby. They may cry, whine, crawl, and even want to sleep with you. If you experience regression with your older child, it is important not to shame (“you are a big kid, not a baby”) or punish the behavior. This will only feed the problem (the emotional and physical distance between you and your former baby). Instead, give them what they need. And accept the behavior for what it is communicating—they need more baby-type attention. Withholding requested attachment behaviors only amplifies the insecurity of your bond and increases the regression.
Allow room for negative feelings.
If your child is feeling some negative feelings, help them to identify and articulate (express) what they are feeling. Reflect it back to them and validate it. “You are feeling jealous because Daddy came home from work and held Baby first. That would probably make me feel jealous too. Would you like to tell Daddy how you’re feeling?” It’s not important to solve the problem or remedy the situation; you will probably not be able to. The point is just to listen and empathize. If your child is up for it, you can even take it a step further and brainstorm. “Is there anything we can do to make it better next time? How about if Baby gets the first hug and you get the first kiss?”
Wear your baby.
Babywearing frees your hands and much of your attention for Big Sister or Brother while meeting all of the needs of your baby. I experience virtually no limitations as I climb around the playground at the park or explore a rocky beach cave, allowing my hands, mobility, and attention to be completely immersed in my older children (while still meeting my baby’s needs).
Let go of the guilt.
There is no guilt like mother guilt! But to be a good parent you can’t let the guilt take up too much space in your heart. It uses up emotional energy that you could be expending on both your little ones. Guilt does have a purpose. It’s like an internal system of checks and balances. For example, you feel the tug of guilt telling you to spend more time with your child when you see they need it. But you are only one person, you are not perfect, and you must allow yourself that forgiveness. Give guilt the place within you it warrants. Be in touch with it, but don’t let it whisper in your ear and dominate your self-worth and, especially, your identity as a mother.
I have had a lot of successes and challenges as a parent, but one of my greatest sources of pride is the relationship between my sons. I went through the fear and anxiety but I tried to channel that energy into fostering the bond between my Sky and his new baby brother and then again between Sky and Bay and their new baby brother West. The destination was worth every bit of the forethought and energy. The relationship you foster between your firstborn and your baby will last the rest of their lives, even long after you’re gone. Lay the foundation for a loving, supportive bond and you will give them both a gift that is unrivaled in this world and that will last a lifetime.
If you need personalized support through this transition or any other, reach out to me. I see you. I’m here for you. We can move through it together.