"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn't boring." Zelda Fitzgerald

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sibling Rivalry: How Prevent Infant Assassination

So, one of the most frequent questions I get these days (after, "How are you feeling?") is "So...." *raised eyebrows* "How are the boys doing with the new addition?" And then they smile that sort of knowing smile and fold their hands and wait for it.

And my answer at the moment is, as it was when Dee joined us, "Oh good! Schedules are all up in the air and things a little squirrelly because of that but, the biggest relational problem we're having with Baby is that there need to be breaks between the kisses and hugs and Baby needs a little space occasionally for sleeping and we can't all hold him at once and sometimes that causes a few tears." And people often look at me with wide eyes and sort of stutter, "Uh...well...great! That's great!" And I'm not sure they believe me.

But, truly...nobody at our house has stormed, "I hate that new baby!" or tried to drop large things on him in hopes of offing him discreetly, or tried to push him off my lap or started pooping in their diapers extra and demanding their forgotten sippy cup at meals. We're all human over here but, one of the issues I've picked up a few tips for handling is sibling rivalry...at least as far as introducing a new baby to the house goes. The later form where one kid has a cooler helium balloon than his brother and they break out in cat fights, I am still working on cracking. Heh.

So, here are my hot tips for smoothly bringing in Baby (most of which by the way are blatantly plagiarized from my own mother's personal parenting philosophy) :

  • Be forthright about the Baby's existence. I think its important to tell the future older siblings about the baby as soon as you know you're pregnant...honestly, we have talked about the next kid well before we're even "trying."  We talk about wanting another baby together, then we share the news with our kids as soon as we know, and all the way through the pregnancy I tell the older sibling/siblings about how the baby is developing and we talk clearly about when the baby is coming and how much longer we have to wait. The big plan? Be honest and give siblings all the time you can to warm up to the new addition. I think lots of people think they're doing their kids some kind of favor by hiding the news for a long time but, I think they accidentally plot problems for themselves instead.
  • Frame Baby as positive, positive, positive. I believe strongly in the power of self-fulfilling prophesy and I think that if you set up the situation as potentially tedious, rife with jealousy and positively riddled with messy anxiety and catastrophe...then there are good chances you'll get just what you bargained for. The flip side is, a new sibling framed as an exciting new adventure will often be received as such. Kids are mirrors...ever watch a toddler who falls down and then immediately searches their parents face for cues about how to react? If Mommy smiles and says, "You're okay!" and offers a high five the tot will usually respond in kind. Its the same idea. 
  • Include your older children. I try to always say "our baby" not "the baby" or "my baby" and I talk a lot through the pregnancy about how the older siblings will help and how much the baby will like them and what they can share with the baby once he or she arrives. Nobody likes to feel excluded and if you make sure that your other children have part ownership in the new little being they'll be a lot more excited and feel less need for jealousy. Our kids come with us to all the prenatal appointments, help us discuss name ideas and help me set up the baby's clothes and personal items once they come out of storage. The message is: the baby isn't just for mommy and daddy...we're all in this together.
  • Once Baby arrives...encourage sibling involvement, relax and use positive language. Maybe this one point ought to be three separate ones but, together they encapsulate my plan for postpartum parental tactics so, I've thrown them all together. I let my kids hold the baby as often as I can stand to, I let them run and fetch diapers and pacifiers, kiss the baby's hair and help me tuck the swaddling blanket in at the edges. Any way I can get them physically included in all the business of taking care of the new little someone, I do it. Relaxing, means just what it sounds...letting go of a good bit of your paranoia about how having a two year old hold a baby is dangerous and how there mustn't be any ball throwing in the house now because you have an infant. Pillows stuffed into the nooks and crannies of the couch a big double bed or even a Lazy-boy can make a cozy nest for even a toddler to hold the baby and truly, babies can get used to all kinds of craziness...they are far more flexible and forgiving than you imagine. Of course sometimes older siblings must be genuinely reigned in, today for instance, I had to stop my four year old from feeding the baby lettuce out of our garden. This is where the positive language comes in. A sharp rebuke from mom about that lettuce, "Ru! Get that away from the baby! What are you doing! You must never try to feed the baby anything! That is so dangerous!" would have been a great way to make Ru shrink four inches and begin to sow the bitter seeds of hatred in his heart for his new little brother. Really though, the animosity would be thrown towards the baby but meant for me because I made him feel small and humiliated when he meant to be sharing a special garden treat with the new little one. I kept the relationship smooth and un-poisoned by saying instead: "Oh lettuce is so good isn't it? But, right now Reid can't eat lettuce. He has no teeth! Isn't that funny? Babies this small can only eat milk. In a few months you can help teach him all about lettuce though and he'll be so excited to try it." In other words, "You catch more flies with honey....." as my Papa always quoted.

So, those are my hot tips. So far so good...and frankly, even though I've done it smoothly twice now, you could still call me a notice sibling introducer and perhaps all my well-founded theories have really just been blind-luck. What do you think? Disagree with me on any one point (or two or three) or have a good idea of your own about how to smoothly introduce Baby? I'd love to hear it. Throw it at me.


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