Enhancing children's lives through parent and teacher education.

A New Baby

So you're expecting again. Congratulations! Having another child is exciting. Yet many parents who are anticipating another child often find that their excitement is tinged with other feelings as well. Anxiety about how your older child or children will react, doubt about whether you've done the right thing in introducing a new, unsettling element into what might have been a perfectly stable house, and grief that your older child will no longer have exactly the same relationship with you are all common feelings for people who are going to be parents for the second time. And because these feelings are uncomfortable, it's not unusual for parents to deny and attempt to hide them. But hidden feelings often manifest themselves in our body language and tone of voice, confusing the child who is soon to become an older sibling. Rather than suppress these feelings, let's take a look at them more closely. Understanding their normalcy often leads to acceptance.

When you were expecting your first child, it's possible that the feelings described above did not occur - at least not before your child's birth. If you did experience them, it's likely they were overshadowed by the excitement of the new experience, and by the fantasies you held about having a child and becoming a mother or father. The difference between the first child and subsequent children is that you now have a dose of reality. You understand that children, and parenthood, don't exactly fit the original fantasies you had prior to childbirth or adoption. The reality of diapers, spit-up, illness, crankiness, no sleep and lack of personal time looms large and can often appear to overshadow some of the excitement surrounding having a new baby in the house. But here's the good news! Because you've done it once, most people actually find it much easier the second time around. It will be familiar and much more comfortable. This means that you'll still be able to embrace, play with and pay attention to your older child since you won't be trying to figure things out for the first time with your second, but can, in fact, operate on "automatic pilot" most of the time.

Another common feeling that second-time parents often have is a sense of grief. They worry that in making this decision they have, in some way, abandoned their older child. They fear the change in relationship that another child will bring about, and doubt whether they've made the right choice. While there's no question that a new baby will change your relationship with your older child, most often the positives far outweigh the negatives in this situation. When your love expands to include a new baby, it also expands and often intensifies with regard to your older child. In addition, a new baby can help your older child grow and mature. As he develops a relationship with his new sibling, he begins to learn things about relationships in general, and to understand how love is not limited, but infinite. Of course, having a new baby in the house will require that you arm yourself with sibling rivalry techniques, but that too is a positive in that those same techniques can help you teach your child problem solving skills and empathy.

In addition to all of the feelings that occur, parents also often feel inadequately prepared in terms of what to say to their first child, and in how to answer some of the questions that may arise.

First of all, while there are differing opinions about when to tell your older child about your pregnancy or upcoming adoption, I strongly believe that you must tell your child as soon as you begin to tell others. Particularly if other people may mention it in front of your child. To refrain from telling her means increasing the risk that she will overhear the information from someone else and feel betrayed by you. So while it's true that very young children find nine months (or sometimes longer with adoption) an incredibly long period, it's certainly better than violating their trust.

When you tell your child that she's going to be a big sister, you'll want to paint a realistic picture. Many parents make the mistake of exclaiming "Isn't it WONDERFUL? We're going to have a new baby. You're going to love it... and you'll be the BEST big brother in the world." While at first glance this appears encouraging, it definitely won't match your child's reality once the baby is born. Likewise, having a new baby isn't all doom and gloom, and some parents make the opposite mistake in an attempt to "warn" their child, saying things like "Now, babies are a lot of work and they cry a lot. It's going to take up a lot of Mommy or Daddy's attention in the beginning, and your baby brother or sister won't be able to play with you right away..." This too is not representative of what your child will experience. Better to say something neutral, like "We're all going to have a lot of different feelings when the new baby comes, and we'll talk about those feelings whenever they happen." In this way, your child can experience the reality of a brother or sister without any presuppositions.

Finally, there are bound to be questions, particularly if you have a young child. Now is a good time to purchase a children's book to help you handle some of those questions. A few good titles include: Betsy's Baby Brother by Gunilla Wolde, How Babies Are Made by Andrew C. Andry and Steve Schepp, How Was I Born? by Lennart Nilsson, Mommy Laid An Egg: or Where Do Babies Come From? by Babette Cole, That New Baby! by Patricia Relf, and Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle. As with any book that contains sensitive subject matter, I recommend that you skim through these books before purchasing them to ensure that you feel comfortable with the way in which they present their subject matter.