Transitions are hard, no matter what. Despite thorough preparations, you may, surely will, find yourself treading through a hard exhausting transition. And it will take time.
I repeat that- it will take time.
You will get a lot of chances to practice deep breathing and to press the pause button.
Adding a new baby to your family is going to be amazing! The joy, the pure love, the explosive feelings of blissful togetherness. Yet, navigating the first days, months will bring up challenges.
Taking some time to try to prepare in advance is a good idea.
Will it make the transition shorter? Better? Easier? Honestly, I cannot really say. But I know this:
preparing your older kids for a new baby will help
- your kids expect the coming change (help them visualize it, help them practice, lead them to anticipating it,)
- them reduce some (not all) anxieties about the change
- you feel calmer, more confident (that which also helps having a more positive birthing experience. Read about mine here)
- and more in control
- you better organize all the rest
- you better understand your kids and their needs
- connect with your kids and peep into their inner wolrd
- and improve your family relationships
Preparing my older boys
Being intentional is important. It does take some time and planning. Do not forget to pack your positive mindset- be flexible, work around everyone’s schedules, moods and expectations. There will be times when you will have great discussions; you will be observing your older kids growing up in front of your eyes; you will watch them warming up and anticipating the change and you will be very positive and excited about your beautiful family growing. And there will be other times when… you will throw your hands up in the air and will pray you somehow make it.
Train your thoughts to focus more on “letting go”; embrace yourself with the grace you would give to your loved ones; catch any self-blaming thoughts like “I am failing”, “I just give up”, or “I am always out of control” etc.
Raising my hand to admit that I got easily frustrated and I did blame myself for not being a calmer, more patient, and understanding parent. I desperately wanted to gently guide my boys and try to practically prepare them for the season we were about to enter. Learning to let go and admitting it was not only about me, wanting to lead and command; the need to step back at times so that together with my family we would create this experience of tuning in to our future world. In short, we needed to create a dream together and live that dream when the time comes.
What we have tried
- Read related children’s books and stories – the easiest way to start is with books or videos. Some of the books we read were about the baby growing in tummy. Some about preparing for the arrival of the baby, others were about the birth itself, and about different types of birth, and then also about what happens when the baby comes home. There are many wonderful books out there that will hep you with the age-appropriate vocabulary. Maybe a friend, your midwife or a birth support worker may have good suggestions about books and other materials.
- Watch videos of animals giving birth – towards the end of your pregnancy or any time the question pops up it may be very helpful to watch birth videos. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous about it in the beginning. I was wondeing how my boy would react (he was 4 years old at the time). However, it turned out to be a very good experience for both of us- watching the videos helped us bond, as we watched the animals giving birth we both got reassured that birth is natural and beautiful. The calming effect was great.
- Planning– often there are many unknows when it comes to birth, so be practical and have more than one plan in place. Share it with your kids. Talk about it, remind them often so they know what to expect. When possible, include them in some of the decisions. We used drawings and sketches to epxlain who does what and we also used the opportunity to talk about what feelings might arise. Both my boys are sensitive, and very attached to me and I knew it was going to be a challenge for them, no matter what. As a part of your planning you may want to give each kid one new age-appropriate responsibility to help them feel important and grown-up. For us it was helping with bath time- bathing the baby was what the boys got excited about so I followed and found little big jobs they could do to assist.
- Ideally, you have a support network that will tremendously help both you and your kids to feel safe and secure. In our case my mother-in-law came over to help a week before my due date- the boys were super excited and spent the days playing with her, reading with her etc. You can imagine how grateful I was, and at the same time I felt some deep sadness and rejection- bitter sweet emotions.
- Spend time with them Not talking about the baby or the upcoming change– even for 5 or 10 minutes sit down with them and focus on them only. Play their favourite game, listen when they talk about something super important. Connect with them here and now. Let them know you love them. Introduce the sign for “I love you” even if you have never used sign langauge before, it will come handy- a sweet quick way to connect.
- Let them take part in the big decisions– We engaged them in discussions about baby names and provided some space for them to make choices during the preparations for the baby; ask them for help about the room arrangements, for example, and let them choose outfits or help them make presents for the baby. I remeber asking my boys to make toys for the baby while we were in the hospital- they love making things so it felt right to ask them and when we brought the new baby home the big brothers were proudly showing him their creations.
- Memories– I shared stories from the time they were in my womb and when they were newborns. Kids are usually fascinated by their baby stories and want to know more. Watching their birth videos and looking at their baby photos was such a heart-warming journey back in time. My boys especially loved flipping the album pages and guessing where the photos had been taken, naming family and friends, spotting their favourite toys etc.
- Encourage sibling connection– let the older kid play with the baby in the tummy, talk to the baby, maybe share about their day or tell them about their favourite toy or their best friend; or they can ask the baby a question and help you understand what the baby answers. I will never forget how sweet it was when my boys were telling the baby they loved him. Together draw pictures of your family, dream about what you do together, places to visit, games to play etc. It is important to also provide space for all range of feelings- even the nagative ones. Name, acknowlegde and embrace any kind of feelings so that they can be experienced and released. Check feelings-related activities in the Free resources/materials.
- When it comes to the arriving of a new baby, I often had to remind mysef that it is a very real and challenging change and kids need time, support and acceptance.
- Celebrate them– for who they truly are, here and now, and for becoming big brothers or sisters. We ordered matching T-shirts with their favourite dinosaurs, or if you prefer you may just get them (or make them) anything meaningful for them to make them feel cherished and understood. A T-shirt with a favourite character, the Lego parts they have been asking for, a book. Take individual photos. Often tell them what you like about them. Or prepare a few questions and interview them. All these would make a sweet memory capsule.
- Stay connected even when you are away– I gave birth at a clinic and I was away for a few nights, which was a big thing for me and my kids so I wrote letters from mommy for everyone to read while I needed to be away. There are many other ways, like giving them a picture of you, or something special to remind them of your presence. You can also decide in advance on a special password/code that only the two of you know that you can use when you call them on the phone while you are away.
- Show them how love works– the how love works candle activity was one of my favourite things to do together. Such a fun experiment that helps young kids better understand and is great for older kids alike as they can help lighting the candles and explain to their younger siblings. A great opportunity to honestly ask and answer questions and start meaningful discussions! I first saw this video and here it is my 3-year-old boy demonstrating it.
Read more about our experience during the first postpartum days with baby 3.
Do you have any other tips and suggestions? What are you trying? What is working for your family? Please share with me!