My older son was 2 years and 8 months old when his little brother was born. I’d agonized for a long time about child spacing, and was worried about how Sol (my first born) would handle the addition to the family. We’re 3 months into being a family of 4 and I’ve learned a lot that has made the transition much smoother than I expected. So I’d like to share a little list of things I wish I’d known before baby Ezra was born. (With some pictures of the new brothers thrown in for good measure.) A lot of these might be obvious, but they weren’t to me, and have helped maintain peace in our house!
1. Talk about the new baby a lot before they are born! Around the time I really started showing and going to midwife appointments more often (probably around 28 weeks) we started reading a book that lined up with what our little guy was going to experience. We planned to deliver in the hospital and to breastfeed. There are lots of great books out there for families planning to homebirth, too! We also made sure to choose an age appropriate book. We changed the name of the baby in the book to Ezra and read that thing Every. Single. Day. We talked about family members and friends who had recently had babies, pointed out little babies in the grocery store, and watched videos online of babies cooing and nursing and sleeping. When the day came for Ezra to be born I had labored most of the night and knew we’d be going to the hospital sometime that day. We told Sol it was time for Ezra to be born and he got to pack his bag for his Aunt’s house. He remembered that we were going to the hospital and that we would call him when Ezra was born. He knew he would get to play with his cousins and eat cookies and have a sleepover. And he knew that we’d ‘Be right back. Sol hold baby Ezra.’
2. Let the older sibling help with the baby. At first I didn’t really want Sol to help hold Ezra, or help change his diaper, or help give him a bath. I was worried he would hurt him on accident. I also wanted him to just enjoy his brother, not do the ‘work’ part of having a baby in the house. Then I realized that ‘helping’ with the baby was very meaningful for Sol. It made him feel proud of himself and more connected to Ezra. It also helped him do something WITH mommy, instead of mommy doing even more without him. So I made it work. It took a little extra effort and patience, but it was worth it. I taught Sol where our cloth diaper stash is and let him bring me one every time he wanted to. I moved from a rocking chair to the couch for nursing the baby, so that Sol could sit right there with us. We practiced bouncing Ezra together in his bouncy seat and talked about how babies only like to be bounced gently and not too fast. I let Sol get in the tub with me and the baby and wash him gently with a cloth. And now he is such a great big brother. He tells people who come up to see the new baby to ‘Only touch him gently!” And as soon as Ezra so much as makes a fussy sounding peep Sol runs to find my nursing pillow. I don’t require him to do anything, but his natural expression of love and interest in the new baby is to help.
3. Put your older child higher on your ‘to do’ list. My first thoughts when Ezra would go down for a nap went a little something like this: “Okay, I need to get the laundry switched or we are going to run out of diaper inserts in the middle of the night. I’ve got to get online for a few minutes and pay that bill. And then I need to make a grocery list so hubby can go to the store for me tonight. And then I need to sit down and drink a big glass of water. Oh! I should probably call my mom, too, she needs an update on the baby.” Sol would have been occupying himself so beautifully and using his words all day instead of melting down and I would totally skip over him when I had a baby-free minute! He was being so great, that it was easy to just let him keep doing his thing. But I found that this ended in disaster for Sol in the end. He would run out of patience, get angry at Ezra for monopolizing mom, and act out to get the attention he really needed. So now whenever Ezra goes down for a nap the first thing I do is something with Sol. We sit and read some books. We wrestle for awhile. We get out the paint and get messy. We make banana bread together to surprise Dad when he gets home from work. Sometimes we just sit together on the porch and watch the cars go by. I am never going to look back on these years with two young children and say “Man, I wish I had kept up with the laundry better.”
4. Get out of the house! When Ezra was born I had pretty much everything I needed. I had kept Sol’s baby clothes and diapers, my sister in law had handed down her bassinet, etc. So instead of buying me more baby stuff I didn’t really need, my mom bought us a big sandbox and sand toys. She set it up when she came to visit after Ezra was born. That thing has been such a life saver! After Sol’s nap we go out there and he plays with his trucks and buckets in the sand and I put Ezra in the bouncy seat in the shade right by us. Sometimes I pretend to make a sand pizza and gobble it up with Solomon, sometimes I sit quietly and guzzle an ice water, and sometimes I even (gasp!) make a phone call. Some days we walk over to a little park by our house. I put Ezra in the sling and let Sol go wild with the other kids. We have a snack and look at bugs and Ezra sleeps through the whole thing. Getting out of the house makes the day go faster, preserving my patience and sanity, and it also gets us fresh air and a little exercise.
5. Date your older kid. Solomon and I have started doing swim lessons twice a week. It’s just a little half-hour parent-toddler class at our local rec center, nothing expensive or intense. Basically just play time in the pool while teaching basic swimming skills like blowing bubbles. I leave Dad and Ezra at home, and sometimes Sol and I even grab an ice cream cone after. I nurse Ezra right before we go and he usually sleeps for a couple hours. So Sol and I get some giggly one-on-one time, Dad gets some much needed time alone to check football recruiting news, and Ezra doesn’t even notice. My husband, Levi has been taking Sol out to his favorite park for an hour or two on Sunday mornings. They dig in the sand and get nice a tuckered out for a good long nap. Sol loves the time with just Dad and no baby. I love the leisure of reading a book 30 minutes IN A ROW! And everyone is much happier for it.
6. Find time for yourself. This is linked to #5 somewhat. You are filling up the love-cups of two little people now. You need time to recharge. You need time to stare at Pinterest mindlessly. You need to meet up with a friend sans kids for a smoothie. I was totally amazed at what a half an hour trip to the coffee shop with a good book did for my energy and outlook on life. Even if your partner or a friend can just take the kids to play in the back yard for half an hour. It is necessary for your sanity!
I know all you parents out there of more than one kiddo have some stellar advice and ideas, too! Enlighten me! How did you make the transition from 1 to 2 or from 2 to 3 easier? How do you make time for a special one-on-one with your older kids? Will it get easier or harder as “baby Ezra” turns into “walker Ezra” turns into “3 year old Ezra”?