Giving presence to the firstborn

Editor’s note: The post was originally published on Oct. 15, 2008, and it continues to serve as a reminder to parents expecting another baby:

894905_curiousFor several weeks, I’ve been thinking about ways in which I give my children presence. I’ve thought about different ways I spend time with my kids, the talks we’ve shared, the games we’ve played. Time and time again, my thoughts returned to one specific incident:

When I was pregnant with my second child, I wondered, as I think most second-time parents do, about how my first was going to react to having a sibling. Will he be jealous? Welcoming? Will he regress? Am I up to parenting two? How will I cope if he’s resentful?

My husband and I did all we could to prepare him, of course. We talked about the new baby. We read books to him about new baby siblings. I even bought him a baby doll so that he would have a new baby, too. But as he was only 2 and 3 years old during the pregnancy, I didn’t know how much of it he was fully understanding.

My son was 3 years and 4 months when his sister was born. He didn’t seem interested in holding or kissing or hugging the new baby, and I never pressured him to.

Above all else, I wanted to give him permission to not like the baby. I knew it was not in anybody’s best interest to force this new baby on to him, nor to force him to love her.

Of course, new babies take a lot of attention — holding and nursing and changing and admiring. I was always very sensitive to how my son reacted, especially when friends and relatives came bearing gifts and food and cooing over the baby.

Even though my husband was spending a lot of extra time with our son as I was caring for the new baby, I desperately wanted to spend one-on-one time with him, unimpeded by the sling. To that end, we arranged one afternoon for my husband to take the freshly nursed 1-week-old baby into the other room so that I could concentrate fully on my son.

He was so excited to get me all to himself, and I was ecstatic to be spending time with just him.

We were horsing around, being silly and laughing and giggling. A little bit into our game, he got a bit carried away and gleefully threw his shoe across the room.

He knows the rule of no throwing in the house, but to be honest, I knew that his world was turned upside-down in just a week and I didn’t want to press him on it too much. So I said, “Hey, let’s keep the shoes on the floor and find something else we can throw.”

He broke down and just started sobbing, so I pulled him onto my lap. As I rocked him, I cooed, “It’s hard having a baby here, isn’t it?”

He nodded and sobbed some more. “It’s hard to see me carrying her everywhere,” I continued.

“Yes!” he cried. “You should be carrying me around, too!”

When I recounted this exchange with a friend later, I commented that he could have pulled my heart out and stomped on it and done less damage.

However, that incident inspired me to redouble my efforts in connecting to my son, the firstborn. When my husband returned to work after his month-long paternity leave, I unfailingly committed myself to spending at least 30 minutes each day in child-led play with my son while the baby slept. We played whatever he wanted to play. I followed his rules and let him lead completely.

As the baby grew older and could be apart from me for a couple of hours, my son and I would go out to lunch, just the two of us, every other weekend.

As my daughter grew even more and could take a bit of food between nursings, my son and I could take longer dates to the playground, or to a movie, or to the Thomas the Train store in a neighboring town.

I absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed spending this special time with my son, and I often looked forward to the weekend just so I could spend that extra time with him. I have so many memories of our dates and our conversations.

The presence I gave my son during that time paid off in many ways. Most of all, he and his sister have been two-peas-in-a-pod for years. They are extremely close, play together astonishingly well and even choose to sleep together on the weekends. Since I spent so much time with my son during his sister’s baby years, I really don’t believe he’s ever felt the need to compete with his sister for my attentions, which I think helps their relationship and in turn our family.

Author: sarah

Sarah has been involved with API since 2002. She is the mother of two school-aged kids.

12 thoughts on “Giving presence to the firstborn”

  1. Thank you for this great post!

    I am due with my second in a few weeks and I have really been broken hearted knowing I will be losing precious one-on-one time with my first.

    I am going to follow your lead and spend time alone with #1 while the baby naps. Thanks!

  2. Your account of that moment with your son was so touching. Like every parent, I’ve thought a lot about how having a second child would affect my firstborn. I hope I can handle it with as much love and grace as you clearly have. I’ll definitely be referring back to this post when the time comes!

  3. You are to be commended for making such a great effort to make time for your tender little toddler during what was a very hard time for him. Having your husband home must have been a huge help! Speaking from personal experience, you NEED to have a supportive adult there to help you, not only to have time with your older kid/s, but also to recharge your own batteries. My advice is, don’t let your husband bail out by such claims as: he needs his sleep for work or he’ll end up getting fired. Sad but true in my case. I was extremely tired and spread thin when I had number 3, and the sibling rivalry is tremendous between children 2 and 3. I had very little help during that time, so please find help wherever you can!

  4. Wow, this really touched my heart. I’m expecting our second in October and I have been so worried, anxious, etc. about how my daughter will take it. Right now I talk about the baby, read books to her about being a big sister, she talks to my belly, is involved in every doctor’s appt and ultrasound as possible, etc. Her and I are very attached and it scares me to think I won’t be able to give her all that attention she gets now but I also want to be attached to this baby and I want them to be close. Reading your story gave me some hope (even though I cried) and I will be following what you did that worked (my children will have the same age difference as yours). Thanks so much for posting!

  5. OMG! Expecting #2 in September and already going crazy about how will it affect my 2 year old, who is the light of my life.
    This is very inspiring, although I cried when he cried on your story. Yes, you can take my heart out and it would be less painful…But you also give me hope that they could end up being close. I really want to read more on this. I looked up in amazon but I cannot find a book written by an attached parent…

  6. I have a 4 and a half year old and a 7 month old. My 4 year old is getting really jeleous of my baby because of the time it takes. This really imspires me to spend some more one on one time with him. Thank you so much.

    I do have a problem that my 7 month old is going through severe seperation anxiety. How do I deal with that?

  7. Thanks so much for this post. I just spend my first day pretty much alone at home with my 2 yr old son and 11 day old daughter, getting progressively more angry and scolding every time he tried to kiss (i.e. cover in snot and slobber) or squash or slap her. He got more and more surly and whiny and finally asked to be put to bed by his dad and practically gave me the cold shoulder! Heartbreaking. Tomorrow, though, I am determined to retry the compassionate approach. I was horrible when my sister was born (I was 2 yrs and four days older, my son is 2 yrs and 5 days older) and was envious of her right up until my twenties; I really don’t want to replicate that with my own kids. Thanks again for the kick up the backside.

  8. Thank you so much for your story. It made me cry. I have not even had my first yet. What an amazing experience being a mother. Greatest and worst moments all thrown in.

  9. My oldest is 19 months and he has been AMAZING with his baby brother who is 6 months old. They are very close in age as well as being very well bonded. I was terrified when we found out we were pregnant again, mostly because my firstborn was my whole world, how was I going to handle not being able to focus on him as much as I had been? I was blessed when we brought number 2 home and my oldest hasn’t stopped kissing/hugging him since! But, it still breaks my heart that neither of them get as much attention as my first did when he was born. I try really hard to make sure my oldest gets some one on one with mommy! It doesn’t happen as much as I’d like, but after reading this, I am able to refocus, and try harder!

  10. I love the idea of special time with each kid. It gets harder with each one! I have four, ranging in age from almost five to 9 months, and it’s hard to find time for each of them individually. If I could give one critique of most parenting websites, it is that there is very little advice geared toward parents of more than two children. This whole “special time” issue is a lot easier to solve when the parent to child ratio is 1:1 or better.

  11. I have 2 boys, 2 years spaced and now my 3 years old boy is going to kindergarden, but im feeling guilty for this because it was too much for me to pay attention ALL the time to both of them, i couldnt take to bed the little one or prepare the supper. I read that its hard for them in kindergarden, but he stays there just 5 hours, he doesnt sleep there. He is happy with the friends he has there but maybe he is too young… i dont know… what do you think ?

    1. Hi Roxana,

      So much of Attachment Parenting is learning to lean on our unique relationship with each of your children and trust that they will tell or show you what they are developmentally ready for. It’s important to learn about child development to know what can be expected with your 3 year old. But also take into consideration the change in family dynamics that happens when a new baby is born, and it may take years for older siblings to adjust. For more information, seek out your local API Leader. If you don’t have one nearby, consider contacting the API Warmline to talk to an API Leader one-on-one and confidentially.

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