Before the birth of my second child in December, I was worried of the impact it would have on my firstborn, June, now 3. I was afraid she wouldn’t do well with a new baby in the house. Up until that point, June had been the center of everything—the object of all our love, devotion, and affection. A second child would alter the dynamic. It had to. I was afraid I would have less time, and by extension maybe even less love, for June. She’d become the generalized “big sis.”
Our second child, Kathryn Bea, was born December 13, and within the first few months of being a mom of two, I realized I had been projecting. June has been fine with the transition. More than fine. She adores her little sister (though I like to think it’s because we went out of our way to prep her for the change, see the sidebar below). She loves to hold her, kiss her, play with her, and feed her. I was the one with the hang-ups. I was the one who had a hard time letting go of June’s only child star status. It sounds petty, but there’s something so special, untarnished, and undistracted about being able to pour all your energy and love into one child. Two fractures the equation. Two requires more focus and compartmentalization. Or so I thought.
When in reality, my heart just opened bigger than I thought possible. I love seeing the differences between June and Katie (Katie is a little more relaxed than June was at this age, but that also could be because I’m more relaxed). I love the similarities even more (they look identical, those two, and both love, love, love to be swaddled).
I love how having two kids makes me feel more enmeshed in my family life than ever before, which is equally wonderful and frustrating. When you just have one child, you can still look forward to some down-time, some “me” time on the weekends by leaving your child for a bit with your spouse. With two kids, that luxury goes out the window, particularly for moms—at least at this stage when children are very young. Now on weekends, I typically have both girls with me at all times with maybe an hour or two to go for a quick jog or run an errand by myself. The effect of this is that I feel more like a Mom and less like “Jessie” than ever. The upside is that it’s brought my husband Jake and me closer together as we accept we have to be there for one another like never before. Our roles as “Mom and Dad” come into greater relief as our individuality further slips away; the roots deepen.
As for June and Katie, they each gain a friend and ally—a comrade to buffer the omnipresence of Mom and Dad. It’s a dynamic an only child never gets to experience. With a little luck, their relationship will only grow and deepen, just like their Mom and Dads’.
Make room for baby
Need some tips for preparing your toddler for a sibling? Start here.
Get out the toddler’s photo album and replay events of her babyhood: “Mom is going to be spending a lot of time feeding your new sibling, just like I did with you.”
Ask her opinion when shopping for baby stuff—what color socks she thinks her new sibling might like, whether to get her this or that plushy toy, etc.
Play up all the great things that come from being a big sister: It’s a big responsibility and you get to teach your new sibling all kinds of cool new stuff, like how to say the alphabet, how to build blocks, how to eat applesauce!
Stock up on books and videos to help her prepare. June became obsessed with the Dora the Explorer “Big Sister Dora” DVD that we checked out from the library. She asked to watch it every day. It put a really happy, positive spin on all the great things that come from being a big sister.
To give the older sibling a feeling of special privileges, ask her to select which of her toys the new baby can play with and which are for big girls only.
Upon their first meeting, have the baby present the toddler with a gift—a balloon, a book, a treat. It doesn’t have to be extravagant.
When the baby comes along, give the toddler some baby responsibilities: fetching diapers, assisting with wipes, throwing dirty diapers in the trash. June loves this one. (We both do!)—J.K.