One of the things parents expecting a second baby are often visualising in the lead up to the birth is the moment their older child and newborn will meet for the first time.
Chubby toddler hands gently holding onto the clear hospital crib looking at their new sibling, a magic moment that many mums picture though the nine long months of pregnancy and all of its ups and downs.
After all, one of the reasons we have more than one child is often because we want to provide a sibling for our older child.
Our subconscious vision is for siblings who will be allies for life, a shoulder to cry on, someone to help you move house, and share adventures with. A friend who will always be there.
In addition, something rarely talked about is how a mother may be feeling in this moment. Her first child is the baby that opened up her heart to motherhood and the idea of another person being able to hold as much space can feel overwhelming.
Many mums feel anywhere from a tinge of sadness to a great whopping wave of grief as they prepare to say goodbye to the monogamous relationship they had with their first child and welcome in a second.
Our older child doesn’t really know what this new baby will bring. They may be excited or they may be worried. However I believe for most of them, their primary concern is probably more likely that their primary caregivers have been away for a period, and something BIG seems to be happening around this baby. The question I believe they are wondering is:
“do you have enough love for me and the baby?”
So we care deeply about this first meeting. Most parents I work with are desperate for it to go well for the older child and spend time thinking about how to set it up for success. Many parents organise a gift from the baby to the older child, and get ready to show off the baby with excitement.
When you think about how much is going on emotionally for a mother, and then what’s going on for an older child, it begins to make sense that this first meeting is not at all about the relationship between siblings, but first and foremost older child and their parents.
Put simply – it’s not about the baby! It’s all about your older child and you.
Here are the four things I think can help the most:
When planning the first introduction the thing to focus on is our toddler feeling connected to their parents first, and the baby second. When we get this right the relationship of the toddler and baby unfolds, as it should.
Connection is best done with our body. It’s all about having our arms free for hugs, and our mind ready to delight in our child for who they are. Small physical moments of connection over a toy our child has brought in to show you, or even a high five are how we communicate love to our child.
2. Being with our child, right where they are
After separation from mum and dad while the baby was born many toddlers will need to reconnect with their parents before being very interested in the baby. This allows them to feel held, and after that they will be much more interested in the baby. Some children will seem worried, aloof, or burst into tears, this seems like a very reasonable reaction to what in many cases is their first big separation from their mum and can be welcomed without worry. Some children want to tell you all about their new toy from nanna – again this is a great way to connect without rushing them to ‘hold the baby’
3. Focus on your older child even when others are focussed on the baby
Some children will be absolutely bursting to meet their new sibling and often, once they have examined tiny fingers and toes, they may look up and seek to connect with mum and dad. It helps to be ready for this look and meet it with a big “I have missed you so much, I am so happy to be home with you!”
4. Welcome any big emotions that come
Any mum of a few kids will tell you there is often a bit of ‘fall out’ in the first meeting or the weeks that follow.
Your child may struggle with the new normal and this is to be expected naming these big feelings can help: “yeah the baby is noisy sometimes” or “I know, you want that toy right now and it’s hard to wait until mummy changes this nappy” or even “some days it’s hard being a big brother”.
When we are comfortable with helping our child name these big confusing feelings they feel seen and heard, and ultimately loved.
5. Remembering there are no perfect parents
Most of us need reminding that good enough (not perfect) parenting is what our kids really need.
Know that if it doesn’t look or feel close to perfect that is so normal. You are all adjusting and it does take time. It really does get easier, day by day, week by week. One day at a time.
Obstetric Social Worker and Parent Educator at the Mater hospital in Sydney, Circle of Security International facilitator for numerous organisations, and also a mother to four beautiful boys Genevieve is passionate about helping families in Sydney and beyond adapt to the modern parenting world and all its challenges and not only survive but thrive.
Genevieve also works privately with clients worldwide, and has just launched an online course ‘And Then There Were Two’ – Helping parents navigate the transition from one child to two.
These comprehensive, learn at your own pace courses give you access at any time to videos, audios and documents that covers the core areas of development when reaching these milestone moments as a parent or grandparent.
Join our waitlist.