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When I was getting ready to have my second child, I did my best to make the transition easy for my first. I loved my oldest son so much and didn't want in any way to upset him or make him feel less-than by having another kid, and so I read up on best practices. We talked about the new baby and made it sound exciting. We discussed all the things big kids can do that little kids can't. We bought him big brother books and a baby doll.
And when the baby was born, my oldest was so filled with joy that he told my husband and I to go out for the night so he could babysit.
Psych! It was actually pretty tough there for awhile.
The weird thing is that I don't have any dramatic stories about how terrible my first son was after the second came to town. There was just a seismic shift—after a few days as a foursome, he became more dramatic, threw more tantrums, more obnoxious. He started talking in this type of baby talk that my husband and I couldn't stand. There was a bit of potty backsliding too.
But what was weird about it was that it never seemed to be about the baby. Once or twice there were tears when Son No. 1 got admonished for horsing around too close to the baby or he darkened when he came to our room to find the baby in his spot in our bed, but in general he seemed to have a decent—if relatively uninterested—relationship with his brother. He never said anything about feeling left out or resentful. It would have been easier if it felt like a straight line to the baby, but how frequently do our kids really say exactly how they feel? How often do we, for that matter?
When he acted up, I felt saddened by the way I felt short with him, who felt less like my little boy at times than just some annoying kid I had to deal with.
I tried, like the articles said, to do one-on-one dates with my son. And they were fine but they didn't stop the dramatic behavior. When he acted up, I felt saddened by the way I felt short with him, who felt less like my little boy at times than just some annoying kid I had to deal with. My postpartum hormones had little to do with the baby but instead were flowing towards the guilt and frustration of having a great kid turn pain-in-the-ass. I had made him that way and yet I couldn't figure out a way to make it stop.
"You can't take it personally," a wise mom friend told me, and she was right. A few times I went to the grocery store sans child and looked around to find that most 3-year-olds are obnoxious, at least at times. They're loud or pokey or whiny or contrary or grabby or dramatic or a deadly combination of all of them. That revelation truly helped. It just came with the territory, not necessarily with the new baby.
Then slowly we began to find our mother-son bonding groove. I realized it didn't need to be very scheduled or elaborate. Sometimes it's just a walk down the sidewalk to stomp in some puddles or a few minutes on the swings together. He also eventually began to articulate his need for "baby time"—some extra cuddles that I'm happy to give him that I think he always just assumed were there before the new baby came to town. Now he seems to know (maybe) that I'm wide open to baby time with him when we're lounging in bed together but he's got to be a big kid when we're trying to get out the door in the morning.
I'm sure we're up for more drama when the baby becomes mobile, starts eying his brother's toys, starts talking and teasing and taunting. And I'll probably read articles on what to do about that when the time comes. But the thing I most need to remember is that preparation can only get you so far—even love can only get you so far. What it really takes is time. Maybe some day I'll remember that.