Parenthood is an interesting journey. It is sometimes challenging, sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating and sometimes delightful… its many things but boring. There are some who find the journey so enriching that they want to have more than one child, yet there are others who find it too overwhelming and are happy raising one. The number of kids one chooses to have is a very personal choice and calls for a separate discussion altogether. Those parents who do decide to take the plunge and plan to have more than one… read on, this post is just for you.
The very first parenting challenge of having more than one child is preparing your first-born for the arrival of a baby in the family. Sibling rivalry is universal and no matter what you do there will be a tinge of jealousy and insecurity in the mind of your elder one for the younger brother or sister. We can only try to minimize the jealousy and focus more on developing a healthy affectionate relationship between our children.
The first-born is always special and gets much attention from immediate and extended family. Adding another baby to the equation changes the dynamics and the first-born seizes to have the center stage, something that even adults find difficult to accept sometimes. A child with his tender emotions has to feel betrayed and caught off guard with such a drastic change. Children are sensitive creatures and small things make a lot of difference to them. While bringing a sibling in the already established parent-child equation parents need to be sensitive towards the older child’s emotions and make conscious efforts so he takes the news positively.
I delivered our second child when our daughter was still 2 months short of turning 3. When we planned the baby, my husband and I knew that VMJ would herself be in a challenging stage when the baby was to arrive and it would need a lot of patience and love from our end to help her bond with the baby instead of feeling insecure about her place in our lives. The primary reason my husband and I wanted to have 2 children was because we want a life long companion for our daughter so if she didn’t feel happy with the baby’s arrival or bond with her sibling, it would beat the purpose of having 2 kids.
We wanted to give our daughter enough time to process the information and deal with her immediate feelings, so we told her about the baby as soon as I entered my second trimester. We told her what fun it would be to have a baby in the house, how she will have a friend who will live with her, how they can go to school and vacation together, how she can be the older sister and teach the baby how to eat, play and everything else she wants. We made it sound like an exciting thing and she resonated our feelings. Children are very intuitive, they have an inherent ability to gauge our deepest sentiments, so if you say something in a happy tone but are not too convinced about it yourself, children realize something is wrong. So when you tell your child how exciting it is going to be, believe that it is indeed going to be exciting.
When VMJ got a little comfortable with the idea of a baby, we gradually started to bring the baby in our talks about the family. We have a small ritual, every night KJ, VMJ and I hug each other and sing the Barney song “I Love you, you love me, we are a happy family. With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me too”. We started telling VMJ that family now means Papa, Mummy, VMJ herself and the baby and when we sang the family song she hugged and kissed the baby too along with each of us. When the baby started to move, I would have her touch my tummy and she was absolutely delighted. She talked to the baby, spun stories about what the baby might be saying when it moved and showed the baby bump the crafts she used to bring from school.
One day VMJ came up with a name for the baby. She was overly fond of Oreo biscuits those days and wanted to name the baby Oreo. That also helped her bond better with her unborn sibling. She used to talk to people about Oreo and take his name in conversations and songs. She was very excited for the baby’s arrival. We also tried to make it as comfortable and pleasant for her. While booking the hospital for my delivery, we considered whether or not it was child friendly and booked one which allowed children to visit freely. We didn’t want VMJ to feel that Oreo baby kept Mumma away from her for 3 days and start her relationship on a negative note.
All was going well and VMJ was looking forward to the day Doctor Aunty would get Oreo out in the real world. Since I had a planned cesarean, we told her before we left for the hospital that she would be staying home with her Buji (my sister-in-law) until she can see the baby. She was so happy about finally getting to see Oreo that she complied without any complaints or questions. And boy how happy she was to see her baby brother for the very first time!! You needed to see her reaction to believe it… she was thrilled beyond words. She couldn’t believe her eyes and was in awe of his tiny fingers and toes. My husband brought her to the hospital every day, twice a day. Oreo too responded the most to VMJ’s voice and would move his neck every time she called his name. When we got home, VMJ wouldn’t leave the room Oreo was in and even if she did, she would come running the moment she heard him cry.
To make her feel responsible and less insecure, we had told her that she is our baby and Oreo is her baby, so she was all the more concerned for him. She would watch him get massage and sponge baths, she helped pick out clothes that he would wear, she brought me napkins to clean his mouth after each feed and helped with other small things. She sang songs to him and taught him ABC and counting too!
It was going smooth like a dream… until my husband had to travel for work. Now VMJ is a daddy’s girl all the way and whenever her dear Daddy is away for more than a few days she gets upset, and this time it was a long long trip. With him gone and the baby at home, she was disoriented even sooner this time. She started demanding to be in my lap when it was time for me to nurse the baby. Since the baby was small it was possible for me to accommodate them both in my lap together, and I did every time she asked me to. A couple of days later she started asking me to feed her dinner as I nursed the baby, and I did that because I didn’t want her to feel jealous. After a few times of this she started demanding I hold only her and not pick the baby to nurse. To solve this, I used to hug her and kiss her all over first and then say now its baby’s turn. This made her happy and she also used to kiss and hug baby before I picked him. After a few times this also stopped working, so I used to give her something to eat or orange juice to drink while I nursed, or a new book that we read together. I also started to hold her in lap more often than I did before the baby was born. It took a lot of love, patience and distracting tricks to make her feel comfortable and secure again.
Now she knows the baby has to be fed when he’s hungry and she herself tells me to nurse the baby when he cries. She gives the baby a new name everyday – calls him her madan gopal, gullu, babu, pyaru, bebu… anything that catches her fancy. She tries to entertain him by showing him a rattle or a toy, caresses him when he wakes up, sings to him and cuddles him all the time. Yes, we still have occasions when she wants someone else to give him bottle and wants to be in my lap, gets a wee bit jealous when KJ picks up the baby before her once he’s back from work, but those are very few and far between.
The joys of having a child is unmatched, in fact its second only to the joy of having 2. Every day it fills my heart with great love to see my little darlings play together. In only 5 months they seem to have bonded so well… both their faces brighten up to see the other and their eyes have a unique sparkle for each other. Being a parent is one of the toughest jobs but at the same time, there is nothing quite as rewarding.
This has been my journey so far. Would love to know your experiences and tricks on handling sibling rivalry too.