Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Welcoming a New Baby and Avoiding Sibling Rivalry

When I was pregnant with Mae Bae I found myself perusing article after article about welcoming a second baby into a family.  The advice seemed to pop up everywhere and were impossible to miss.  There were children's books with the same purpose, preparing an only child for the life changing event of sharing Mommy and Daddy's attention with a sibling, and some of them were actually pretty cute.  We received one as a gift that talked about the excitement of having a new baby and stressed all the big kid things a big sister could do, and I had no problem reading that with Sadie, since she was already quite interested in all things baby and all things big sister, at the ripe old age of almost-two.

Still, most of the articles gave me pause (as did the advice at the end of Sadie's book, which I immediately discarded).  I couldn't help but doubt the paragraphs that told me to "reassure" Sadie that "I would still love her just as much" when the new baby came "even though things would be a little different."

Now I knew that I was still totally inexperienced when it came to having more than one baby in the house, and I'm not a child psychology expert or anything, but somehow that seemed like a really, really bad idea.

You see, Sadie was pretty excited about the idea of having a baby sister.  She loved to run over and kiss my tummy.  We'd prayed for the baby.  We'd been joyous when we found out the news.

And that joy had overflowed and been absorbed by our toddler.  Something exciting was happening.  It was wonderful.  Everyone was happy.  There was going to be another baby.  She would be a big sister.  And the baby would love her so much!

Her not-yet-two mind might not have understood completely what having a new sister would be like, but the fact that we were excited meant that she was excited.  She knew that something wonderful was about to happen.

It seems to me that if Paul and I had sat Sadie down and said:  "Sadie, Mommy has a new baby growing in her tummy.  But don't worry.  Things will change, but Mommy and Daddy are still going to love you just as much." her reaction very likely would have been entirely different.

We didn't say those words and Sadie knew that we would love her just as much as she'd been loved before.  Doubt in the continuation of our love never entered the picture.  Of course we would still love her.  She'd always been loved and cared for and it was completely natural that we'd love her and love the baby.  There was no tiny seed of doubt planted by us telling her not to worry because we would still love her.  Those words were entirely unnecessary (and in my opinion could have done far more harm then good).

These days excitement is at a fever pitch around here.  The girls have been waiting for this baby since May 2011.  It's been 17 months since they began expecting a new baby and the fact that this has baby has been so long awaited, with all the ups and downs, joy and sorrow of the last year and a half, means that my tummy gets hugged and cuddled about a dozen times a day.

Mae Bae says:  "Baby, baby, baby!" and both girls have taken to climbing into the crib to play.  And just like her sister, Mae never seems to have considered that having another baby might be anything other than wonderful.  She's heard us pray for this baby and she saw us rejoice when the news came that we were expecting again.  She's heard her sister talk about how she hopes that we have at least seven babies ("five girls and two boys" is the perfect number in Sadie's mind, and I have no idea how she came up with it).

Something wonderful is about to happen.  And of course there will be enough love to go around, because, even at two, she understands that that's how love is.

Sure there will be times when she's frustrated, although I imagine not as often as her sister was, since she's never been the sole receiver of all my attention day in and day out and since she's quite the independent little introvert, who greatly values doing things on her own and having time to herself.

When Mae arrived were a few months when Sadie was a little annoyed with Mommy, since Mommy wasn't quite as fast on her feet getting things, and she might have to wait for a few minutes while her sister finished nursing before we could do something.  But we noticed that the frustration was never focused on her little sister.  Mae could do no wrong, and was to be cuddled and cooed at and protected.  Mommy... well... Mommy could learn to juggle things a little better... and Sadie began to learn to be patient with Mommy, which is a pretty valuable skill.

It's true that with the addition of a new child, things "won't be the same."  But things are never the same anyway.  Sure there's routine, but life changes as we go along, whether a new baby arrives or not.

In our house, the greatest advice that we follow when we prepare for a new baby is to be joyful and treat the coming of a child like the great gift that it is.  When that joy is present it is the most natural thing in the world that the day of the baby's arrival would be as anticipated as Christmas morning and that the other children would welcome their new little sibling with open arms and never wonder if there might not be enough love to go around.


  1. "Mae could do no wrong, and was to be cuddled and cooed at and protected. Mommy... well... Mommy could learn to juggle things a little better..." Love this line!

    And I agree with you, the advice from that book was bad. I have never said anything like that to my boys. Now my kids have all been very young when they became an older sibling, but I have never gotten the impression that they ever thought I love them less when we brought a new baby home.

  2. My granddaughter is eagerly waiting for the new baby to arrive at their house. She has the added benefit of having had the experience of a new baby cousin (who lives nearby) a year ago. The new baby cousin is a boy and so is the baby coming to her house. She loves Philip and Philip loves her, so she's expecting the same thing with her new baby brother. I've bought a couple of books for her, but they're of the "here are things you can do with the new baby" variety. Like you, I think that emphasizing sibling rivalry is a very bad idea. I do think that there are going to be moments in every child's life where their sibling is an annoyance (I'm sure Sadie didn't like Mae biting her, nor did Mae like Sadie being in her face a week or so back). However, I've seen enough families with lots of kids where the arrival of a new sibling was met with great joy to know that a new person to love, is just that, a new person to love. Being a big sister is a new role, a new responsibility, and a new opportunity. I've loved watching (through your blog) the way you've handled it, and I hope my granddaughter loves her brother as much as Sadie loves Mae.

  3. I think the whole “dealing with sibling rivalry” thing is totally overblow in our current “addicted to pop psychology” world. The fact is, we are all sinners, and prone to selfishness, and the introduction of a sibling is a prime opportunity for this selfishness to come out. But that is an opportunity for learning and instruction, not a “problem” to be “dealt with” (and certainly not a reason not to have the new baby). My first was excited about the fact her brother was coming – as best as she could understand (she was 21 months). She used to love to fall asleep on my tummy in the evening and feel him kicking. She was excited the day he came home from the hospital, and the next day as her favorite Aunt had come to stay with us for a few days to help. Then when everyone went home, and the baby stayed, and started crying every few hours when he was hungry, she walked over to his car-seat (where he was sleeping as we double the car-seat as the downstairs bassinet) announced in her most complete sentence to date “no want it”, and started crying. This lasted for about 3 days, until she discovered that brothers were much more fun than baby dolls, and she could “help” mommy by getting burp cloths and diapers, and announcing that he had spit up and needed cleaned, and generally being the “in charge” big sister. Of course they have had fights since, but she does truly love him, and in the last year (now that he can talk and *almost* keep up with her active 4 year old imagination) really finds him a wonderful playmate. Though they have to compromise since she is 100 percent girl, and he is 100 percent boy, so their games of house have the princess married to Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, and they are busy both cooking and trying to keep all the monsters out of their house, and they have LOTS of cars and trucks and school buses around (my boys are all obsessed with anything with wheels). Fast forward 18 months when our third (another little boy) arrived, and both older siblings were super-excited about it. Of course the eldest was thrilled to have another little brother to be in charge of, plus the “human baby doll” thing. The second, who had never lived in a world without a sibling, so couldn’t miss being the “only one”, was extremely curious, and excited to finally not be the littlest (my eldest tends to lord her birth order over her younger siblings, i.e. I can do x because I am bigger). The biggest problem was convincing him that it wasn’t good for the baby to be laid on by an 18 month old who wanted to hug him. I never saw the slightest twinge of jealousy out of number 2, UNTIL number 3 learned to crawl, and TAKE HIS PRECIOUS CARS AND PLAY WITH THEM TOO. We have had some tears with learning that you can’t always just holler “Mommy, I have baby problems” and expect Mommy to put the baby somewhere else – you actually have to SHARE your toys, even the ones you REALLY LIKE. I’m sure our third will welcome another sibling, if the Lord will bless us with one (we recently lost our 4th baby). But I have found the sibling rivalry we have had to date, far from being distressing and problematic, to provide real opportunities for our kids to grow in grace. And I think teaching from a young age that although we love our kids dearly, they are NOT the center of the universe is very important for them. I have seen ugly sibling rivalry in play – we have a neighbor whose daughter was 3 when the new baby was born, but the poor little girl had never really played with other kids, since she had a live-in nanny to care for her when her parents were gone, but the nanny doesn’t drive, so basically just plays with the little girl in the house all day. The girl HATED the new baby, and would try to hit it, bite it, and throw it out of its crib whenever they were in the same room. The parent’s “solution” was to just keep the children in separate rooms and not let them interact, and things are little better a year later. I see some real problems in the future for that family – only pray they find Christ to help them.


  4. I totally agree K, that siblings are definitely amazing opportunities for growth. Growing up I was basically on my own, and sharing was a huge struggle for me. Watching Sadie naturally want to share with her sister has been pretty amazing.

    And my main concern at the moment is Mae Bae "loving" him and squishing him. Especially since she can climb into the crib. He'll definitely be in the bassinet for the first six months before there's even a possibility of them sharing a room... and then we're going to have to see if she's still quite as rough and tumble as she is now!

  5. The “squish” factor is a scary thing, though in my experience older sisters make excellent “narcs” to protect small brothers from being smothered in love (or later on alert Mommy to brother eating cat food, or climbing on the kitchen table to eat the mail, etc.). My oldest is in her second round of narc duty now, so pretty much an expert!

    Due to their refusal to either sleep swaddled or laid flat on their backs, my little ones have always taken all their daytime naps until about 4-5 months old in the “bucket seat” part of their Graco car seat (after they learn to roll over, and fling themselves out of the car seat if not strapped in, we switch to crib naps, which they are OK with once then can flip themselves onto their tummies – my kids do not approve of the national “back to sleep” campaign). The incline of the car seat helps with reflux, and the sides make them feel somewhat swaddled, but not “trapped”. It also makes them very easy to carry around the house to be near me while napping, since I am very bad at “staying put” in a narrow townhouse with the bedrooms on one floor, the kitchen on another, and the laundry room in the basement. I know some people swear by baby-wearing nearly all the time while awake, but I can’t figure out how to safely put something in the oven, or scrub a bathroom, or change an older kid’s diaper with a baby in a sling or carrier. But a car seat on the floor makes a VERY attractive target for a sibling trying to overly snuggle a baby, or tip the baby out to “come play”. Of course the converse problem is that the little baby, once he’s not so little anymore, has decided that “rough play” is the rule of the game. My oldest is getting her comeuppance now that the little brother she used to wrestle and smother with kisses is now 2 ½ and almost as tall as her, and my 13 month old, who had privilege of being smothered by both older siblings simultaneously (and is built like a tank), has mastered the trick of taking both of them down if they try to hold toys out of his reach by grabbing them around the knees and executing a remarkably good football tackle. I have to admit it is hysterically funny to watch a 1 year old deliberately, and successfully, tackle a 4 year old, snatch the toy out of her hand, and crawl off with his prize, squealing in delight, though I have to not let THEM know it is funny.


  6. I have a much older half sister from whom I am estranged. We grew up with no bond whatsoever. I suffered sibling abuse at her hands all throughout my childhood and last year I finally put my foot down and said I wasn't taking that treatment anymore. I say this because sibling rivalry is very much prevalent, as is sibling abuse. As long as you make sure your children are forming a sibling bond, you really don't have to worry about abuse or even rivalry. What made my half sister and I really resent each other was her being forced to watch me all alone so much. It was an imbalance of authority and she definitely knew it and abused it. Make sure they are good SIBLINGS, acting as siblings toward each other, there really should be no problem. Just watch out for an imbalance of power, correct it if you see any, everything should be fine.


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