Over the years I’ve heard parents talk of struggles with adding children to their family when it comes to sibling jealousy. Whether it be an 18 yr old or a 10 yr old….kids can sometimes struggle with sharing time and attention with their new sibling. Something we have found interesting within our own family is that our kids have never struggled with this. For context our first two boys are four years apart. We then had 4 newborn foster babies, each separately over the course of 3 years, and now most recently another biological child. Our older kids are 12 and 8, and little sis is 4 months. Obviously we aren’t perfect parents…miles from it! We don’t have some magic handbook.
Having been in birth work for 9+ years now, I am in so many homes and see the struggles (and successes) when adding a new child. Thinking back, I realized that my own siblings and I never had this problem, leading me to believe the anti jealousy behavior must be learned! So, I talked to my mom about my growing up. Coming from a family of 6 sisters, if there were going to be jealousy struggles, it would have happened right? But it never did! We were always in love with our new siblings, and wanted nothing more then to care for them and be a part.
So really, I owe most of these techniques to my momma, along with some other families along my journey. This list is not exhaustive or perfect, but is the approach we take. So far, fingers crossed, it’s working well, and I hope it can guide you as you bring new little lives into the world.
Let’s start at the beginning! Include your kids in the pregnancy. Of course, being a Midwife, I prefer midwifery care over OBs and hospitals. It’s simply more personal. In midwifery care, there is a large emphasis on including siblings in appointments, and it is really sweet to include your kids in all the info from day one. Not just the appointments and the ultra sound, but also in the day to day. Letting them know why mommy is feeling certain ways, sleeping all the time, eating jalapeños with chocolate, craving dirt (true story), etc. One sweet thing that we did with our newest little girl was opening all the baby shower gifts together. We also showed the boys all stages of development as she grew inside me, using this book:
You will be sick, and feel tired, and just generally be less of a “good mom” at times during your pregnancy, so make up for it by bringing your kids inside the process at every point possible.
Don’t expect it! From yourself, or your kids. No one is perfect, but our ability to show grace for ourselves and to give our kids grace as they adapt to the new family flow is vital in this process. There will be moments of frustration on both sides. That’s ok. Let them be frustrated, let it roll off, and NEVER blame the new baby. Which leads us to….
SPEAK with purpose. There is life and death in your tongue. This is one of the biggest things! There are so many limitations while you are pregnant, and these continue after baby arrives. Your sleep pattern is non existent, you need to rest and recover in bed, or baby wakes up right when an activity is supposed to start. Our babies all have the magical ability to know the exact minute a meal is ready for our plates, and will either wake up, or get upset right at that moment. Just me? Haha. I don’t think so.
I often hear parents say “we can’t do such and such because of the baby.” This is a natural response, and while it may be true that baby is the reason for your inability to participate in the same way….being careful not to blame the little one is extremely important. Instead, give your kids reasons.
“Mommy needs to rest for a little bit”
“It’s better for the baby if we…”
“That game sounds so fun, but your little brother/sister needs to sleep and we don’t want to wake them….can we play a this quieter game now, and play that game later?”
Offer alternatives whenever possible, and never make it negative!
We include the kids in all baby prep! From the nursery, buying the little clothes (let them each choose an outfit-even if it’s hideous), birth supplies, snacks for labor, etc. We even practiced swaddling baby dolls! Prepping the nursery? Let them “help” paint. We also watched birth videos (appropriate, but real ones). We talked about the noises mommy makes during labor. My 8yr old told me after my recent birth that my noises were more like screams, rather than the moaning I had prepped him for. Oops, life happens!
Prepare and participate kind of blend together, but this one is especially great for little kids who aren’t yet verbal. Have them help by grabbing a diaper for a change. Ask them to hand you the burp cloth, maybe even help clean up a bit. Let them help swaddle or get a blanket. Find little ways to give them ownership of the baby. No task is too small. My 12 year old wanted to make the birth video, so he filmed it and we helped him choose an appropriate edit afterwards. Give them ownership!
Teach them to protect. Practice being gentle with your pets and/or baby dolls. Soft touch on mommys tummy. Talk to them about defending and keeping their sibling safe. Also bullying has zero tolerance in and outside our house. Talking down to or belittling a sibling/friend will gain a harsher punishment than almost anything else. Guess who has to lead by example with this as well? YOU. By teaching them ahead of time, they will naturally be protective with their actions and words when baby arrives.
Have them pray for their new bother or sister. Jude (my 8yr old) was praying for a new sibling (he wanted a sister) from the moment we started trying and even before. He likes to tell Lynnon the story of how he prayed for her, how he prayed for the birth and for her to arrive safely. His prayer during pregnancy was very honest and stark. “Please help my baby sister to stay alive and not die.” While my husband and I both jumped a little the first time we heard him pray these words, we did not stop him.
Let them pray and pray specifically. This forms a personal connection, and also ties back to PROTECT.
This is huge! Meet the baby with a party! Not to make anyone feel bad…but one of the biggest mistakes I see is parents giving a gift FROM baby, TO the older sibling. How does this prepare your kids for real life? Are you ready to buy gifts for all your kids at every future birthday party? I have seen big brothers and sisters scream and throw themselves on the floor because THEY didn’t receive a gift at their siblings birthday party. Don’t set yourself up for this! Instead of giving a gift from baby to older sibling….make it a birthday party FOR the baby. Let big brother/sister personally choose and bring a gift to their new sibling. They pick it, wrap it, and give it (don’t expect style or perfection).
Bake a cake! My doula helped the boys bake a cake, and after Lynnon arrived we had her birthDAY party! We lit a candle, sang, the whole bit. Make it a celebration right from the start!
To sum it all up, the theory is that we will appreciate the things we work for / participate in. Up and give your 16 year old a car, and they will trash it. Make them work their butt off and buy it themselves, and they will protect and baby it.
Hope this is helpful! Would love to hear about your own experience and practices/traditions below.