Going from "only" to "oldest"
Adding a second child to our family is an exciting time. As parents we’re sleep deprived and crazy, but welcoming another sweet being into the world and watching the heart of our family expand makes it all worth it.
For our first child, welcoming their sibling is a little less exciting. Sure, they’re excited…and very curious….and caught up in the love-fest. But they also aren’t quite sure the cranky parents and crying baby are 100% awesome….nor is the diversion of attention. Many big brothers and sisters have at one point asked, “can we put him back in now?”
Think about it. Before his or her little sibling came along, your first child was EVERYTHING. Everything to you, to the neighbor kid across the street, to the grandparents, to the cashier at the grocery store, to everyone. It seemed the whole world waited for their sweet smile or funny antics. Now that the new-baby-show is in town, even well-meaning friends and grandparents dish out their gushing “oh, isn’t she so sweet” and “look how tiny he is” in heaps to the new baby and give the “my, you’ve gotten so big!” crumbs to the oldest. To which our oldest often thinks, “Screw this big brother thing, I want to be little again!”
As exhausted parents we want desperately for our oldest to act like the oldest. We want them to go to sleep without fuss, we want them to take a bath without complaining, and for heaven’s sake…. please put your own shoes on – PLEASE!
All this pressure to be big, at a time when they are wishing they were little, can lead to some behaviors in our kid that look like regression (potty accidents, whining, sleep disruption, “can’t do it“) and sometimes it can also look like mad, resentful, or sometimes aggressive behaviors towards the new sibling.
Now these feelings don’t just occur in families with a new baby. These resentful feelings in the oldest will rise to the surface occasionally (or frequently!) for years. It’s just that older kids generally know how to manage (or hide) their feelings better than toddlers.
An important way you can help is in your listening. When your oldest complains and laments about the youngest…how “annoying” they are, how they always “mess up everything“…instead of defending the youngest (Oh, she just wants to play with you!), try saying something like:
“Yeah, I hear ya – it’s really hard being a big brother isn’t it? You’re pretty darn good at it, but I know it stinks sometimes. How can I help make it easier?”
By reflecting her feelings and offering to help you’re not saying, “You’re right, your sister’s a HUGE pain in the butt!”You’re just letting her know that you can see her side of the coin as well. You’re there to support ALL of your kids to have their needs net.
And remember to let your oldest be little sometimes. Whether they’re 2 or 12, remember to nurture and cuddle and play with your oldest like you used to. Even if they think they’re “too cool” for that and they don’t need it…it’s usually not true. They just feel scared asking for it because we’ve asked them to be big and responsible so many times. They think that’s the kid we want, not the needy and emotional kid.
They want to be scooped up and nuzzled, and gazed at with the love and attentiveness we offered them when they were new to us.
Tell your oldest stories about his time inside your belly, his birth, and newborn days. If adopted or a step-child, tell her about the first time you held her in your arms or laid eyes on her. Tell your oldest about how you cried when you first saw her because she was so beautiful. Tell him how you use to stare at him for hours, your heart aching with a love you never new existed. Share that it really was a special time, when it was just her, before her sibling came, and that you’ll always remember how she changed your heart.
Lastly, we all need to remember that although you and I are certain that we’ve got enough love for each of our children, we can’t assume they are certain as well. We need to show our oldest, in words and actions, that it’s true.