Just the other day, I was sitting at the table, watching my toddler and my baby interact. They’ve started to have “conversations” over meals, and it’s absolutely hysterical. I’ve loved seeing how their relationship has developed as they get a little older… but it wasn’t (and sure isn’t) always like this.
When I first learned I’d be expecting baby #2, I wasn’t stressed about how I’d take care of him. I’d already done it with Sage so – between her and my professional postpartum training – I was pretty well-versed in the basics.
Instead, I was more focused on how to stay connected with my first child once baby #2 showed up. Second-time (or more) moms tend to neglect this, but doing a little pre-newborn prep on how to bond with your existing kiddo can make a world of difference.
When I’m working with moms in this situation, there are five things I always offer:
1. Commit to consistent 1-on-1 quality time with your child, uninterrupted and with your undivided attention. This doesn’t have to be long – just make sure it happens regularly and you are 100% devoted to her (e.g., no cell phone checks). This might look like eating a meal together, or bonding over bath time.
2. Listen to all. the. feelings – whether they’re happy, confused, sad, or raging mad. Listen to their needs – even if it’s a request to be held, changed, or otherwise “baby’d” again.
Bonus Tip 1: Listen to these things with your ears and your eyes, as feelings often manifest nonverbally.
Bonus Tip 2: Listen without logic. Without offering any rational explanation. No matter what you say, I promise you, your toddler isn’t gonna’ stop mid-meltdown, hang on every word, and say “You know Mom? You’re SO right. This emotion explosion just doesn’t make any sense. I’m good now. Thanks!”
3. Try “shoulder-to-shoulder” activities. This is something I rely on pretty heavily with my bonus kids (and yep, they’re teenagers not toddlers – and still, it’s awesome). It’s just a way of bonding without the pressure of “Okay, we need to bond right now!” You just hang out near each other without having to look into your kids eyes and make conversation. You can watch TV together, read books, play video (ahem, educational iPad) games, draw, create a Playdoh castle… the activity doesn’t matter. The physical proximity does.
4. Be kind. A new sibling will change your first baby’s entire existence. Life as they know it is different now, nearly overnight. It’s a lot to take in when you’re a tiny person who’s only been earthside for a few years. Acknowledge, understand and, whenever possible, make the kind, loving choice about how you respond.
5. Above all, remember, (s)he has his own path. You can try to plan all you want. You can try to control the outcome. But you can’t determine every detail after your new baby comes. What you can do, of course, is create a loving, safe container for your children, especially your first baby. You can offer the stability of a parent (or two), and perhaps more people who love her. You can remember that this is her home, emotionally and physically, and it needs stable walls that don’t shake when the storm winds blow. (And if they do rattle a bit, the house is still standing, the damage control comes in to repair the leaks, and the foundation is stronger for next time).
If you’re expecting Baby #2 (or #3, or even more), I hope this helps you “prepare” a bit for your transition. And if you aren’t expecting yet (or ever again!), remember that all of these things are relationship essentials for everyone.
We forget that our parenting path is based on a relationship between ourselves and our children – and many of the same principles can help fortify the other bonds we want to nurture.