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And Baby Makes Four

Monday, October 14, 2013
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Dear Miriam, 

My wife and I are expecting very soon, and the reality of becoming parents for a second time is starting to sink in. We've been trying to prepare our daughter for this big life change. We've read books about becoming a big sister, had her teachers at day care talk about it, visited friends with infants. We've even heard her say, "I'm going to kiss the baby." But, our almost-3-old is very much the center of attention. I don't think she's going to take too well to mommy and daddy and everyone else fussing over the new baby. We've heard that for second-time parents, the infants can seem like a breeze but the toddler turns into a nightmare. Anything we can do to make things a little easier for our little girl, and ourselves?

Signed,
And Baby Makes Four


Dear Four,

My daughter was six weeks shy of her second birthday (but not shy in any other way at all) when my son was born, so I am all too familiar with the questions and concerns you're articulating.  In the past six months, I've said about a hundred times that having a baby is easy compared to having a toddler. Having two kids is, like everyone says, harder than having one. But you already know what you're getting into, so in some regards, it's actually easier. You and your wife already know the diapering, waking up early, irrational crying, unbelievable joy routine. I have some suggestions for you. And I have an enormous pathos-capacity for everyone who's done something as outrageous as having a second baby. And though I'm only six months in, and though I'm writing this while my daughter screams inconsolably in the next room because I had the nerve to close her door at bedtime, I feel confident in saying that you and your little ones will be fine. 

Your daughter doesn't know anything about anything other than her 3-year-long cruise of undivided attention, so it's great that you're trying to prepare her. Big sister books are a huge help, and they'll continue to be really useful after the baby arrives. A clear set of routines and expectations for your daughter is essential to put into place now and to stick to once the baby comes so that her world stays as predictable as possible. Since she's in day care, her daytime routine isn't likely to change much, and you should embrace that consistency for her and for you. If she's a light sleeper, get a white noise machine and get her used to it now, so that she won't be awakened by crying. Show her as much attention and unconditional love as you can because she won't be the only one missing your special one-on-one time.

For the first days and weeks, line up consistent help. You'll need someone to stay with your daughter when you're at the hospital, but you'll also need friends to take her out and play with her when you and your wife are too sleep-deprived to see straight. Have a friend arrange for people to sign up to bring meals, and make sure you specify foods your daughter will enjoy. Don't be afraid to ask for help. You'll need it. In my experience, though, well-wishers are very in-tune with the potential for sibling jealousy, and my daughter was showered with an unreal amount of attention in those early days. If you think someone can really only pay attention to the baby, ask him or her to visit after your daughter's bedtime.

Once the newborn chaos settles down, you'll need ways to manage the day-to-day. Special routines for your daughter while the baby is eating, especially if your wife is breastfeeding, will be invaluable. I've heard of "nursing boxes" with special toys and snacks that are only accessible during those times. We had great success with watching Sesame Street during nursing sessions. You can find small ways for your daughter to be a helper, and that will make her feel like a big girl in all the best ways. She can sing to the baby, bring the baby toys, help with diaper changes and join you all on the floor for tummy time. 

Most importantly, you and your wife need to be prepared for things to be turned upside down for a while. I mean that figuratively, but also literally. Your lives will be messy and chaotic. You won't sleep much. You'll worry about neglecting your daughter, your baby, each other. (But don't worry about the baby! Second kids really do seem to be easier; my son goes to sleep easier, even now while teething, than my daughter ever has. Plus, second kids are notoriously more able to entertain themselves, which is  a great skill to instill, and one from which first children could benefit.) Watching your daughter make the baby laugh and the baby idolize your daughter from the moment he or she can make eye contact really will be a joyful experience. Plus, people tell me that when siblings get a little older and can play together, everything gets easier. I'm still waiting for that. But in the meantime, I'm here to commiserate.

Good luck, b'sha'ah tova, and be well,
Miriam

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