I’ve always wanted a big family, so why was it as Bodhi’s due date neared I got more and more anxiety about losing our family of three? I was literally in tears on our way to the hospital, crushed with the guilt that we were going to turn Emerson’s world upside down. I was flushed with questions: ‘did we prepare her enough,’ ‘was she going to love her brother,’ and ‘was she going to resent me now?’ Losing my only child was hard, but gaining a son and second child far outweighed that guilt. Reflecting back on it all now, I know we did the best we could preparing Emerson for her baby brother. I know there will still be adjustments and challenges ahead, but I feel like we’ve weathered the worst of the storm and are well on our way to becoming an adjusted family of four.
So, what did we do to prepare Emerson for the arrival of a sibling? Well, let me start by saying I am no expert and there are really no set rules. It really is up to you, what works for your family, probably depends on the age of your first born when their sibling arrives, and the overall temperament of your child. But below is a list of steps we took to prepare Emerson and introduce her to her new sibling for the first time.
Talk and talk often.
I believe Emerson was too young to fully grasp or comprehend what it truly meant to have a baby brother, but we decided to talk to her about it anyway. As soon as we found out the sex of baby number two, we introduced the concept of a baby brother and spoke to her about him every day. Hoping all this conversation would prepare her for a new sibling we talked and talked about him often. What it meant for her, what life might be like, what baby brother would need. You name it we talked about it with her.
Give them a role.
As Bodhi’s due date grew near I looked for ways to get Emerson involved in my prep. I had her help me fold clothes (which resulted in her putting them on her baby dolls but hey she was included!), had her help me put diapers away, organize his toys and setup his room. Really, nothing of baby brothers was off limits to her and she flourished being able to have a role and help mommy out.
A girlfriend of mine recommended some books that she introduced to her son before her daughter arrived. We started reading these books at bedtime when I was about 7 months pregnant. It was a great way to engage her, have her exposed to her role and what her new world might look like once her sibling arrived. These were my favorite:
We were fortunate that Bodhi arrived in January and Nate had the option of lots of time off during the holidays. This afforded him almost two weeks of one-on-one time with Emerson. Emerson was a bit of a Mommy’s girl before, probably due to the fact that I worked from home and she generally was just around me more. Once the new baby arrives their needs are more urgent than your toddler’s and will need more of your attention. I had to be more attentive to Bodhi and Nate stepped in to be Emerson’s primary caretaker. He was in charge of pretty much everything in terms of her routine and took her out of the house during the day whether to the park, playdates, music class, or just to the store. Allowing them to get lots of daddy/daughter time in prior to Bodhi’s arrival allowed for this not to be such a shock for Emerson. She was better adjusted once the time came to share Mom and was more willing and eager to spend time with her Dad.
Get a gift from you baby.
We decided that once Emerson met her new brother for the first time we would have a gift on hand for her, from him. She had been eyeing this stuffed elephant at the grocery store so what better way to get brother on her good side than giving her that elephant, from him!
Have your first-born visit you first.
I had read about this approach on a baby blog prior to giving birth. It recommends having your toddler meet you at the hospital with just you in the room first. Once they saw where Mom was, and that she was okay, then it was okay to bring the baby into the room. It made sense to me. I had been away from Emerson for a day and half, I am sure she wanted to give me a big hug and cuddle for a bit. That would have been pretty hard if I already had this new baby in my arms. This really worked for us. I got 10 minutes with just Emerson, allowed her to explore my hospital room, got cozy on the bed with her when Nate wheeled baby brother back in. After we introduce the two of them we offered her the gift I spoke about above.
Again, this is not a play-by-play of rules. Rather, it is some of the steps we took to help prepare Emerson for the arrival of Bodhi. In general, my recommendation is to talk about it as much as you can before. In my experience this was key to helping prepare Emerson as much as we could for her big sister duties!