Before I gave birth to my second child, I worried a lot about my first. What if he felt abandoned when I left for the hospital, betrayed when I brought another child home? But Sam was thrilled to have a baby of his own to benefit from all of his four years of accumulated wisdom. "Always look both ways before you cross the street, Henry," he would caution, leaning over the bassinet. "Never try to take a bone away from a big dog, Henry."
Less than two years later the new baby was a big brother himself, and I was fretting again. But despite sometimes insisting that I put the baby down and hold him instead, Henry loved Joe with his whole 2-year-old heart. I would hear him over the monitor comforting Joe as soon as the baby fussed. "Is all right, Doe," he'd say. "I right here. I right here."
A new baby is bound to cause a certain amount of chaos in any family, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. My husband and I found that the transition from one child to two, and from two to three, was far more about delight than fear or brooding resentment. There are ways to help a child greet the idea of a new sibling -- and the reality -- with anticipation, excitement, and joy.
It's All in the Planning
No one is ever fully prepared for the cataclysmic changes that a new baby brings, but here are some things you can do beforehand to lessen the shock for an older sibling:
Celebrate. Tell your child how lucky the baby will be to have such a wonderful big brother or sister. Karenetha Easterwood, a Frisco, TX, mother of two, would place her toddler's hand on her belly and say, "Look, Kelly, this is your baby kicking. Your baby can't wait to meet you."
Demystify the doctor. If Mommy's heading off to the obstetrician all the time, a child may worry that something awful is happening to her. Carola Yeakle, of Boca Raton, FL, circumvented this fear by bringing her 4-year-old daughter along to several prenatal appointments. To include the child in the process, her thoughtful ob-gyn made Madeleine a chart too, which the nurse filled out every month with Madeleine's own blood pressure and weight. "It only took about 10 seconds," says Yeakle, "but it made Madeleine feel special and involved."
Meet a real baby. Seeing an actual newborn can go a long way toward clarifying the reality that a baby sibling won't be an instant playmate. Two months before my third child was due, I took my two older boys to visit a friend who'd just given birth to her own third child. "Wow," Sam kept saying, "I forgot how squinched up babies are!" Henry just took off the baby's socks and looked in awe at his tiny red baby toes.
If there's no newborn handy, consider enrolling your child in a sibling-preparation course at the hospital where you'll be delivering. These classes typically include a tour of the birthing center and nursery. If your hospital doesn't offer a program, ask whether you can give your child a tour yourself.