As I write these posts each week about how kids adjust to becoming big siblings, I keep worrying that I am going to really freak someone out. Parenthood is inherently filled with anxiety about doing the “right thing” (whatever that is) and not giving our kids too much to talk about with their therapists. I definitely don’t want to add to expectant parents’ anxiety about what things will be like when baby #2 arrives. The reason I wanted to do this series in the first place was so that parents could feel empowered by knowing what to expect and ways they could help their kids adjust, based on the research.
So, for anyone feeling a bit overwhelmed, I’d like to share this quote:
“(M)others have commented that the firstborns’ behaviors were often not as problematic as they had expected…in most cases, the children’s behaviors were actually more positive than they had expected.”
Deep breathe. Phew. That’s a quote from Dr. Volling’s article, by the way – the one I’ve been using as a basis for this series. Another thing to consider: Very few studies compared kids who became big siblings to those who stayed onlies, which means that it is very possible onlies show the same sort of changes as kids who become big sibs. Maybe some of the changes have more to do with kids getting older and the inevitability of change than they do with a new addition to the family.
I share all that because today’s point relates to one of the biggest worries that moms have when adding to their family: Will having another baby affect this cherished relationship I have with my child? And, the research says: Yes, it probably will, at least temporarily. But no worries! Please read on!
Point 4: If you’re a momma, adding to your family will most likely change your relationship with your firstborn.
One of the most consistent research findings is that, at least in the short term, kids are less affectionate and less responsive to their moms after baby arrives, and moms tend to show less warmth and dole out more discipline. Moms may spend less time engaged in activities with their firstborn and spend more time scolding, resulting in more mother-child conflict.
There can be lots of reasons for this. The one that jumps to my mind is that mom is exhausted, caring for a newborn takes a lot of her attention, and kiddo #1 might be engaging in challenging new behaviors after baby arrives. I’m sure this happened in our family. Especially when Bee was very young, I couldn’t give Zippy the attention I would have liked or that he wanted. Sometimes I was grumpy from being up in the middle of the night with his brother or trying to juggle too many demands on my time, and my patience was nonexistent. These things improved and my love for Zippy has never changed. But what did change, forever, is that my world and my attention now revolve around two amazing little boys instead of one.
And (here is where I am interjecting my own spin on things), this doesn’t mean your bond with your firstborn is going to be torn to shreds or that you can’t continue to have a great relationship with him. It is just going to change a bit. It’s something moms and kids have been going through since the dawn of time and it is okay. It doesn’t mean you love your first child any less or vice versa.
A few thoughts on dealing with this:
- Be aware. Just knowing these relationship shifts are happening can be a reminder to keep doling out lots of hugs and try to keep frustrations in check.
- Set aside time each day to have some 1:1 with your older child. A lot of moms continue putting their older child to bed, to ensure they have time alone together. Or you could ask your spouse to get the baby ready for bed while you spend a half-hour playing alone with your big kid. There are lots of ways to build some special time into the day and it can make a world of difference.
- If your oldest starts displaying challenging or frustrating behaviors, take a step back and try to come up with a way to handle it using praise and encouragement. It is really easy to start falling into a negative cycle, but this will leave everyone – including your firstborn – feeling like crap. We definitely ran into this and I was really concerned that on top of having less of my attention, Zippy was now getting more negative attention. I worried he would feel unimportant or displaced as a result. So we used a reward chart, as I mentioned in another post, as a way to turn things around. That’s not to say there weren’t still moments of frustration or conflict – we have plenty of those – but we tried not to let Bee’s arrival coincide with Zippy feeling like he was suddenly “the bad
- Stay away from physical discipline, like spanking. If your child starts acting up, it can be tempting to try tougher discipline tactics. But one study found that when moms started using more physical discipline after the baby was born, their older kids had more behavior issues.
- It’s easy to start expecting more out of our big kids because it will ease the demands on us as parents, but this can be really stressful for the child. As best you can, try to keep providing the same amount of support that you always have. Ease him into new expectations gradually and gently.
Studies have only looked at changes in mother-child relationship during the first couple of months after the baby is born, so who is to say whether those changes last? A bump in the road may be likely as everyone adapts to being a bigger family, but things can get back on track as everyone settles in. I truly believe that if you do your best to stay positive and keep providing your oldest with plenty of TLC, chances are good that he’ll make a smooth transition.
Are you worried about your relationship with your oldest changing? Or, if you have more than one, did you notice any changes in your relationship with your first?