How Does Having Another Child Affect Your Family?
Bringing another bundle of joy into your existing family can be a wonderful thing. If you can afford it, a “pigeon pair” with two little ones, or even more, can colour your life, give you purpose, and bring you years of deep family connection. Whether you’re a working mom (or dad) or one who stays at home to raise the kids (or something in between), it’s important to know how a new baby brother or sister might affect the confidence of older siblings, and the existing relationship you have with them.
Here are some guidelines:
Communication is key
No matter how small your children are, it’s important to play open cards with them, to ensure that they feel completely ‘in the loop.’ Use age-related and appropriate language to let them know what is happening. This can either be in casual conversation, or you can have a family sit-down to discuss.
What is most important is that the older child must not feel that this means their position is suddenly going to be usurped. “You’re going to have a little brother or sister” is a good and simple way to break the ice. Depending on how you have raised your children, “The stork is bringing mommy another baby” is a possible way of breaking the news, or even telling them, “Soon, you are going to have a little friend to play with, because mommy is pregnant” may get the message across.
Include them as much as possible
Make them very much a part of the joy – and the pain! From helping mom to get her favourite jar of pickles and ice-cream, to explaining the nausea and the morning sickness (“Mom is feeling a little under the weather today as the new baby makes changes to her body”), be sure to give them an anchor to guide them through. They need to feel it is as much their journey as yours.
Take them shopping for new baby clothes, wallpaper, a pram, a crib, and all the usual accoutrements. Let them help you pick out colours, styles and specific tastes, and discuss the future. “When your little baby brother comes, I need you to be a big sister to him. You are the eldest and so therefore you can help show him the ropes of this wonderful journey we call life.”
Let your older children hold and touch the baby (with your arms around them for support, so that the baby doesn’t accidentally fall). Encourage them to communicate with the new loved one.
Also, give them a few responsibilities woven into their household chores, that now need to include baby. These can include unfolding a new nappy, getting baby’s clothing out of the cupboard, throwing dirty clothes into the hamper, and clearing baby’s dishes away.
Look out for behaviour changes, and address them with love
Once the new child is on the scene, look out for specific behaviour swings. Does the older child start to withdraw? Are there temper tantrums, a refusal to eat, crying, pleas for attention? Reassure your older children that your capacity to love is infinite, and there is more than enough to spare. Specifically have the conversation where you say, “I love you all so much, I would do anything for all of you. You are my life.”
Where the behaviour begins to become challenging, seek out the help of a professional immediately. Make sure that the newborn cannot be harmed by your older children.
Make them feel special with extra “you & me” time
The most important gift you can give your children, so the old adage goes, is time. Specifically let them know by saying, “Okay, daddy is going to look after the little one for us. I want to spend some time with you, just you and me, so that we can chat about you and how you’re doing. I want to hear all about your hopes and dreams, and I want us to be as close as we ever were – even closer!”
Make their birthdays extra special, and even if your budget is small, give them (or make them) very special gifts for occasions. Gifting need not be expensive. If you know your child, you’ll understand what they love. What they need most is to know that you still care deeply for them.
Weather the challenge of step parenting
South Africa has a very low divorce rate by comparison to the rest of the world, with an overall rate of 0.4 divorces per 1,000 people. Russia has the world’s highest divorce rate, with 4.8 divorces per 1,000 people (more than ten times the South African statistic). However, some 55% of people getting divorced in SA have minor children, so the possibility of a second marriage with new children is a strong one.
Especially if you’re the mother of a new child, older children from a previous relationship may feel particularly vulnerable that they are no longer relevant and needed. Address these concerns immediately. And if you are the stepparent, remember it’s important to be the adult in the relationship. You will have to make most of the effort. Don’t try to replace their real parent (assuming s/he is still in the picture); rather focus on being a friend.
Consult a professional
Have a chat with your local child psychologist or even a counsellor about steering through these challenging waters. Remember, help is always available.
For more information please contact:
Dr HC Hari, Paediatrician MBBCH (Wits), FC Paed (SA), DCH
Daxina Private Hospital +27 (0) 64 311 4425 or +27 (0) 87 087 8449
Ahmed Kathrada Private Hospital +27 (0) 11 852 5254