—By Little + Free's creator, Tori Rotter
While I was pregnant with my second daughter, many people asked me how my oldest felt about the prospect of having a sibling. Without hesitation, I always replied, "she absolutely can't wait to be a sister!" These words were true enough. She had been asking for a sibling for a long while (truth be told, we had planned to give her one sooner), and she was pumped. Because of my certainty, some of my friends and family members who had already made the leap to multiples offered advice and words of wisdom regarding the potential hardships, particularly regarding jealousy.
I'm typically very realistic and levelheaded, but for some reason, I felt my situation was different. My daughter was going to be nearly four when her sister was born, and she's a very bright child. So, I sincerely felt like she understood what having a sibling meant; I just knew it.
As it turns out, she did not. Her excitement when we brought her sister home lasted about one hour. Being the aforementioned bright child that she is, she quickly realized that the baby demanded a lot of attention. And the people who had to give the baby said attention were the same people who ordinarily gave her attention. Upon making this realization, she wasted no time throwing out the words every parent hopes their first will never say: "you don't love me anymore; you only love the baby." At the moment, all I could think was, "I thought we had more time." We had JUST brought the baby home. How were we already experiencing jealousy? I was scrambling to remember everyone's advice; make special time for her, have her help with the baby… but that felt impossible. I was already physically and mentally spent. Having a newborn is very hard on its own; doing it while trying to give 10x the average amount of attention to another child induces a different level of exhaustion and burnout.
My husband and I tried to divide and conquer; I had him spend more time with her while I focused on the baby. We had my parents and other visitors give our older daughter most of the attention to help fill the void, but the tension persisted. I started to sincerely worry that the jealousy would not subside and that my oldest would feel genuinely slighted forever. Part of this was, of course, my sleep deprivation and general increase of emotions, but a small part of my rational self was concerned that I couldn't give my oldest the attention she needed. On top of that, it was clear that the tiny, helpless baby that came home from the hospital was not the fun playmate my daughter expected from a sister. Explaining that this would take time was perhaps the hardest because it was almost as if she had been lied to about what having a sibling would be.
I wish my following statement could be about some incredible trick I discovered to change all this. That one piece of advice was put to use, and it was invaluable. But unfortunately, that is not the case. The only thing that offered any relief from this situation was time. It took time for my oldest to adjust to sharing her parents, and it took the baby time to develop and engage. But what I can offer, as a positive note, is that everything changed the first time my older daughter made the baby laugh. Something switched in her head, and she suddenly saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Making her laugh has become her favorite thing, and she is very good at it. And as the tension eased between them, I felt parts of my tension melt away. Watching them joyfully interact is one of my favorite things and a true stress reliever.
I've never been surer that giving my daughter a sibling was the absolute best thing for her—which brings me great peace.
Since the baby was born, people's questions have shifted, as has my perspective. And now I'm able to provide a little wisdom of my own. I've gotten a lot of questions from friends that are thinking about adding another little one, primarily "what's it like, the transition from one to two?" While no two situations are the same, from my experience, I can say these few things to anyone wondering the same:
- The life-altering effect of having a second baby seemed much less intense for me. You are already in the habit of arranging childcare, feeding hungry mouths, and planning to pack a million things every time you leave the house. I found those things tough to get used to the first time, and they seemed so effortless the second time around.
- The newborn stage is (if you can believe it) harder. With your first baby, your attention and energy are on them. The advice to "sleep when the baby sleeps" is pretty silly, as this is not usually possible, but you can do SOMETHING when the baby sleeps. It could be sleep, chores, or having a cup of coffee in peace. Those moments, though fleeting, are essential to your sanity. With two, those brief moments are non-existent. Not only do you need to utilize any off-baby hours to give attention to your other, but you also find yourself trying to balance many more tasks while the baby is awake. It's no longer just eat, sleep, play, repeat. As I mentioned, it's a different level of exhaustion and burnout.
- After the newborn phase (12 weeks or so), things fall into place. Life with more than one kid starts to feel like the norm, and everything seems to have just adjusted. It's like there was always more than one.
- All those pieces of advice people give you about helping the older sibling through the transition are a lot easier to use once you're out of the newborn phase. Once life gets a little less hectic, people start getting a little more sleep, and the baby becomes more engaging—having your older kid help is essential. Making special time with them is crucial (and now much more possible). And one that I came up with on my own: keep reminding your oldest how much the baby loves them, looks up to them and feels like they are their best friend. My daughter absolutely adores the baby now (7.5 months in) and constantly mentions how excited she is to grow up with a sister.
Life with two is far from easy (and for those that have more, I honestly applaud you, you're incredible), but we've certainly caught our stride, and we're enjoying life as a family of four. I can't help but think back on the beginning of my IVF journey when I yearned for this situation. I'm feeling more grateful than I could even explain. The road to becoming a parent, building a family, and maintaining your sanity through everything in between is a crazy ride, but "worth it" is an understatement.