For ten years, my eldest child had his dad and I to himself. We were past the stage of doing everything for him and life was pretty easy. We rode bikes at the weekend and could afford trips abroad!
All that changed three years ago. Now he has to share us with a very demanding new family member. (Actually, two.) It hasn’t been easy adjusting to two little ones in the family and we’ve had to work at it.
Sometimes, we have to remember that our eldest is still a kid too and needs to do kid stuff – not just help out with the little ones.
If you’ve welcomed a new baby but are worried that the older sibling is feeling left out – you can make it better.
There will probably be some cross words and some tears in the first few months but you can get through it if you are prepared and open with your child about the changes and the feelings they evoke.
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How to avoid sibling jealousy
With a baby in the house, you can find yourself so tired and so flat-out busy that your self-sufficient tween might start to feel ignored. Luckily, I found that once you start to focus on what your older child needs, you spot opportunities to help them naturally.
As a bonus, helping your older child to have a more positive attitude to their new situation may well have the knock on effect of improving other aspects of your family life too.
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Let your older child be a child
Obvious, right? We all do things differently but there’s a limit to what older siblings should be expected to do. You don’t want your eldest to resent their brother or sister or feel like the third parent in the house. They are at a different stage but still children too and that’s how they should be treated.
You will have your own rules but I don’t expect my son to change his siblings or put them to bed – we are their parents and that’s our job. I still want him to play, do his homework and spend time out with friends – just basically be a kid.
The family can feel fragmented when you are dealing with the needs of a new baby. Holding on to fixed daily events can help so try to eat meals together as a family. Switch the TV off too! This will give you time to talk and catch up and stay in touch with what’s important in everyone’s lives.
Sitting down to dinner can be hard in the first months of the new baby’s life unless the baby is sleeping or happens to be very placid (not mine!). Using the baby swing or car seat might help but we found it got much easier once our little ones could join us at the table.
Once the baby is old enough to sit in a highchair they can play with toys even if they are not eating food yet. We found they were much happier at the table once they reached that stage and we could begin to enjoy our family time again.
Do what you’ve always done
Keep doing stuff you’ve always done even if it’s hard. There’s no doubt that it’s easier to stay at home but connecting over activities you enjoy will bring you and your child closer. We used to love biking together and that’s much harder to manage now with a baby who’s too young for a bike seat.
The first time I hopped on my bike after having the baby, my boy beside me, I felt like me again! I love my new baby-filled life but the feeling of the breeze in our faces was amazing. It’s good to be reminded of what you enjoyed before so you can bring elements of that into now.
Likewise, going on a day trip used to be so easy but now you have to start packing the day before yesterday. Look on it as building the memories your child will take with them. Full car for two nights away? Depressing but necessary.
Spend easy time together
You’re busy so don’t do things just because you think you should. I always intend to play board games once the baby is asleep but honestly I’m usually too tired. At times like that I think the best thing to do is watch a TV programme that we both enjoy and chat while we watch.
Quality time with the older one after the baby is in bed is really important. It can be hard to manage if your child would rather reconnect with a piece of technology after a busy day at school. Pick your battles. Sometimes you won’t mind just being alone. Now, as ever, there’s a balance to be found.
Look for ways to have fun all together as a family
What you used to do as a family before the baby may not be what you do now. If your eldest has a football match, you might want to attend – and he probably wants you there. On the other hand, if that means strapping an active baby into a car seat and then a sling for an extended period, you might choose to stay at home.
Missing out on whole family activities could add to sibling resentment so try to be together when you can. It’s not always easy to find activities that are suitable for babies and older children but it can be done. The beach and the park could work for everyone and some soft play centres will let quite big kids play. If you can find a way to enjoy yourselves all together it will make a difference.
Let people help you
Grandparents will probably be keen to help out where they can so get them involved. They probably want to look after the baby and in this case that’s perfect. If grandma is visiting, you and the older child can head out biking, skating or whatever other non-baby-friendly activity you enjoy.
Equal time with each parent
If you are breastfeeding, you may find you are the one with the baby most of the time while dad taxis the older one to activities. It’s not easy, but if you can share it more equally then each parent will get to spend a more even amount of time with each child, which is good for everybody.
In addition, if you stay home, you may lose touch with your eldest child’s progress in their chosen activities. Making the effort to mix it up will help to redress this while also affording dad baby bonding time.
Have clear expectation of chores
Be clear about what you expect from your older child in terms of chores and helping with the baby but don’t go overboard.
You’re probably much busier yourself now that you have the little one to look after. If that’s the case you may start asking your older child to take on greater responsibility around the house without realising it. I’m all in favour of kids helping out at home – and doing more as they get older – but what you ask for must be fair.
If your child suddenly finds themselves doing far more than before, that could also be a cause of resentment. Have a discussion as a family and decide what your child should be responsible for and stick to it.
Be grateful to your child when they help you
Notice all the stuff that your older child is doing to help you with the baby and be grateful for it. It might be more than you realise. Having a baby in the house means that your time will probably be taken up more than ever before.
If they’re keeping an eye on the baby while you go to shower or while you start the dinner, that’s a big deal. Their friends don’t have to do that – unless they also have baby siblings, of course. Let them know that you recognise what they’re doing and appreciate it.
Give your child ‘time off’
Living with a baby is not the most relaxing experience for anyone! Your older child probably needs a bit of independence and some time out from baby stuff. Make sure they’re not constantly helping to look after the baby and let them have their own life.
It’s so great to have the help of an older sibling in the house but as their parent you need to make sure they are getting the social interaction they need. Whatever has been the norm shouldn’t stop now.
Send them out to the park or to ride their bike. Let them go for sleepovers or have sleepovers at home to give them more time with their peer group. It will all help to keep your child grounded in their own stage of life and not pseudo parenting.
Check in daily
Make time to talk to your child about what’s going on with them.
You may find that you get lost in all the minutia of baby life and 24 hour feeding. If your older child is quite independent you may not see much of them so be sure to ask about school and how they’re doing.
To avoid resentment, they need to know that you are just as interested in them as you are in the baby. Dinnertimes, evenings once the baby is asleep and times when you’re driving them to sports practice are great opportunities to catch up.
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