When my son was born I cried.
The moment he arrived I loved him the way I loved his sister when I first held her nearly 4 years earlier.
My daughter did remarkably well with the birth of her brother. She adored him. She held him and kissed him endlessly and tucked her stuffed animals in with him.
I had read ‘Siblings Without Rivalry‘ and ‘Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings‘ before he arrived so I felt like I was prepared. I had talked to other gentle parents about their experiences and everyone told me it was harder with two (or three, or four) but oh-so worth it.
But you have to live it to know it.
Those first few weeks of his life were filled with my tears. Many of the tears were happy because I loved him so much but many of them were filled with sadness. I was grieving the loss of my relationship with my daughter and I really struggled. I had always been her everything. Her safe place, her partner-in-crime, her home base, her first love.
And now suddenly I just wasn’t available in the same way much of the time. It was the single most difficult part of having a second child: the transformation of the relationship with my first.
We did everything we could to make it easier on her. My husband took her out and spent time with her while I was busy with the baby. He took the baby when he could so I could be with her. We tried to keep her routine and we validated all of her feelings. She was holding herself together but I could see in her eyes that she missed me, and I missed her deeply and completely.
Then in the third week she starting waking in the night and screaming. She was inconsolable, and she would want the impossible. Things like wanting the insides of her eyes to be dry while the tears were pouring out of her. Her little body was full of so much emotion and it seeped out of her in the quiet darkness of night and shook our family bed to its core. I cried with her more than once.
Then in the fourth week when it was just me home with the kids, the inevitable happened. My daughter broke down and the baby was crying about something else at the same time.
They both NEEDED me. ALL of me. And it was so hard. So hard to not be able to be everything to both of them in the exact same moment.
They both sat in my lap and cried and I held them and wondered what I was going to do.
My daughter was crying so hard. She looked at me with tears streaming down her face and said
“Mama, you need to hold me with BOTH arms!”
And so I did.
I put the baby down and held her. I just held her as close as I could for as long as I could stand having the baby cry while lying in my legs. I think it was all of 90 seconds.
My daughter needed me more. In that moment, she needed me the most.
That’s when I realized that it was ok. Sometimes the baby would need me more and sometimes my eldest would need me the most.
I am only seven short months into my journey with siblings and I have so much to learn and so much to experience still, but here are the few things that I have figured out so far:
1. I spend a lot of time on the floor. The baby is in my arms almost all the time but we are at the same level as my 4 year old. We are a team.
2. If I put the baby down to help my daughter with something and he starts to need me, I speak to him in the same way I speak to her. ‘I’ll be right with you, I’m just helping your sister get her shoes on’.
3. I tried implementing ‘special time‘ with my daughter when the baby was sleeping but it didn’t sit right so I stopped. Having time alone together be special BECAUSE her brother was not with us didn’t feel like the right approach. Instead I just make the most of organically occurring alone time. If the baby is asleep or with Dad then I reconnect with my daughter by reading with her or playing or doing a project that might be difficult when the baby is awake.
4. I try to go easy on myself. Some days are hard. When those days happen I just feel good if the kids are fed. We try to go outside. We build a fort and hang out in it. We stay cozy.
5. I talk to my daughter a lot about what she was like as a baby. We look at pictures. I tell her stories.
6. I try to give them both what they need from me when they need it, but in those moments where one of them needs me more I let that be ok.
I give them both arms.
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