We recently welcomed another member to our family. Our little guy is 7 months old now and it’s hard to imagine life without him. He has a big, easy smile, and a (usually) sunny disposition. He loves his big sisters and brother. But one question that I’m always asked is, “How are the kids with the baby?”
I think that people are often worried that the older children feel displaced or resentful of the baby. When a new little one arrives there is always a period of adjustment, for everyone in the family. There are things that you can do to make it go smoothly for everyone.
You can even start before the little one is a sparkle in daddy’s eye. In my experience, children love babies. Our little guy often attracts a crowd of admirers wherever we go; one, two and three year olds wander over to bring toys, pat his head, or just point and stare at him. They are simply fascinated.
So let your kids hang out with babies, at the park, in the store, with friends – encourage this interest. Talk in favorable terms about babies, about how cute they are, how sweet or how silly. Yes, babies can be a lot of work, but I think it’s a mistake to talk negatively about babies to young children. Children model adult behavior and attitudes, so speaking in negative terms about babies can set your kids up to resent a baby sibling even before they arrive. And as Catholics, we need to encourage the celebration of the gift of new life, which comes naturally to children, but is quickly lost in this culture so often opposed to life.
Once you know you’re expecting, do as much as you can to make the baby a real part of the family. Talk to your child about the baby growing in mommy’s tummy. Pray together in thanksgiving for the baby and for a safe and healthy pregnancy. If you have an ultrasound, share the pictures with your child. If you know the baby’s sex, you might begin referring to the baby by name.
It is especially fun if you can let the bigger kids feel the baby moving when he’s kicking strongly. Sometimes, this made our little guy stop kicking, and other times he was kicking so much that everyone could see my stomach moving, which made everyone laugh and was beautiful for us to share as a family.
There are a number of great books that you can share with your child about what’s going on inside mommy’s tummy. One of our favorites is “Angel in the Waters” by Regina Doman. This is a sweet, baby’s-eye view of life in the womb, as the unborn baby explores and talks to his guardian angel about what he’s experiencing.
Two others are by Dr. William Sears and Martha Sears and Christie Kelly, “Baby on the Way” and “What a Baby Needs.” The first deals with both the baby’s development and what the mother experiences during pregnancy. The second talks about what kind of care a baby needs, how things might change in the home and how the new big brother or sister can help. Both are wonderfully positive and honest about what’s going on when a new baby joins the family, and include side notes and additional resources to help parents ease the transition. We still enjoy these books with the kids, even when we’re not expecting a baby.
Once you bring the newbie home, it’s good to let your children have time to bond with the baby. Help them to hold the baby, encourage (gentle) hugs and kisses. Find ways to have your child help with the baby’s care – even a toddler can be taught to fetch a diaper or burp cloth. Praise the child for being a good big brother or sister.
We also find that mommy taking time out from baby care to spend time with older siblings is important. This can be as simple as watching a favorite movie together, or going for a walk while daddy watches the little one. Kids need to know that mommy is still there for them too.
If siblings are reminded by attentive parents that they experienced the same attention when they were little, the siblings come to realize that they are each as special as a new baby in the eyes of their parents. And by modeling this type of loving behavior, mom and dad remind themselves about the depth of the Father’s love, for the Father loves each of us as His own special child.
Ultimately, teaching our children about welcoming new life into the world is catechesis in the glories of heaven. For when we are re-born, all of God’s children in heaven, countless named and unnamed saints, as well as our big brother Jesus, welcome us into the New Life. And we certainly want our children to be prepared for that family.