elevating child care

New Baby – Helping Our ‘Good’ Kids Express Hard Feelings

It happens surprisingly often. Parents requesting my advice give an extensive, detailed account of the difficulties they are having with their child, and then just as they are wrapping up, they’ll casually slip in a bombshell: “There’s been a recent new addition to the family”.  Or they’ll mention parenthetically that they’re delivering in a few weeks. Aha! That explains a lot. In fact, just about everything.

Becoming a new parent can be overwhelming. A second child can be doubly overwhelming. It means contending with our own feelings and those of our older child who — no matter how much he or she wanted and adores the baby — experiences the new family dynamic as a loss of the life she had before and a threat to her secure place in the family and in her parent’s hearts.

Sometimes our children’s pain and fear will be easy to notice and acknowledge, because they are whiny, fragile, melting down or waving big red flags at us through their limit-pushing behavior. But the older the child, the more self-control he or she has usually developed, which makes it more likely emotions will be hidden under the radar.

I explored these issues and offered suggestions in my post Helping Kids Adjust to Life With the New Baby (and shared personal experiences with new baby difficulties in The Easily Forgotten Gift). As typically happens on this site, several of the responses in the comment section of the “Helping Kids” post were more enlightening than the post itself.

One particularly insightful mom, Pam, shared a profound experience she’d had in reference to a suggestion I made to casually bring up the subject of negative feelings about the new baby with the older sibling as often as possible: “It is my view that the children who seem more accepting and tolerant of this huge life change need even more encouragement to express negative feelings than those who overtly struggle. No matter how positive any change is there are also elements of fear and loss. For all of us.  If these feelings aren’t addressed and expressed, they are internalized. You may have a well-behaved child, but chances are good she’s suffering inside.”

Pam: My son was born in November. My older child is six and adapted to her new role as big sister beautifully. I was even jealous because she seemed to connect with this little baby in a way that I didn’t feel I did, and I hadn’t expected she could. She was thrilled to be a big sister. Finally!

In January, she started complaining about sore throats. Usually they’d pass, and we chalked them up to allergies or just a flukey feeling.

One day, driving home from school, she started complaining about her throat again. We started talking about her throat, trying to get the root of this problem. She said to me, “Sometimes I feel like crying, but I don’t know why and I don’t want to.” My amazing child had been fighting this lump in her throat, overwhelmed with unarticulated feelings of loss and change.

Well I knew that feeling well! We’d tried for years to have this new baby. I was flooded with feelings of gratitude and joy that our efforts (IVF and surrogacy) had paid off, but I mourned for our old life of “just the three of us.” I shared my own feelings with her, and I continue to still. We redoubled our efforts to reassure her of our love and her importance in our family. It was a powerful and educational experience for me.

 

 

(Huge thanks to Pam for sharing your story and tender photo!)

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7 Responses to “New Baby – Helping Our ‘Good’ Kids Express Hard Feelings”

  1. avatar lindsay says:

    This is a wonderful story to hear. It feels dangerous to express any feeling about a new baby other than joy–maybe exhaustion, but to admit that you ever mourn for a previous time? And yet, who wouldn’t? As I think about having a second baby, part of me wonders if I’m not about to ruin the lovely thing my partner and our child and I have, even though I want another child quite badly. What a courageous gift to share those feelings in an age-appropriate way with your child–to exorcise the shame in having a perfectly understandable ambivalence about an intense experience.

  2. avatar Monna says:

    Thank you for sharing this. We had a new baby last year and I think I leaned a little too heavily on “big sis” (she was six) to help with this and that (like I did at her age).

    I’ve really reined that in this year but I can tell it still weighs on her – as she complains about stomach pain when she is feeling anxious or has to go to bed and doesn’t get to hang with me as much at night.

    I’m learning to create that routine you talk about so that she and I can create times she can depend on to be with me. It’s hard when there are three!

    Thanks for all you do, Janet. Seriously. Reading this blog has changed.my.life. I would even go so far as to say it’s saved my parenting experience.

  3. avatar Rick Ackerly says:

    Another excellent essay touching on the central issue facing humans–our imperfection. Our executive self tries to do the right thing and “keep it together.” That’s good and necessary but can blind us to the vast reservoir of burbling magma in our hidden self. I love that the sore throat was the veiled cover for a lump in the throat. Leading a joyful life requires listening for and speaking the language of the hidden self.
    Funny that my post for August 22 was on this very subject from the point of view of the mother of a 12-year-old:
    http://geniusinchildren.org/2013/08/22/the-power-of-human-imperfection-a-good-use-of-the-first-day-of-school/
    Thank you, Janet. You always have your eye on a deeper issue.

  4. avatar Tristian says:

    I have a 17 month old and an almost 3 month old. My 17 month old has been having tantrums a lot lately and I’ve chalked it up to his age. Is is possible that at this young of an age he can be affected the same as these older kids? He seems to love “his baby” and we’re working on being gentle, although he’s not so good at it yet. But I don’t think he is purposfully rough.

  5. avatar haniye says:

    a few days ago, I was giving my 6 month old a bath that I heard my 6 year old son burst into tears ! when I came out of the bathroom, my husband told me that our son just started crying with no specific reason !
    I went to talk to him and between sobs he told me that the only reason for his crying was that he was bored! He had never cried out of boredom before!
    Now, after reading this great post, I think I know what was the main reason for his tears.
    thank you for helping me understand my kid better

  6. avatar Julie says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I am currently 36wks pregnant with my second bub and my biggest worry to date is how much I am about to change my 2.5yr old daughters life. She is very understanding and excited, but I know I am about to turn her world upside down and am feeling very guilty about it.
    Your articles on the topic are giving me a lot of insight into what it will be like for her and what I can do to help the situation.
    Thanks again!

  7. avatar Christa says:

    I’ve found it helpful when my daughter expresses her frustration with her younger brother to share my own experiences having younger siblings. One day she said “Little brothers are so annoying!” and instead of getting on her case I just said, “Yep, they sure can be sometimes” and told her some stories of things her uncles did back in the day. I think sometimes it’s too easy to forget how much of an upheaval a new baby is for little ones!

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