From the millisecond first-time parents announce they’re pregnant or adopting, they’re flooded with advice, from what to buy to how to soak up every exhausting moment. But after you’ve done the whole newborn thing once, friends, coworkers and family members tend to pipe down ― which can be both a blessing and a curse. Sure, great aunt Ruth is no longer texting antiquated baby-rearing tips, but it can also feel like you’re on your own.
Of course, experienced parents have plenty of second (and third, fourth, etc.) kid-related concerns. For many, the big worry is not having enough time for the kid ― or kids ― they already have.
“More than anything…I was scared the new baby would take away from my relationship with [my eldest],” blogger Jordan Reid wrote in a 2015 post about welcoming her second. On parenting forums, moms say they feel guilty about wanting a second child, for fear their first will feel unloved. Or once the second baby enters the picture, they feel they’re “totally neglecting” their first.
Feeling that worry? Here are four things to remember in those early days as an expanded family:
1. Know that what you’re feeling is totally common ― and kind of right.
You’re not crazy, and you’re not alone. A lot of other moms and dads are concerned about not having enough time for their first kid or kids when their newest addition arrives. And yes, it’s a rational fear.
“The practical reality is that parents will, by necessity, be a little bit less responsive to kid number one,” said Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a Princeton, New Jersey-based clinical psychologist and author of Raising Emotionally And Socially Healthy Kids.
“That usually doesn’t feel so good on either side,” she added. Simply understanding that fact ahead of time can help parents be kind with themselves as they’re going through the transition so concern doesn’t morph into unnecessary guilt.
2. Focus on how responsive you are to your kids, not how many minutes you give them.
Yes, there will be more demands on your time now. And yes, your older children will simply have to wait while you deal with the more immediate needs of your tiny, squawking infant or newly adopted family member.
“I think that the important thing to focus on is that it’s not the quantity of attention that matters, it’s responsiveness,” said Kennedy-Moore, herself a parent of four. By that she means the extent to which parents turn toward their eldest children, rather than away ― which is certainly not an easy thing when you’re sleep-deprived and juggling the very different needs of several small people.
Fortunately, little things can go a long way. If your toddler is begging for your attention while you’re changing your newborn, see if you can ask him or her to participate by picking out a particular diaper, Kennedy-Moore recommended. When your eldest comes home from school or when you walk in the door from work, give him or her just a few moments of total attention and focus.
And self-care is key. Though it might feel impossible to eke out the time to take a shower or sneak in a restorative nap, those little things help you bring a less exhausted and cranky version of yourself to your interactions with your eldest children. “What I found with my kids is that what concerned them was not the presence of the baby, but the extent to which I was being normal,” she said. So rest up as best you can, and if anybody offers help, SAY YES.
3. Have low expectations for your eldest kiddos.
Your older kid or kids will not suddenly stop screaming because the bath temperature isn’t just right, or magically start getting out the door on time in the morning because they sagely recognize that you’ve got a new human to learn about and care for. In fact, they’ll likely regress, Kennedy-Moore said — and that’s OK.
“This is not the time to start potty training,” she advised. “Keep things as simple and predicable as possible, and just kind of roll with it if kid number one is not quite where they usually are.” It doesn’t mean they’re scarred for life; it simply means they’re adjusting.
4. Remember: This too shall pass.
“Having a sibling is a normal stress,” said Kennedy-Moore. For most children, she added, the sibling relationship is the longest they’ll have in their lives — and it often turns out pretty damn well. “It’s not a cruel and unusual punishment.”
Remember that advice when your eldest starts insisting on sleeping in a crib again or starts having unexplained tantrums three times a day, and repeat it to yourself in those moments when it feels like you’re doing a bad job of being enough for everyone around you. It can be a hard adjustment for everyone, even parents who’ve done it before. The goal is just to get through those early days with gentleness and compassion toward yourself and all of your children.