I feel like this post needs a preamble/disclaimer:
The goals I describe below are things that we feel are important for our family to address before the arrival of Baby #2. Every family is different, and depending on your older child(ren)’s age(s), your parenting approach, and your family’s particular needs, you may have different goals than we do. I am in no way suggesting that these are the things that every family has to have “in the bag” before their next baby is born. This is merely a description of what I believe will make my life with a newborn and a toddler easier — and what will make the adjustment period easier on Oliver. So take from it whatever is relevant to you, and ignore the rest :).
Sleeping and napping. Fortunately, we sorted Oliver’s sleep out when he was about six months old. He is a very reliable sleeper and napper, and he’s content to loll around in his bed by himself for long periods of time before and after he sleeps. I am seriously dreading the sleepless nights that will inevitably return with the arrival of our new baby, but I am grateful that we won’t be dealing with two children’s protracted bedtimes, night wakings and early mornings.
At present, Oliver naps anywhere from two to three hours each day. I expect his naps will decrease in length as he approaches two-and-a-half years old, but regardless of how long he naps, we have decided to insist that he take an hour and a half of post-lunch “quiet time” in his room every day, where he can nap and/or play quietly, but must remain in his room. I plan to continue this routine until school age, as I feel that independent downtime is beneficial to Oliver, and also gives me a much-needed sanity break, allowing me to be a more responsive and enthusiastic parent.
While some degree of sleep regression is inevitable after the arrival of a new sibling, it is always easier for a toddler to return to previously established good sleeping habits than to have to learn new sleep habits. Difficult bedtimes or habitual night wakings may not be problematic when there is only one child, but can become overwhelming when there are two, so we are being careful to deal with any emerging sleep issues as they arise — before they have the opportunity to take root.
Moving to a bed. About a month after I wrote those posts on transitioning from a crib to a bed, I converted Oliver’s crib to a toddler bed. I knew that if we wanted to make the switch, it would either have to be done well in advance of baby’s arrival, or a few months afterward, once all the new baby chaos had settled. Then all of a sudden, Oliver just seemed way too grown up to still be in a “baby” bed, so the decision was made.
He’s been sleeping in his “big boy” bed for five weeks now, and I’m happy to report that while I expected the worst (I guess since that’s all I see in my sleep consulting practice), the transition has gone flawlessly! The crib-turned-bed is a nice intermediate step between his familiar crib and a brand new twin bed, which Oliver will move to when the baby eventually needs the crib.
Potty training. This is another area we happen to have addressed before Baby #2 was even on the horizon, but I wanted to mention it anyway, since Oliver (now 26 months) is right smack in the middle of the “ideal” potty training window.
If Oliver was not yet potty trained, I would be working on it now, while there was still plenty time to solidify his skills before baby’s arrival. Potty training was a lot of hard work. It was exhausting, time-consuming, and required a great deal of one-on-one attention. I can say with absolute certainty that the process would not have been made easier with the presence of a demanding newborn. I would also be dealing with twice the amount of diaper laundry — and the expense of purchasing additional diapers in order to have enough for two children.
As with sleep, there may be some potty regression after the baby is born, but it will be much easier to fix emerging behaviours than to teach a brand new set of skills from scratch.
If your child is around a year and a half or older, and you are on the fence about whether to potty train before or after baby arrives, I can promise that you will not regret the decision to do it beforehand!
Walking. We are not buying a double stroller. I’m writing that here, for the record, so that I can’t go back on my word :). We simply cannot justify spending nearly $1000 on something that will only serve us for about a year. While we are lucky that our UppaBaby Vista stroller has the capacity to accommodate a second seat, we’re also going to hold off on that purchase, unless it proves to be absolutely necessary.
Instead, we have been gradually encouraging Oliver to walk farther, faster and more frequently. Thanks in part to our weekly hikes throughout the summer, he’s now able to walk at least a couple of kilometres each day, with little or no complaining. We’ve been keeping stroller use to a bare minimum — once a week, or less often — so that there’s no sense of being “kicked out” of the stroller when the baby arrives.
As a compromise, we are planning to buy a stand-up PiggyBack board for our stroller. Downtown living means that we walk a lot and, well… sometimes, we just need to be able to get somewhere quickly, in spite of a tired toddler.
Playing independently. If I recall correctly, I spent most of Oliver’s early weeks (correction: months) nursing non-stop. I know that the new baby is going to demand a lot of my time, and I want to minimize as much as possible any negative impact on Oliver — who will have up until that point been the sole focus of my attention during the day. So, I have implemented a program of benign neglect :). I encourage Oliver to entertain himself while I am doing things like preparing meals or catching up on work email. I go to the bathroom without an audience (always) and I take my sweet time brushing my teeth, fixing my hair, or whatever else I need to do. While I am in the middle of something, if Oliver asks for a glass of water or for help with a puzzle, I gently tell him that I am busy doing whatever, and that he will need to wait a moment. And as of recently, he does.
Self care skills. This is very much a work in progress. While Oliver can remove his shoes and jacket, get undressed and put his clothes in the laundry hamper, and pull his pants down and sit himself on the toilet, we still have a lot of work to do with the other half of the equation — the part that involves putting everything (back) on. I’m not sure how much of this is related to his age and developmental stage (i.e. he simply lacks the required motor skills at this point), and how much of it is because he gets easily frustrated, and then we give in because we often don’t have the time or inclination to help him persist through his frustrations. At any rate, the more of these self-care tasks Oliver can perform on his own, the faster and easier it will be for us to get out the door with a newborn in tow. So we’ll keep plugging away at it…
On the other hand, Oliver is an absolute pro at cleaning up after himself! We long ago set a precedent that all toys must be put away before transitioning to a new activity (for example: a meal, leaving the house, or going to bed), and for the most part, Oliver now does this automatically, usually without even having to be asked. Sometimes he will come and ask me, “Is breakfast almost ready?” and then disappear to his room for a few minutes, returning to the kitchen to announce, “My room is all clean now.” And it always is!
Helping. I have been strongly encouraging Oliver’s natural desire to “help” with some of the household chores. He absolutely beams with pride when I tell him how helpful it is to me when he sweeps the floor, puts his laundry into the washing machine, helps me to put away the groceries, or wipes the dining room table (Note: he’s two — he doesn’t actually do these things to any level of competency yet — but it makes him happy :) ). Hopefully his enthusiasm will stick around for a while longer so that I can teach him how to “help” me with his baby brother. I feel that if Oliver has an important role to play in his brother’s care, he will be less likely to be resentful and jealous of the baby’s demands on my time and attention. Effectively, we will be on the same team, caring for the baby.
Keeping the “big boy” messaging consistent. Until recently, I would frequently refer to Oliver as “my baby” (we had this adorable thing going on where I would cuddle him and say, “You’re my little baby,” and he’d respond with, “You’re my little Mommy.”). Of course he is still my baby, but I’m mustering all of the self-control I can to keep the messaging consistent. Why? Because I don’t want Oliver to resent his younger brother for usurping him from his position as the family baby. I figure that the sooner Oliver gets used to being the “big boy,” the happier he will be in his new role as big brother. This “big boy” messaging also helps to reinforce Oliver’s emerging independent self-care skills, and seems to give him more confidence to try new things. He is quite proud of his “big boy” status, and will often tell us that he can do x, y or z because he is a big boy now.
What are you doing (or have you done) to prepare your child(ren) for the arrival of a new sibling? Are there any big things we are missing?