PREPARING “BABY” #1 FOR BABY #2

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 :).

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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.

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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.

Oliver in his "big boy" bed.

Oliver in his “big boy” bed.

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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!

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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.

Walking, walking and more walking.

Walking, walking and more walking.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Big boys don't need to hold Mommy's hand... most of the time ;).

Big boys don’t need to hold Mommy’s hand… most of the time ;).

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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?

17 responses to “PREPARING “BABY” #1 FOR BABY #2

  1. playing independently and putting toys away are somethings that I am going to have to start working on soon, new baby or no new baby. when did Oliver start helping and putting toys away? nice post.

    • We started encouraging him to help as soon as he was into putting things into containers (maybe nine or 10 months old?). We’d clean up most of the mess first, leaving just two or three toys for him to put in the basket, with our help/encouragement. Over time we increased the amount of the clean-up that he was responsible for, until he was able to do most of it by himself. A few things that we have found helpful in this endeavour:

      1. Have a toy storage system that supports easy clean-up, for example: a toy box, plastic bins, etc. It’s a lot easier for kids to throw things into bins than to display them nicely on shelves.
      2. Fewer toys available means less mess to clean up. Only put out as many toys as can be cleaned up in about two minutes. Any more than that and the job becomes overwhelming for a small child. You can store toys in a closet and rotate them every week, to keep things fresh.
      3. When you are choosing toys to buy, think about the clean-up. Try to buy mostly simple toys that don’t have a lot of pieces.
      4. From experience… if your kid likes puzzles, only give them a couple of puzzles at a time. If they have access to six puzzles, they will dump all six of them, and then guess who has to clean that mess at the end of every play time ;)

  2. Honestly, one of the main reasons I’ve been hesitant to have another baby is because of the sleep deprivation induced post partum depression I experienced the first year after Violet was born (I had serious problems sleeping even after Violet was out for 12 hours a night; I think the hormonal changes I was undergoing were to blame). I hope Oliver’s sleep doesn’t suffer. Have you thought about how you’ll handle Oliver waking up in the middle of the night if the baby disturbs him?

    I also wanted to ask you how you view attachment parenting now that you’re about to embark on a second baby and have a full two years of parenting under your belt. I remember right around the time you were sleep training Oliver you posted about attachment parenting and sleeping and trying to reconcile the two. I’m not trying to start a debate here (although I definitely have an opinion about AP), I just wondered how your views have evolved on it.

    Congrats on having another boy!

    • Argh! I just typed up a lengthy reply to your comment, only to have WordPress give me an error message and lose my comment :/

      I totally understand where you are coming from with your hesitation to have another child. Sleep deprival can do some really scary things to women who are predisposed to (or already suffering from) post-partum depression. I’ve seen it firsthand with my sleep consulting clients.

      We are planning to keep the baby in our room until he’s sleeping through the night, and then we will move him into Oliver’s room. We have a white noise machine, which will definitely help, but in general, children who share rooms do eventually learn to sleep through each other’s nighttime noises.

      As to your second question… Sigh. That could (and perhaps should) fill an entire blog post. I guess the most important thing I’ve learned in the last two years is that I am parenting a human being, not an ideal, and unfortunately human beings don’t always respond the way the books claim that they will. So rather than try to embrace a “philosophy of parenting,” and everything that it entails, I just read as many different ideas as I can, keep the things that work for us, and discard the rest, without guilt. A lot of the strategies that have worked well for us would definitely *not* fall into the spectrum of AP, but so far Oliver seems to be a pretty well-adjusted and well-attached child, and I feel that we have struck a good balance between meeting his needs and meeting ours.

  3. I think you hit the mail on the head here. To encourage independent play we installed a study baby gate in the hallway so my son has access to his room and the bathroom. My twins are 7 weeks old and my son just turned 2 and he is handling the change very well. Unfortunately, we have turned to YouTube and videos when the twins want to nurse a lot.

    • Oh, you’ve had the babies! Congratulations!! :) I hope all is well and that the five of you are adjusting to all of the big changes.

      YouTube and videos have their rightful place. You really can’t have mommy guilt associated with trying to keep your child necessarily occupied for short periods of time while your hands are full. It’s all about survival at this point!

  4. Oliver sounds like a dreamy other-worldly child. My second is much, much more mellow. She likes sleep, naps regularly, was done with night and day diapers herself at 18-months, likes cleaning up after herself….but my first is not. Maybe it all had to do with inexperienced parenting that we had to muddle through with our first, but phew! She is a bit older than Oliver, but she slept better *after* Z. arrived and didn’t wake at all. It’s almost like the familiar noises at night were soothing in some way.

    I also have always encouraged independent play, mostly because *I* need space. Both of mine are really easy in that way, but I have to be careful to not over-due it or else my oldest starts to spin out without some reconnection time. I know it’s hard in the beginning, but really taking time to play with the older child in a predictable way is great at diffusing jealousy. I like to make sure that I have at least 10 minutes of really special time with each of them after lunch, before naps,and is definitely the most helpful thing I do to keep the day flowing.

    • “Dreamy, other-worldly child” are definitely not words I’d have ever used to describe Oliver in the first 18 months of his life! :) But he’s actually mellowed out a lot in the last six to eight months… thank goodness!

      I love your idea of setting aside even a short time each day to really reconnect with Oliver. Aiming for just 10 or 15 minutes, I think, will make it easier to wrap my head around the idea when we’re knee deep in the chaos of a new baby.

  5. Since D is only going to be a year and a half when his little sister is born, we decided to hold off moving him to a big boy bed until after #2 is sleep trained into her own room. One at a time! But he has always been in a pack ‘n play instead of our crib (He refused to go back to the crib after getting to sleep in it during a trip at 5 months), so we don’t have the issue of needing him out of his crib any time soon.
    Potty training is what we are starting right now. I do dread the work a little, but I am excited about how ready he is! And I do NOT want to do diapers for two…
    Love all your thoughts on “big boy”ness and independence!

    • I think you are wise to wait on moving D to a bed. He’s still really young. If he’s not climbing out, and you don’t have the issue of needing the crib, there’s really no downside at all to keeping him in his pack and play for a while longer. Having a new baby is a big transition, and he will probably relish the familiarity and security that the pack and play provides.

      Have you started the potty training yet? If so, how is it going so far? I’m sure you guys will do great! For us, the first week or two was most stressful, especially with trying to do things outside of the house, but after a while, I suddenly realized we were barely even thinking about it anymore.

  6. I think you and Oliver are doing a great job as a team and family (and I am sure J shares some credit too!). Some people will have opinions about when and how to make transitions – and that is for them to sort with their families…but I really admire the approach you have taken to focus on Oliver’s growth and development in all of these areas. I believe that the reason many parents feel anxious, and children feel rushed about reaching milestones is because it’s more work than we might like it to be. It takes time, attention, commitment, planning and above all, patience — and by using all of these tools, you have made these transitions about Oliver and his accomplishments (as they should be), rather than about the new baby and his arrival. All of the most useful and positive feelings are sure to come from this for Oliver (and you guys) in the long run. Well done team!

  7. I think something else to spend a lot of time talking about and reading books about is what new babies are like. I have three kids, and with each one, we prepare the kids a lot by talking about what babies eat, getting all the baby gear out several weeks before baby comes so that the carseat, swing, bouncer, etc. aren’t so new and interesting when I need them for a newborn. We look at newborn clothes, blankets, diapers, etc. so they can see some of the gear. I think that is a huge aspect of preparing for a new baby.

  8. You have so got it together! Love it!!!
    The “quiet time” thing has worked well for us. Sometimes they do nap but if not, they do well (most of the time) being quiet in their rooms. Also, I’m guessing at some point in his 3s, Oliver will have most of the self-care stuff down. I’ve got an almost 4yo who has been dressing himself and showering himself for several months now (although he still puts his shoes on the wrong feet about 75% of the time). I do still try to bathe (scrub) him myself once a week because I am not convinced he does the most thorough job on his own.
    Finally, instituting some sort of “special play time” with Oliver would probably be helpful once the baby is born. And really, you only need 5 or 10 minutes of really focused special time with him and not even every day. We’ve found special play time/one-on-one time to be very helpful with our young ones in preventing/addressing behavior problems.

    I am so happy for you guys!!!!!! :)

    • Okay, I am seriously amazed that your kid can shower himself, and he’s not even four!! Even if he’s not doing the most thorough job, what an accomplishment for such a little guy.

      I like the idea of having “special play time” with Oliver. I imagine that this will take a lot of conscious effort in the early days, but hopefully once the baby is napping on a somewhat predictable schedule, we can have some serious quality time each day.

  9. I just want to endorse the idea of “special time”– really, just 5-10 minutes of time per day in which I (or my husband) am singularly focused on our older daughter (who is almost 4) has made a big difference. Short as that time is, doing it has made me realize how often I am at least partially distracted– whether by the baby, household tasks, work, iPhone, whatever– while supposedly playing with her. I feel like we emerge from special time calmer and more connected; it’s like we’ve established a touchstone of connection that improves our communication for the next several hours. I will say, though, that Lila only really took to the idea starting a couple of months ago. I had tried when she was 2.5 and 3, and both times she was like “Special time? We can do whatever I want? I want ICE CREAM!” And then a tantrum ensued when it was explained that actually ice cream was not an option. Maybe I should have kept trying. Anyway, it’s really been nice for us recently. And seriously, just 5-10 minutes (I mean, more would be great, but with another little one you have to be realistic). Wishing you the best!

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