My friend and contributor Anna Eastland and I have spent the last nine months growing babies together. Her due date was just after mine, but her son arrived a bit early, at the beginning of November. Soon after his arrival, she shared this post with me, which totally resonates with what I’ve seen in my own daughters as they welcomed Pearl into our family.
When you go to the library looking for a nice book for your kids on welcoming a new baby into the family, you are confronted by a disturbing majority of books that focus on sibling jealousy. They are filled with stories of angry older siblings attempting to put the new baby in a box and ship them back to where they came from. The baby is initially perceived as a noisy, stinky usurper of mom and dad’s attention, and only accepted near the end of the book as a positive addition to the family.
As a mother of seven, I have not encountered this negative response of older siblings. In fact quite the opposite. My kids are excited when I announce a new pregnancy, and my belly receives affectionate hugs and kisses long before baby is showing. Everyone likes to suggest names and imagine what the baby will look like. They enjoy feeling the baby kick play a kind of peekaboo through my belly. The kids are vying for the first turn to hold the baby before I even leave for the hospital.
When I recently brought our new son home from the hospital, these are the kind of things the kids said:
- “Oh, he’s so cute! He’s the cutest baby ever!”
- “He’s my best friend!”
- “I want him to sleep in my bed. I wish I was his mommy.”
- “Mummy, he made a sad face in his sleep. Is he having a bad dream? He’s too little to know it’s not real. I wish I could have all the bad dreams so he could have only good ones.”
- “Can I hold him? I’ll be careful!”
- “Our baby is better than presents. He’s better than treats. I’d rather stay with him than watch a show.”
You get the idea. Each one of my kids, from age 9 to 2, responds with smiles, gentle hands and great joy. Having a new baby is a shared experience that brings everyone closer. The big girls like to help set the table, make breakfast, and amuse the younger ones so I can rest. The little ones had fun playing guard outside my bedroom door yesterday: “You’re the queen and he’s the baby prince. We will guard the door and keep you safe.”
So from my personal experience, babies are welcomed by little children with love and joy, rather than jealousy and suspicion. I think this latter attitude is a projection of parents who feel an unnecessary guilt about bringing a new baby home, as if exclusive parental attention was really the best thing for their older child. When an older sibling is “dethroned,” they have the chance to grow in love and generosity, to care for another more vulnerable than themselves, and to realize the world does not revolve exclusively around their whims and desires. This is a huge life lesson, and one better learned sooner than later.
More children give more opportunities to love. And ultimately parenting is all about teaching our children to love. To care for others. To find joy in self-giving. When you allow your kids to help you and the new baby in little ways, like fetching a new diaper or burp cloth, or holding the newborn’s hands while they have a diaper change, they feel important because they are able to do good. And this is something that makes us all happy, much more than having all the attention and toys to ourselves!
So ignore those silly books and rest in the fact that a new baby is the best gift you can give your child, to make them feel secure in the ongoing love of their parents and in the growth of their little world at home, a safe place where they are surrounded by people who love them, and whom they love in return.