“Why don’t we put Andrew in there instead of his dirty diaper?” my then three year old asked me one day not too long after his little brother was born. I faltered for a minute and then gave a fake laugh and said his brother wouldn’t like that very much. I reminded myself that I wanted to put my little brother in the trash can when he was first born (I let my mom walk us outside and lift off the lid of the trash can before finally deciding that might not be the best idea). But that night I sat and cried, alone in the bathroom, after they were both, finally, sleeping. I felt like I had failed in some way because my kids weren’t “instant besties!”
When we got pregnant with Andrew my biggest fear was how Lucas would react. I mean, I knew we could keep another human alive so the fears I had with my first never popped up; but this new one, it was a doozy! I cried when those two pink lines showed up, not because I wasn’t overjoyed to be having another baby, but because I was so worried about how my oldest would handle it.
It turns out I was right to have those fears. What I wasn’t prepared for though was how it would make me, as their mom, feel. It also didn’t help that all of my friends who were also adding to their families were posting pictures and updates on social media of how much their older child just loved their new sibling. If I saw one more post about how much “Johnny loves hugging and cuddling Sally” or how “Lucy is the most helpful big sister ever,” I was going to lose it. How was I the only one who had a kid who wanted to put his brother in with the poopy diapers?!
So, not only was I struggling with my two children, one of whom was an infant, and feeling guilty like I had somehow ruined Lucas’s life by giving him a little brother, I felt alone and isolated because it seemed like I was the only one dealing with this. I tried to overcompensate and post my own “Awww, look how cute! Big brother loves helping little brother” posts but they stressed me out even more because the amount of staging and bribery that went into getting just one picture was overwhelming. But I didn’t want to admit things weren’t perfect for us because, in my postpartum mind, that would make me a “bad mom.”
Here’s what life was really like for us. Lucas would ignore his brother. Then he would try and hit his brother or grab something out of his hand. He would yell at his brother. I would yell at him. Everyone would get upset. There would be lots of tears. Lucas started saying I didn’t love him anymore. My heart was ripping in half. I felt alone and didn’t know where to turn because it seemed like I was the only one struggling with this. So I did what I had to do to survive. I started shipping Lucas off to my mom’s house almost daily. I tried to rationalize it that he was getting one on one attention but really I couldn’t deal with the stress and guilt that I had somehow ruined my son’s life.
Those were the thoughts I was having. That I had made an awful decision to have another baby and my older son would never forgive me. Then I felt guilty because here was this sweet three month old smiling and cooing at his Mommy, who was questioning adding to her family at all. **I’m going to stop right here and say I don’t regret for one second adding Andrew to our family and I never did. He has made our family complete and I can’t imagine life without him**
I also wondered what I had done wrong that my first born didn’t love his younger sibling like it seemed every other kid did. I mean, what mistake did I make in those first few days, or maybe even when I was pregnant, that had my oldest hurting so badly?
Here’s the truth. The adjustment is harder on some kids than others. Maybe it was his age or the fact that for so long it had just been him and me since I was a stay at home mom. Maybe I tried too hard in the beginning. I’m sure my postpartum hormones played a role, too. But the biggest truth, and the one I’m just now realizing, is that I wasn’t as alone as I felt. I wasn’t the only mom experiencing this. Had I not been so ashamed to speak up about what life was really like as we adjusted to a family of four I may have found the support that I dreamed of.
Sometimes it’s hard to be the first one to say, “Hey, I’m struggling. This is really hard for me.” But often when you do, you realize you’re not alone. So that’s my hope with this post – to say, “Hey, I struggled. My kids were not instant best friends. Lucas was not the perfect big brother. In fact, I thought I had ruined my older son’s life for several months after his little brother was born. If you’re feeling that way too, I’m here. You are not alone.”
Think of it like this, adding a new person to your family is a big deal in your 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Imagine how that feels when you’re 2, 3 or 4? Or even 9 or 10? Those are some big feelings to process when you don’t always have the capacity to do that. There are so many articles out there on preparing your child for their sibling. Read them, try and use them, but realize you know your kids better than someone who sat behind a screen and wrote out some tips for you. I won’t lie, my next step before things started getting better in our house was to think about some sort of parent-child therapy, especially because in the beginning I wasn’t equipped to handled my emotions, let alone try and help my 3 year old deal with his! There is no shame in asking for help! It’s one of the bravest things you can do. I know my area has amazing resources for parents, so while it’s scary, reach out in your area to see what is available for you.
Just remember you’re not alone. Sometimes I wonder if some of my friends posting about how easy their adjustment was from 1 child to 2 were feeling what I was feeling and trying the whole “fake it til ya make it” thing like I was. Maybe if just one of us would have stepped up, and opened up, it would have made life easier for everyone.
So this is me stepping up and telling you that if there isn’t that instant and magical sibling connection don’t beat yourself up. Or if you worry that your older child will never forgive you or that you’ve ruined their life, you haven’t. You’re not alone. For us things got better around 6 months -and then worse again when Andrew got more mobile. Now, at almost 16 months seeing my boys laugh and play together is such a joy and a relief. But that’s our story. Yours may look different and that’s okay too!
So we used to have a piece of paper with four smiley faces and stick figures as bodies on it. It was a picture of our family that Ella made when Will was born. When he was about two months old, she had had it with all the attention he was getting. Ella crumpled the paper up, flattened it back out, and ripped off the fourth smiley. In her mind, we were a family of 3 again. You are not alone, my friend.
Such strong emotions in such little bodies!