Before the baby’s arrival
Leela was young, so there wasn’t much I could do to prepare her for an abstract future event. She did, however, go through a major baby-obsession phase during my pregnancy where she pointed out babies EVERYWHERE – at the park, on the diaper box, in books, etc. I would point to my belly and tell her “baby is coming.” Who knows if that sunk in? I got a bunch of books for her, but honestly she had no interest in them before the baby was born. Now that Rumi is 3 months old, she LOVES these books. Here are the books we got, in order of my most to least favorite:
Waiting for Baby, by Rachel Fuller
Meeting the baby for the first time
After ALL the worrying about rushing to the hospital in the middle of the night and needing neighbors to take care of Leela, well, that didn’t happen. Rumi was born on a Friday afternoon. We had a sitter at the house, and my parents came at a leisurely pace and brought Leela to New Jersey for the weekend. I was only in the hospital from Friday to Sunday, and it’s a long drive and Leela tends to get carsick, so I made the decision that she shouldn’t visit me in the hospital. Too much driving, too confusing.
My parents brought Leela back home to Brooklyn on Monday. I had Rumi in the rock & play (not in my arms) when Leela came through the door. It was an amazing moment, it was like she KNEW all along that something big was happening and it all clicked together. “Baby, baby” she kept saying as she circled the rock & play and met her sister. She looked sooo big next to a newborn!
Everyone told me it was important that Leela should get a gift from the baby, so I had a soccer ball and an Elmo doll for her. My parents also got her a scooter around that time, which was great. They weren’t just boring toys, they were cool new big kid activities.
1. There were some phrases I tried out with Leela:
“Come sit on the bed with us, let’s cuddle.”
2. I got help from my husband and our sitter so that Leela could burn off energy, ride around on her scooter, and still get outside when I needed rest. Karan started a tradition with Leela every evening where they went to get a green juice together. She loved it.
3. It’s nerve-wracking to watch a toddler interacting with a tiny newborn. The toddler doesn’t have much impulse control and you don’t want the baby to get hurt. However, I really tried not to be saying “no” or “don’t do that” all the time. I tried to focus on what she COULD do like, “tickle her toes,” or “gentle” or “soft.”
Leela wanted to jam a pacifier in the baby’s mouth all the time, and there didn’t seem to be any harm, so I usually let her. Leela wanted to burp her, sometimes a bit too forcefully. Sometimes she wanted to help with diapers, sometimes not. I tried to let her explore, within reason. I let her pull 10 wipes out to change one diaper, or to put the diaper rash cream on the baby even though it was messy. I let her put 30 stickers on the baby while I was breastfeeding her. I let her climb into the Rock & Play and the baby swing. I figured that if I was getting worked up and saying no constantly, this would be no fun, and she would resent the baby. And when Leela did funny things, like trying to breastfeed with me, or tasting a bottle of breastmilk, I just was very neutral and poker-faced, and usually she didn’t do those things again.
You can’t trust a toddler around a newborn (and Rumi has the scratches on her face to prove it), but I pretended that I trusted Leela, and I do think that helped her behavior to be pretty reasonable and decently gentle.
4. My mom gave me simple advice that helped me 100 times over – to sit on the floor. Instead of nursing the baby on the couch or in bed, I would just move down to the floor and it helped so much. Leela was at our level and didn’t feel excluded and could bring toys or books over to me. I also did many diaper changes on the floor instead of up on a changing table.
5. When the baby was crying (which was often in the early days), I tried not to get flustered and act like this was the most important thing in the world to fix. If Leela needed me, I’d let the baby cry for another minute. Sometimes we would roll our eyes at the baby, like she was this pesky new roommate, and Leela and I had an inside joke. Mainly I would try to treat them as equally important, rather than Leela being less important. We also created new traditions, like Leela LOVES the breastpump so much and always sits with me if I’m pumping. “Drip drip drip!” she says.
6. I didn’t “shush” Leela all the time if the baby was sleeping. I figured another great way to make Leela resent the baby was to constantly be shushing her in our apartment. Toddlers make noise. And newborns can sleep through stuff. And Rumi wasn’t on any sort of schedule in the beginning, so I figured that if Leela came home from the park and was jumping out of her skin with excitement to see the baby, well, the baby was probably going to wake up whether I like it our not, so better not to make a stink about it.
I hope there are some helpful nuggets in here! Janet Lansbury also has a helpful article on Helping Kids Adjust to Life with the New Baby.