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What to do when an older sibling wants to send your new baby back

At Bundoo we’ve talked about how to prepare older siblings for the arrival of a new baby brother or sister both here and here. I dutifully read up on the topic and did my best at preparing my 4-year-old for the impending change in our family: a new baby brother set to arrive in June.

I thought we were going to be so lucky with this milestone. My older son, Henry, was always excited when asked about the new baby. He would even sulk when I told him it wasn’t June yet, and he frequently told me, “I want the baby here already.” Yes, this is going to be cake! I thought.

We focused on preparing him realistically by telling him that babies do cry and don’t do much else when they are first born. We bought presents for him from the baby. We got in lots of extra one-on-one time while I was still pregnant.

And yet when push came to shove, it was still kind of a disaster when little Charlie made his debut.

Sure, Henry was excited to meet him in the hospital and smiled and seemed excited. But as soon as that baby headed home with us and it became clear he was there to stay, the novelty wore off.

Henry’s comments ranged from, “When is this baby going away?” to “All this crying is giving me a headache!!” and my personal favorite, “Let’s just send him away to the scrap yard” (can’t miss an opportunity for a train reference, that’s my boy …).

We knew how we were supposed to react: truthfully (“You’re right, he does cry a lot, but that’s his way of telling us he needs us. I know it can be hard to listen to sometimes”) and calmly. We even proactively would say things like, “You know sometimes big brothers feel angry that a new baby has arrived. It’s OK to feel that way and no matter what, we love you.”

But when Henry started to express his dismay by becoming angry at us, it got really difficult to stay so chipper. It’s really hard to see your sweet boy develop a brand new attitude and call you stupid or say things like, “You’re no fun anymore, mommy” (dude, I agree!). Almost overnight he started name-calling both my husband and me, sticking out his tongue, and basically telling us, in so many words, that he was really mad that we turned his world upside down.

I reached out to other mom friends who had survived having a second baby. With texts like Tell me I didn’t totally screw up our family! and Are you sure it gets easier?! I was quickly reassured that yes, this is all normal and yes, it will get better.

We found ignoring the name-calling helped it resolve almost as quickly as it started, because by not getting any attention, Henry seemed to realize it wasn’t worth doing (mostly … he still gets a few in when he’s told he can’t have ice cream for breakfast). We just kept showing up every morning as mom and dad, and even though we are both so sleep deprived, we have kept giving positive attention to Henry, and we don’t overdo it with the big brother references.

Magically, it is getting a little better every day. Henry loves to “teach” Charlie things, so we’ve run with it and given him every opportunity to teach Charlie new words or how to hold a pencil (I’m sure he’s taking it all in, right?!). And when it’s clear he wants his own space, we try to give that to him.

We are for sure not out of the woods yet, but it’s getting better. If you find your own little one having a difficult time adjusting to a new baby, I recommend stepping back, taking a deep breath, and realizing that this reaction is not personal. It might hurt, make the transition more difficult, and leave you feeling unsure about yourself, but it will work out. Celebrate the small successes in each day and find the humor in the meltdowns. You are not alone!

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About Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, Bundoo OB/GYN

Dr. Jennifer Lincoln is a board-certified generalist obstetrician/gynecologist and attending physician in Portland, Oregon. She primarily works on labor and delivery and has recently been certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

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