having come from a family of 5 children, i haven’t known life without lots of other siblings around. while i’m the oldest, my next sister arrived when i was just 18 months old, so all of my memories and experiences very much include at least one of my sisters. growing up, there were times we were all super close, and times when we fought like mad, but for me personally, i think probably the best thing my parents ever gave us…was each other. (and while my baby brother is in mexico right now, all of my sisters were in the city over the weekend and it was seriously one of my favorite weekends ever!)
as i grew up and went away for college, i always knew i wanted a big family of my own. and when i met josh, his candidness straight away about how much he wanted that as well, before i ever voiced where i stood with children, was something i was immediately drawn to.
something i love about life and relationships is how different each one can be. while the big family thing is something i value and have enjoyed, it’s not for everyone, and that’s fine! while i’m going to focus this post on a lot of the questions i receive around having our children close together in age, and what we’ve learned preparing each one for a new baby’s arrival, please know that me sharing my own experiences here is not me trying to say everyone needs to do it this way.
how far apart in age are your children?
eleanor was just 16 months old when we brought samson home from the hospital. and samson was two and half when conrad was born. while i have really loved having our kiddos close in age, i don’t think there is some magical age gap number between siblings. i was actually 12 years old when my parents had their last baby, my little brother isaac, and i remember everything about that experience like it was yesterday.
what tips can you share from your own experience in making the transition smooth when introducing a new baby to a toddler?
when samson was born, eleanor still very much felt like a baby, so i wanted to make sure the experience didn’t feel threatening to her in any way since she was so little and it was hard to explain to her what was happening.
a few things around each birth that we found helpful… when the new baby is born, and you’re about to introduce the older sibling, don’t have the baby in your arms when the siblings walk in, rather in the bassinet beside you. this way, you’re focusing your attention on your reunion with your toddler and they get to focus on seeing you again! i had read somewhere that it can sometimes feel overwhelming and scary when a toddler is so small and he or she walks in for the first time to see her mama holding a new baby. almost like being replaced!
another tip we have used with each birth after eleanor, is having a small trinket or gift for the toddler from the new baby to open at the hospital. a sort of, “thanks for welcoming me into your family” type of situation. maybe this is us enforcing bribery in the hopes all things go smoothly, but it’s been really fun for everyone involved as we open some tiny presents on mama’s hospital bed after meeting the baby. i remember samson being like, “how did he KNOW?!” when he opened something from newborn conrad a few years ago. i feel like samson instantly felt bonded to conrad solely based on his gift giving skills!
the last thing i noticed that was really helpful, was involving the toddler as much as possible after the baby was born in being your helper. giving them important tasks like grabbing a diaper, or holding the baby’s hand, etc etc. helps give them this sort of confidence that you both are in this together. in our case, it helped everyone feel like they had a place as we got to know the new baby at home.
in addition to that, a girlfriend had mentioned several years ago that when her toddler was needing her attention or help, and she was tied up with the baby, she’d do her best to answer, “mama’s hands are full, let me help you with that once they are free” instead of, “i can’t right now, i’m holding your brother…” so there wasn’t any resentment about how much you might have one baby in your arms. i loved that approach and have tried to take similar ones with each transition.
when do you tell your children about a new baby, and how do you help younger ones understand what is about to happen?
we are a rather close-knit family, and so our kids always knew straightaway. in fact, for the last few years as we’ve wanted to add another baby to the family, they were very much aware as they wanted it, too. so a lot of conversations and prayers were centered around the topic before we were even expecting. i knew the risk was high of them sharing the info with friends or family sooner than we were ready, but i was willing to take it, they did a great job with it!
depending on their ages, i think it’s helpful to talk about the pregnancy and mama’s body and everything that is going down as much as possible. showing them pictures of when you were pregnant with them is helpful, as well as pictures of the baby growing inside from books or pregnancy apps.
i think all three of our children feel a very special bond already to the new babies and it is so humbling as a mama to see. every night there are so many tummy kisses and goodnight wishes for the babies. samson actually talks in detail about his day to my tummy each night and i feel like they might know his voice better than anyone else’s! we have also included them in baby name conversations from the early stages which maybe wasn’t the best idea, as they are incredibly invested now in helping choose the names! eleanor even said at one point rather seriously after we’d been chatting over names, “if we get to the hospital and you guys have already named the babies and we don’t like the names, it’s going to be a problem!” ;)
does it get harder or easier each time you add a baby to the family?
for me, the transition from one to two was the trickiest. i think a lot of that had to do with eleanor being so small when samson was born and just trying to wrap my head around a new life with two little ones. but with them being so close in age, the pros definitely outweighed the cons for me as i watched this insanely beautiful bond between the two surface rather quickly. they are very close even now, and i love how they’ve had a built-in best friend since the very beginning.
there is also always the challenge of navigating change. learning a new baby’s cues and needs while trying to keep to a schedule for your other ones can be tough. i think it helps to give yourself a good couple of months to get situated after a new arrival and not evaluate yourself in those early weeks when it’s still so much a transitioning time.
i know i’ve struggled a lot during each pregnancy with the idea of this timeline coming to a close on life with just one, or just two, or right now, three… but each time the new baby arrives, i’m reassured that this is a blessing for not just us, but for them! and it’s been nothing short of a complete joy to watch my babies build strong bonds and relationships with one another over the last several years.
if there’s anything you’ve found helpful transitioning for a new baby’s arrival, or tips to help strengthen sibling bonds, please share below for all of us!!! always love learning from your wisdom and own personal experiences, too!