I wrote this post while I was pregnant with Grubbalo and Crackernut and Ponymad Girl were trying to understand what having a new baby meant.
Tonight, I was sat with my six-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter on the sofa and my son raised the topic of my going into labour. I reminded him that he was born just a few feet in front of us, on the lounge carpet, which he finds unreal.
When I asked him how he would feel when he hears the news that the baby is here, he said he’d not like it as it means I will spend all my time caring for the baby and won’t have any left for him; that people will bring the baby presents; and, importantly, that the baby will get the ‘day off’ (meaning school).
I carefully explained that there will be lots I’ll need to do for the baby as it will rely on me for most things, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t have time for him still. I said people often bring presents for brothers and sisters too and even the baby might get them something. As for missing school, I reminded him that the baby won’t be able to start nursery until he’s three so he has no choice but to be at home with me.
History suddenly felt like it was repeating itself, but I have learned some valuable lessons in this regard. My second daughter felt terrible rivalry at her brother’s arrival, as it coincided with her starting school, though this wasn’t really apparent to us at first. We certainly felt we didn’t show favouritism but, simply, in her young eyes, she was now a middle child being sent away from Mum while her ‘annoying’ brother had all Mum’s love and time (and this was even though she and her sister had been childminded part of the week from an early age while I worked. So she was well-accustomed to being separated from me for part of the day.)
It’s taken lots of time, patience and learning to rebuild things in that sense and I’m determined to avoid it happening to such a degree again. I’m well aware this won’t be easy though, as juggling the emotional and physical needs of more than one child is a challenge at the best of times, not least dealing with the grief of losing my eldest child and a then having a baby! But I feel in a better position this time round as my children are older, my son is well into school, and they are both more able to understand what’s happening. I also work for myself now, so don’t have an employer’s demands to worry about, and although I need to keep my own clients happy, I can scale down my commitments while I need to.
My son has a fairly relaxed nature and is easy to reason with. I know he will worry for and love his little brother very much, and I believe it’s a good thing that he can express his concerns to me. He’s been very affectionate lately, kissing me, telling me I’m the best, holding tightly to my hand. And I’m letting him. I’m not brushing him off absentmindedly while I fuss over something unimportant.
I expect that last time, with three children and work keeping me busy, all I thought about was what needed to be done next, where they needed to be, getting to my own job… what peace I could get in between. My focus was on the practical and escaping the stress. We paid a price for that, as a family.
I’m not blaming myself as such, it was just the circumstances we found ourselves in at that time. Not seeing the wood for the trees and being too tired to care what was really important. Motherhood is beyond hard, but it’s utterly wonderful and the very gift of life itself; our fast-paced culture makes it so hard to enjoy this for what it is. I was trying to be everything… bring money in to support our household, give the best choices to the children, and not lose my identity at the same time, but the ‘best choice’ really should have meant my time, warmth and undivided attention when they needed it most. I know I’m not the only mum with this constant guilt trip hanging over her.
I understand my son’s fears, but this time I won’t brush them off as silliness. I’ll listen to him and be honest. He’s already lost his big sister last year, his best friend, I don’t want him to feel like he’s losing me too.
And it is all me (Dad is without question a big part of this, but I’m talking of the mum-love here). Extended family is wonderful and my children are fortunate to be loved by so many, but it’s our special bond which we need to keep strong in the early months if we are to settle into our new life with relative ease. Stability is very important to them both.
This time, rather than send them off to relatives and after school clubs to give me as long a break as possible, I’ll keep them close to home and take the days very slowly. I’ll not pre-arrange for them being whisked off to stay with relatives to give me a break as though they were a chore to be dealt with… unless they want to go. I’ll give them the choice.
I’ll make sure in those early months they’re involved in life with the new baby, that they don’t feel pushed out. Their routine will stay the same, they won’t feel they are missing out on their favourite activities just because of the baby, and importantly, they’ll continue to have some time to be with me, one to one. There are bound to be wobbles all round, but hopefully things will fall into place and the little one will cement our lovely family further.
Update: One year on and I couldn’t be happier with how both my son and daughter welcomed Grubbalo. They were both involved from day one, as I gave birth at home while they slept upstairs. He’s a special little friend to them both, and while there will always be the occasional spat over a toy or book, I feel they will always get along very well.