Sibling Rivalry Isn’t Just for Toddlers

I wrote this last summer, during my surprise pregnancy.

July 2018

My husband and I have two kids: a 10-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son. We have always been open to having more children, but between my history of infertility and our feelings of contentment with two, we figured that our family was complete and we were good with that. Then we all got a big surprise in June when I found out I’m pregnant! I shared more about that in this post, but if you haven’t read that, just know that it was shocking and everyone has had rather mixed feelings about it for the last few weeks since we found out.

So since adjusting to the initial surprise, Alexa (10 years old) has been pretty excited about the baby, but the other day she had a moment that I wanted to share. Something happened where her feelings got hurt, and she was upset. She had a pretty good cry where she didn’t want comfort, and then allowed me to hug her as she cried harder. I thought it was over and then she got this angry look on her face and announced, “I’ve changed my mind! I don’t want a baby brother or sister anymore!”

Well, that was not what I expected her to say. I took a breath and replied, “Oh, wow, ok. That’s ok. Can you tell me more?”

She proceeded to explain how I won’t be able to comfort her when she’s sad, once the baby is here. I listened and hugged her, and told her that sounded like a really sad situation. Then I assured her that I would *always* be able to help her when she’s sad, no matter what. The new baby isn’t going to prevent me from still taking care of her, too.

I reminded her that when she was born, Allen was just a toddler and I was still able to take care of him and comfort him when he was sad. We hugged a while longer and she decided she was back to being ok with the baby coming.

A few days later, I attended a LLL Meeting and one of the moms was pregnant and has a 2-year-old at home. We were talking about her expectations about that big transition and I was glad to hear she seemed well-prepared for how difficult it can be. I shared about how my big kids have had some difficult feelings about the baby coming, and how I’m prepared for some of that to surface again once he or she is born.

I realized that toddlers gaining a new sibling are probably having a similar experience as my big kids, they just don’t have the words for it. My kids have the words to tell me more specifically how they are feeling – that they are afraid I won’t be able to spend as much time with them or do the things I do for them now. Those are pretty scary feelings, and since they can verbalize them we can talk specifically about them. But toddlers don’t necessarily have those words, just the emotion that goes with the feelings, so they just act out their bad feelings, often (but not always) with bad behavior.

When Alexa was born, Allen was three and a half, and he had a pretty tough time. He was still nursing, so that was something they were able to do together and he got physical comfort and care from me in that way, which I think helped a lot. But there were still many times that he acted out big feelings, and he would try to hit her or push her off of my lap.

Back then, I developed this mantra: There’s enough Mama for two kids. (You can fill in the number with however many you have.) I’ve said it so many times over the years, because the struggle to make sure you have enough Mama goes on and on. I still say it with them at this age, and clearly it will be something I will continue to use with my new little one. There really is enough.

Sometimes that Mama needs more help and support, and strategies to simplify home life for a while can be really helpful. She may not feel like there’s enough of her or wish she could clone herself.

But there’s enough Mama for those babies. Because what they really need is something we can give – unconditional love no matter what feelings they are acting out, empathy for how they are feeling, and listening without judgement. When they feel heard, their brains will come back from the fear of not having enough, and we can move through the feelings and back into harmony. We are enough.

If you have more than one child, what did you experience with your older one as your family adjusted to a new baby?  

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Lianne March

Lianne March graduated from Clemson University in 2003. She lives in Melbourne, Florida with her husband, Allen, 3 children: Allen IV, Alexa, and Austin. She also has a dog, a bunch of chickens, and her parents live in the backyard in their RV when they aren't traveling the country. In addition to homeschooling her children, she supports other families in many areas including breastfeeding and general parenting. Lianne has been part of The Consciously Parenting Project since it began in 2007, serving behind the scenes with the website and book publishing. More recently she has joined Rebecca on the podcast, written for the blog, and is helping families as a Consciously Parenting Certified Holistic Family Consultant (HFC).

Lianne March has 19 posts and counting. See all posts by Lianne March

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