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Introducing Baby: Building Healthy Sibling Relationships

Sibling relationships…outlast marriages, survive the death of parents, resurface after quarrels that would sink any friendship. They flourish in a thousand incarnations of closeness and distance, warmth, loyalty and distrust. –Erica E. Goode, The Secret World of Siblings

One of the scariest aspects to introducing a second baby into our family was the thought that our daughter, Katie, would feel that she wasn’t enough for us.

We worried she would think that we somehow loved her less and that our love  for her would have to be divvied up with her sibling.

Though we were certain that we wanted another baby, we were aware that doing so might turn her little world upside down.

Our family dynamic was working beautifully and the thought of disrupting that was more than a bit frightening.

In her article on siblings, Goode goes on to say, “[s]ibling relationships shape how people feel about themselves, how they understand and feel about others, even how much they achieve.”

Sibling relationships are hugely important. As parents, we feel it is our responsibility to help them build a strong relationship that will hopefully long outlast us.

We have been incredibly fortunate so far; Katie truly adores her baby brother, Matthew. He was the first person to whom she spontaneously said, “I love you.” She is gentle and kind to him. She makes him laugh and smile and he adores her.

For the first few months after we brought him home from the hospital, I was afraid that we had rocked the boat so much that we’d never find our equilibrium. I was completely wrong. She loves him like she doesn’t remember life without him.

While we were pregnant with Matthew, we talked about how we could help Katie with the transition from only child (read: adored, complete focus of our universe) to one of two children.

Ultimately, here’s what I think we did right:

1) We didn’t oversell Matthew. We never told Katie that she would have an immediate playmate. Instead, we told her that she would have another person to love, someone who would love her in return.

2) We don’t ask her to entertain Matthew. He isn’t her responsibility.

3) We don’t ask her to fetch things to help in his care, i.e. diapers, wipes, etc. He is our child, not hers. (She often offers, but we don’t ask.)

4) We maintained routines that were in place before Matthew was born. Her father and I have always tucked her in together and we still do. My husband has always gotten her up in the morning and he continues to do this, as it provides her with predictability and reinforces just how important she is.

5) We each spend time with her one-on-one every single day.

6) We don’t compare them to one another. While I am often tempted to say, “Look what a great eater Matthew is!” while she’s playing with her food, I resist.

I believe that it is because we did these things that Katie comforts Matthew when he cries, entertains him when he’s bored, and kisses him for no reason. These are things that she chooses to do and her love for him grows stronger every day.

While I don’t know all the answers and we have our ups and downs, I like where this is going and it’s gratifying to know that we’ve laid the groundwork for a healthy relationship between them.

Having said all this, I am a realist. Sibling rivalry will rear its head at some point. They will bicker and argue as all siblings do, but I’m hoping that if we continue to help them build a healthy relationship, they’ll enter adulthood as friends and not just siblings.

I’d love to hear any ideas you have to minimize sibling rivalry.

How are you preparing your older children for the birth of your baby?

If your kids get along well or if you have a healthy relationship with your own siblings, please leave your tips in the comments!

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