I’m a work-at-home mom of a twenty-month-old boy and three-month-old girl. When I was seven to eight months pregnant I started to feel my son push me away and choose his father or nanny over me. At first, I thought it related to my pregnancy and would only last for a little while. Now five months later, I feel more and more neglected by my son. Every time I try to embrace him, he doesn’t want me. I feel very insecure. I want to spend more time with him, but I have to work and take care of my little girl as well.
Is there anything I can do to get my son back without neglecting my baby?
– Mother of Two (Many)
Dear Mother of Two (Many),
As two of the countless mothers who’ve felt the heart-wrenching push/pull of the first born once the second is on the scene, we feel your pain.
Just as adjusting to one baby is a massive undertaking for first time parents, the shift from the parent-to-baby dynamic to the parents-to-children dynamic is a big one. Your son is learning to have a sibling. You are learning to have more than one kid. Your husband is learning what it means to take on a more primary role. All this adjustment can be painful, for the kid and for you. But this tumultuous time will pass. And your bond with your son will endure.
Like most parents, you can’t just throw your work schedule out the window to give your children more attention. If it’s any consolation, parents who are home with their kids all day still have to work out how to divide the attention so that everyone feels loved. You will be with both kids on evenings, weekends, mornings, in the middle of the night : And at those times, there are things you can do to help make your older son feel a little less left out in the cold, while still tending to your new baby’s needs. The good news, as you’ve probably discovered, is that newborns’ needs are actually quite basic (if frequent). So as emotional as it feels right now, this is really just a simple problem of multi-tasking.
Here are some things that might help:
Try to include your son in the process, or at least not shoo him away when you have to feed or change or dress the baby. He may not want to come along, but it’s an honor just to be invited. You can give him some jobs, too; remarkably, the task of throwing away a dirty diaper can be a huge thrill to a toddler who’s feeling left out. This will help your son feel like the big kid instead of just the pre-empted baby. It also reminds him that this is not just your new baby, it’s your son’s new sibling. Also consider your language. Is “the baby” the reason you can’t play? Saying all fun ends because of “the baby” will confirm your son’s worst fears.
When you do have to exclude your son – i.e. to put #2 down for a nap – settle him into something he loves. This can be some kind of play, a snack, a prerecorded story or the good ol’ TV (we found the box crucial for these moments, but this is not a solution that works for everyone.) And of course, if there’s another caregiver or even a friend around at these times, that person can help your son transition.
You can also carve out special time with your son, without the baby. It’s great (and very common, by the way) that he’s bonding with his dad and his nanny right now. But he needs to know that you have time for him, too. It might not be easy to make it happen, and it’s possible he may not go along with the plan at first. But it’s important for him to know that you have dedicated space for him in your life. A regular routine activity or outing can be a good way to accomplish this; it gives your son the security of knowing that there’s mom time at the end of the tunnel of distraction. A little time together can become something you both look forward to, and serve as a much-needed reminder that you’re doing just fine in your new role as mother of two.