The Second Wife

The Second Wife

I want you to imagine for a moment… Your partner tells you that he is bringing home a new wife to live in the family home. He tells you how exciting it’s going to be, and how much he’s looking forward to her arrival. He says you’ll need to help this new wife, and to share your things – your clothes and your room with her, and that he wants you to love her too. He reminds you that you are still special, but that there will be another special one there too! How would you feel? Most of us would be in disbelief, enraged, and feeling like we weren’t loved enough, or that we weren’t special enough.

Yet, isn’t this what we often expect of child number one, when we announce that’s there’s a new baby joining the family? As adults we struggle with the whole concept of a 2nd wife, yet we expect a 2/3/4 year old (with infinitely less mature social development) to understand, and ‘be nice’ to this new baby! It sounds unreasonable when expressed like that, doesn’t it? In some cases, the first few weeks may be a novelty for the first child, but then some reach a stage where they ask you to ‘send the baby back’!

So, what might a toddler or young child be feeling, when a new baby arrives:

  • Lonely – you are busy with the baby, and the toddler is left ‘alone’ more frequently;
  • Sad – that he doesn’t have your attention as much;
  • Angry – that the baby takes so much of your time;
  • Tired – if the baby cries a lot and disturbs his sleep;
  • Unloved – he may interpret the time you spend with the baby as meaning s/he is ‘better’ or more appealing than himself;
  • Naughty – often parents expect a toddler to know that he has to be gentle with a baby, or to be quiet when baby is asleeep.

It’s quite normal for toddlers to find ways to get your attention away from the baby – they need to go to the potty when you are feeding the baby, or they play the noisy toys just as you are settling the baby down – the toddler is saying: ‘Notice me… I’m still here and I’m special too!’

So how can you help your toddler adjust?

  • When the toddler comes to visit you (if you are in hospital), make the toddler the focus of attention – lots of kisses and cuddles, tell him how much you’ve missed him!
  • Let the toddler ‘notice’ the new baby, rather than you make a fuss about the baby. The toddler may be more interested in you, than in the baby. Next to the baby, have a present from the baby, to the toddler – a book, a toy car, a puzzle.
  • Ask relatives who visit you, to spend time with the toddler first, before focussing on the baby, and if appropriate, ask them to have a small gift for the toddler also – this reinforces that he is also special.
  • Have both Mum and Dad spend time with the toddler each day, even a few minutes of playing time is beneficial. Apart from breastfeeding, Dad’s can do everything for the new baby, like Mums can – this then frees Mum up to spend some familiar play time with the toddler.
  • While you are feeding the baby, read to your toddler, so he can snuggle in close too.

If he shows aggression towards the baby, use Emotion Coaching: ‘I know you are cranky because you want Mummy to play now, but that doesn’t mean you can push the baby.’ Stick to your boundaries, as that provides stability for them, even if they don’t like it at the time. The toddler may ‘regress’ a bit, in the belief that if he is babyish, that you will have more time for him too. They may want a bottle, or to talk ‘baby-talk’. Support them as they adjust to this big change in their life.

Children do eventually adjust – give them time, lots of cuddles, play-time with you, and lots of reminding of how much you love them, and how special they are.

— Image by Micah Sittig via Flickr