A little girl tromped through the bushes of the hospital grounds. Her auntie led her by the hand to a window. There, standing on her tiptoes, she saw her daddy in the window, holding her new baby sister for her to see. Children were not allowed in the hospital unless they were patients. The year was 1975. The little girl was me. Thankfully, times have changed.
In fact, many family-friendly practices have developed. Mothers can invite almost anyone to join them in the delivery room. Older siblings are welcome visitors in the hospital. The joy and anticipation of a new little one has increasingly become a family affair.
After nine years of parenting our own children and now expecting our fifth, my husband and I have been touched by how our older children have so warmly welcomed each new baby. Here are some of the traditions they have helped us develop for welcoming baby and making it a family affair.
Include siblings in the anticipation. This might mean having your child accompany you in creating a baby registry, going to doctor’s appointments or touring the hospital. Explain what you’re doing at each “planning event” and let your child participate. Perhaps he’ll choose a blanket for baby or get to listen to the heartbeat. Emphasize how exciting it is that your family is growing and how important his role will be as the big brother.
Read baby stories. Choose picture books that celebrate the birth of a new little one. Avoid those that focus on “sibling rivalry.” You don’t know if or when it will happen, so why plant the seed in your young child’s heart? Instead, focus on the positives of having a sibling. Our four boys have enjoyed Hello Baby! by Lizzie Rockwell, Waiting for Baby by Harriet Ziefert, and I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole. (Cole has also written a companion book entitled, I’m a Big Sister.)
Take a walk down memory lane. Our sons love it when we look through their scrapbooks. Pull out your older child’s baby book and recount the stories and excitement of when he was born. Discuss the pictures and the funny things that happened. Invite grandparents to join you in retelling the joy they felt at the birth of your older child. When you unpack the baby clothes, let your child help.
Count the days. The weeks until a baby is born can seem to drag for adults. Imagine how difficult it is for young children to comprehend the months of gestation. We’ve tried to help our little guys visualize the days until the due date by creating a paper chain which represents the number of days left in the pregnancy. We include a special colored link at the very end. We tear off one link each day as a visual representation of time passing. This is best done during the final months; too many links on the chain can be overwhelming. While your due date may not be the actual day of birth, it is a close representation and will help everyone anticipate the Big Day.
Plan for the birth-day party. Our older children have loved planning this celebration of the new baby. First, head to the grocery store and let your older child choose a cake mix and a can of frosting. Buy some fun baby-themed paper goods. Arrange for someone to help him bake and decorate a cake while you are at the hospital. When your older child comes to the hospital to visit you and the baby, he can bring the cake and all the party fixings.
Let the siblings exchange gifts. Our son knew the baby was getting lots of presents, so he wanted to do the same as well, choosing a plastic, foot-shaped teething toy. Imagine his surprise when he learned that his baby brother had a little gift for him, too! It takes some preplanning on your part to shop, wrap and pack a gift in your hospital bag, but it really does help to stave off anxiety for the older sibling who may no longer be the center of attention. It also helps start a reciprocal relationship between siblings.
Don’t forget to take pictures through the process. Your new baby’s birth story is a part of your older child’s life story as well. Be sure to record all the little ways that big bro or big sis has helped and waited for the little one. The happiness and excitement you generate together over this new little blessing is a precious story, one to cherish forever.
Jessica Fisher is a wife, mother and freelance writer, making her home near San Diego. She regularly writes about family, fun and frugality at www.lifeasmom.com.