My babies are 14 months apart. When I was pregnant with our second daughter, Camille, I struggled a lot with how such a monumental change would affect her older sister Aurelia. After all, Aurelia was herself still a baby. I had faith that my husband and I would eventually figure out how to raise two under two, but I worried that Aurelia would have a hard time adjusting.
So many well-meaning people who I shared my concerns with said, “oh it’s good that Aurelia is so young. She won’t remember life as an only child.” In theory, that sounds logical, but research actually suggests the opposite; young children who are thrust into an older sibling role have a harder time coping because they don’t yet have the skills to manage their emotions or the words to the express them. The younger they are, the less equipped they are and the harder it is for them to adjust.
On more than one occasion in the months leading up to Camille’s birth, I remember sobbing as I tried to hold Aurelia over my growing bump, absolutely heartbroken for her.
Then I read Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham, and it changed my life. The book takes a hands-on, research-based approach to facilitating a loving, happy, respectful family culture. It centers on the importance of the parent-child bond and on practicing empathy to help foster a safe environment for children to manage their emotions and ultimately build life-long bonds with siblings. She doesn’t sugarcoat the issues parents and children face, and she doesn’t minimize the very real assumptions a child can make when parents bring home a new baby. (She likens it to a spouse bringing home a new partner who sleeps in their room and gets all the attention. How would you feel?) She offers dozens of real-life conflict-resolution examples (including sample scripts) to help put theories into practice. She explains how parents should evaluate tantrums and how to address them. And throughout her book, she references books by other authors that have turned out to be great resources for me as well.
After reading the book, I felt incredibly prepared and empowered. Dr. Markham spoke my language, and her approach to parenting really resonated with me. She challenged popular child-rearing methods that instinctively didn’t feel right for me and gave me other tools to try instead. She specifically covered challenges that arise when siblings are close in age. She even addressed families who were about to add a new baby and offered suggestions on how to prepare siblings, introduce them for the first time and arm visitors/friends/family with tips to avoid making siblings feel overlooked. Honestly, this book is a treasure.
Today, Camille is almost three months old, and we’re all adjusting incredibly well. That’s not to say there aren’t meltdowns or power struggles, but given the magnitude of the changes in Aurelia’s life, she’s responded beautifully. We use the principles in this book every single day. They’ve given me permission to parent the way that feels natural to me, but that I’ve never seen modeled before. And they’ve given me new ideas for bonding with my children that I can’t wait to continue to implement, adapt and build upon.
P.S. If you don’t plan on having multiple children, you might be interested in Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, which as the title suggests, doesn’t have the same emphasis on siblings.