BFF set by Mama Case Prints
When we found out that Charlie was a Charlie we were over the moon. I daydreamed about how fun it would be to have two boys, brothers who would be the best of friends. I was lucky enough to have my sister Lauren growing up and to this day I feel immeasurably lucky to have her through thick and thin (even in our younger days when she would steal my clothes and use all my hairspray and copy everything I did. Little sisters, ya know?). But either way to have that bond would be amazing. Brothers, two boys...awesome.
So of course while I was pregnant Hank and I talked up the baby a lot. We told Henry all the time that his best friend was in there, someone who would eventually be able to play with him everyday and always be there for him. We read books and talked about it constantly. But still, in the back of my mind I worried a little. Up until this point Henry had been an only child. All of our attention all of the time, was focused on him. Henry wants to play? We play. He wants to dance around like crazy in the middle of the living room? We drop everything we're doing and dance with him. He feels like stacking up every cushion from the couch onto the floor and making a huge fort? Sounds good. But I knew when a new baby came along things would change; the dynamic would shift, of course. I wouldn't always be able to play because I'd have to nurse. Dancing around the living room might not always be okay if Charlie was on the floor. And the same with the cushions. Or riding his Big Wheels around the kitchen island. Or playing his drum set any time of the day. So amidst all of my romantic notions of what would be, I had a tiny bit of worry in my heart that Henry would feel sad about all of this change.
It's been 3 months now and looking back through all the ups and downs, I feel like Henry really was able to adjust well and I feel really happy with how it went. He hasn't seemed upset about the change at all, and more than anything he wakes up every morning hoping that this is the morning Charlie is finally big enough to play. It's so cute. At first when we brought Charlie home he was a little stand-offish as we figured everything out, but I think this was more from being almost scared of how tiny and fragile Charlie was. And of course some days are harder than others- remind me to one day tell the story of when, overexcited by all of the leaves, Henry dumped a pile of them onto poor Charlie while he was in his stroller- but most days are great. I'm no expert by any means (really, it's only been 12 weeks and we have a lifetime of brother-stuff to navigate) and none of this is rocket science, but here's what has worked for us in these first months:
1. We read a lot of books about being a big brother throughout my pregnancy, and talked about it constantly. We focused a lot on Henry's new role as a protector and teacher, and about how it was his job to show Charlie all the fun things in life- how to play, have fun, etc. He loved that and would often stop what he was doing during my pregnancy and say something like "I can't WAIT to show Charlie this truck!" "Big brother" books were also a huge part of this and a great conversation starter- here are a couple of our favorites: one and two. Our most favorite book though, wasn't necessarily about bringing a new brother home, but about being excited to teach your little brother something. Henry changed the names in the book to Henry and Charlie, and we must have read this every night until Charlie came along.
2. Special projects and jobs. My family stayed with Henry while Hank and I were in the hospital and they made a "Welcome Home" celebration for us, complete with art projects Henry made for Charlie's arrival. And even before that Henry worked with us on some special things for Charlie's room- he helped us paint the walls, put together the crib, and move his crib mattress into the baby's room. I also talked to a lot of girlfriends and asked them if they did anything for the older sibling. Some mentioned they had gone with the older sibling(s) to the store to get the baby a special birthday present, so we did this for Henry and it was a big hit. He picked out something for Charlie, and brought it into the room when he met him; he was so excited to give it to him. I can't necessarily say this helped him to adjust, but it definitely helped add more excitement and positivity to the big day. Another huge thing we did from day one and still do everyday, all day, is give Henry jobs to do in relation to Charlie. He has a little step stool in Charlie's room that he stands on to "help" me change C's diaper, always make sure the diaper basket is full, and is in charge of a handful of other little things, like making sure Charlie's toys are put away into the white basket after playtime, checking on him when he's in his swing, getting me a pillow so I can nurse, etc. Like any 3-year old Henry loves to help, so this makes him feel really important and proud.
3. Reminding myself to be patient, every single day. This seems like a simple thing but one of my biggest challenges is not getting annoyed or irritated when Henry is loud when we're trying to be quiet. Usually he's doing the best he can and I need to remind myself that he's not even three yet, and just as I'm learning to be a Mom of two, he's learning to be a big brother and share all of the attention that was once his. Or more importantly, that he's being loud because he wants my attention. Another challenge for me was realizing that I was saying "not now, Henry" way too many times when he would come to me while I was nursing Charlie. This was not helping the climate of either of our relationships so now I try to always acknowledge what he is saying and redirect him to something else until I am done. This has helped to avoid a myriad of upset feeling from both sides- either me feeling frustrated with Henry when he isn't cooperating, or him feeling pushed to the side, which makes me feel so guilty and really sad. It's so funny- I always thought I was a really patient and calm person with Henry, but once I was put into a situation where I would be nursing Charlie, and Henry would be on the verge of a tantrum, or I'd be trying to calm Charlie down to get ready to nap and Henry wouldn't listen to my requests to quiet down, I would get SO annoyed. And of course I still do, but I handle it differently now and focusing on patience is so much better. So taking a step back and reminding myself that there is a reason for Henry being uncooperative or extra-loud, and redirecting him (stocking up on quiet activities like puzzles and fun art supplies is key) has changed everything.
Really though, through it all, nothing is sweeter than seeing Henry go up to Charlie unprompted and talk to him, hug him, or sing a song for him. And that smile that Charlie gives him and the way Henry puffs up with pride ("Mommy, I made him SMILE!")- that is everything. And this is happening more and more everyday, and it's these little moments that shine over all of the harder days (the too-loud toy trucks during naptime days, the Henry getting upset at something during Charlie's naptime and waking him up days, the me just feeling frustrated that I don't have enough arms for everyone days). Henry has blossomed so much since becoming a big brother. He's always been exceptionally sweet, but now seeing the gentle and kind way he is with Charlie is just about the best thing in the world. Knowing that this is just the beginning is so exciting too and realizing that these three months are just the tip of the iceberg in the adventures of Henry and Charlie. I can't wait to see what comes next!
Like I did in my first "What Works For Us" post, I'll ask the same questions- what's worked for you when welcoming in a new sibling? Any experiences you'd like to share? Tips or tricks to add to my list?
p.s. I'll leave you with this short video of Henry meeting Charlie at the hospital. This is one of the sweetest moments of my life- a totally unprompted song Henry pulled out to calm Charlie down when he started to cry. The little kiss and "I love you, Charlie" at the end kills me.