Parenting is an interesting and yet very challenging task. It is one of those full-time jobs where one has to learn on the job, which makes every parent a piece of work in progress. When our son Ray came, we were excited and anxious in equal measure. Excited that we were finally holding our own bundle of joy, that a baby is, in our hands; but also anxious because we were totally green on what we were supposed to do in order to give the baby the best care that there is. Of course, like any other first-time parents, we had read a couple of books on parenting and sought tips from “veteran parents” about the do’s and don’ts of parenting but you soon realize that every child is unique and that parenting depends more on intuition than procedure.
Many are the nights we ended up in hospital thinking that the baby was seriously sick, only to find out that the incessant crying was due to something as simple as a discomfort of feeling hot due heavy clothing! I never knew that something as mundane as a baby changing the pooping routine and taking a little bit longer to poop, could be such a headache till one feels like throwing a party once the baby finally poops! By the time our daughter came, we had been parents for over three and half years and of course we felt like we had enough parenting experience. How wrong we were! I never saw this coming. But if in a fleeting moment I ever suspected that my boy Ray would feel threatened by the arrival of his baby sister, I wasn’t prepared for the nasty tantrums that would accompany the feeling. It is amazing that children are perhaps the most honestly egocentric and attention seeking creatures that you may have anywhere around you at any moment. It is therefore very natural for them to feel hurt when the attention they are used to getting from their parents is suddenly usurped (at least according to them) by a new arrival.
Like most parents, we thought we had done a thorough job in preparing him psychologically for the arrival of his sister and we only expected him to be excited to finally have a sibling in the house for company. Of course excited he was, but only for the first few days. This was until he realized that his territory had been invaded when, all of a sudden, the undivided attention he had been enjoying for more than three and half years was now focused more on the new and fragile baby! However much we tried to balance the attention between the two of them, the newborn baby obviously needed more tender care than the boy who was already three years and seven months old. Ray could not understand why the mother was spending so much time tenderly holding the baby and he obviously felt jealous. We helplessly watched the emotions of the boy change from those of pure love to a mixture of love and resentment. I remember one day when the baby was about a month old and, in a feat of rage, Ray demanded that the baby be taken back to hospital where we brought her from!
I am sure this is a challenge many parents face whenever baby #2 arrives. However, you can never appreciate the magnitude of some things till you personally experience them. What is one supposed to do when baby #1 starts treating baby #2 as the enemy within, who has actually come to steal the undivided parents’ attention that they have monopolized for years? Many parents are left in a limbo since they lack a way of making baby #1 understand that the newborn baby needs more attention. The tantrums come automatically and in most cases, the older children don’t know what is bothering them, but as a parent, you will obviously know the source of their grumpiness. This phenomenon is common for firstborn children who are used to be the only children in the house for a long time. Baby #2 might not feel threatened when baby #3 arrives since he/she is already used to the fact that there is another sibling in the house.
But sometimes, the parents might inadvertently make the situation worse for baby #1 due to the fact that, compared to the fragile newborn; baby #1 looks all grown. If you are not careful, you might easily start treating the firstborn baby as a grownup, forgetting that they are also kids who have a raw yearning for attention. This is the worst mistake that a parent can make since it will make the tantrums even nastier. Whenever you have a newborn baby in the house, the song that might probably be ringing in your mind is: “My Sleeping Child” by “Michael Learns to Rock.” Though I have always wondered why a band could choose a sentence for a name, I have always enjoyed the timeless numbers done by the band and this particular song has never ceased to capture my imagination.
It is every parent’s natural duty to protect their young ones. Therefore, as a parent, whenever you look down at your baby peacefully sleeping and oblivious of what is happening around her/him, the first instinct that comes to you is that of wanting to protect them from the wild world out there. They always seem to have built their own paradise which is enough reason for you to always want to cover their back against any imminent danger. For this very reason, you will not be amused whenever the older baby performs dangerous acrobatic stunts around the younger baby’s head, or even makes noise that can awaken the baby. You will automatically find yourself yelling at baby #1 quite often or even sometimes applying some form of punishment, including corporal. It doesn’t make matters any better when baby #1 happens to be a very hyperactive lad. At this point the older baby may misinterpret the parents’ behavior as lack of love for them and they can easily feel unwanted and start regarding the baby as the cause of their predicament. Their love for the newborn baby gradually starts turning into resentment.
The symptoms of neglect for the older child will range from throwing sudden tantrums which include stamping their feet and yelling for no reason, feigning sickness like having an exaggerated cough, starting to talk like a child who is learning to talk, demanding to be held and be fed exactly the same way as the newborn and acting up naughtily. All this will be aimed at capturing the parents’ attention. But you know that things are getting out of hand when they wake up in the middle of the night and start crying or screaming for no apparent reason and it might get a bit scary.
Another big mistake parents make is reacting angrily to the tantrums of baby #1. In a world that has become so demanding of one’s time and attention, it is very easy to regard baby tantrums as a bother. Therefore you will easily find yourself yelling at the child whenever they throw a tantrum and the first questions that may naturally come out of your mouth are: “What is wrong with you?” “What is your problem?” “Are you normal/Ok?” the truth is such questions are likely to confuse the child even the more since they themselves don’t understand what is bothering them! Such questions might actually make them believe that something is very wrong with them.
However, before you are witlessly scared and maybe start thinking that your child has been bewitched or make a beeline to the psychiatrist’s, just a little change of tact on how you deal with the firstborn child might change things drastically. All you need to do is to ensure that you equally divide your attention between baby #1 and baby #2; which is no mean feat. It can be understood that the newborn baby will need a closer attention but you should never forget to reassure the older child that all is well. You can do this by involving him/her in attending to the young one by letting him/her hold the baby in his/her hands once in a while, sending them to get the baby’s diapers, taking time to feed them and always holding them tenderly and reminding them that this is your younger brother or sister. It will not only make them feel useful and appreciated, but it will also gradually make them accept the reality that the younger sibling is there to stay.
Ray has been through all of the above but thank God he has now overcome the hardest part. Obviously, parenting is a never-ending learning process and with such a fulltime job as parenting, who needs another job? Unfortunately, the kids must eat and bills must be taken care of.