Family: Are You Ready for another Child?
Now that life with your first child is becoming calmer, you may be thinking about having another child. Smart planning requires an honest assessment of the resources of those people most affected by your decision.
You will first, of course, wish to consider yourself. How is your energy level? How much help can you count on from your spouse, relatives, or friends? Remembering that a pregnancy presents sleep and mobility issues, and a newborn most often requires frequent feedings both day and night, you must feel comfortable that you will be able to withstand the physical demands of an increased workload.
Do you have room for another person in your home? A newborn can spend its first few months in a bassinet or a portable crib. By four months of age, you will want to provide a regular crib for the baby. You will need to address the question of shared versus separate rooms for your children, both now and in the future. If you need a larger home, you finances will obviously be impacted. For the most part, you can use the same clothing and equipment that you used for your first child, so your direct child costs initially are less than double. But as children grow and age, they often entail parallel expenses for clothing, entertainment and education.
Once a second child is born, many parents feel guilty that they can no longer spend as much time with either child as they spent with their first. Fortunately children receive attention and learn from each other. Keep in mind that our charge as parents is more to be available for guidance and support to teach a child to be self-reliant than it is to be a constant playmate for him or her. Nonetheless, your free time will be reduced, so you must anticipate this sacrifice.
Is your first child ready for a sibling? Before two and one-half to three years old, children generally do not have the communication skills to explain their feelings about sharing their parents, space and belongings. Indeed, interactive play and sharing typically begins at this age. Prior to this stage, a child will often react to a new sibling by displaying jealousy of parental attention to the newborn. Temper tantrums and mischievous behavior to get attention are common. Older children may either regard a newborn as a welcome chance to act as an authority figure or as an impediment to accomplishing social activities.
Siblings who are close in age often spend their childhood competing for space, attention, school grades, or athletic achievements. But as adults, they more often maintain a close relationship. Siblings whose ages are far apart are not usually competitive with each other as children, but may also not be as close in adulthood. The adage comes to mind that shared experiences bind a relationship. In considering now versus the future, take into account your own life goals, too. Is parenthood your primary goal? If so, spacing children at two to three years apart is feasible unless you started your family later in life. Do you want to pursue an outside career or travel once your children are grown? If this is in your master plan, you may wish to have your children more closely spaced, despite the sacrifices you will need to make, so that you will be free at a younger age to pursue your own goals.
Once you have decided that the time is now, you will need to prepare for the decreased mobility in late pregnancy. Think about having enough books, play dough, recorded music and plans for play dates and/or preschool so your first child can be constructively occupied for much of the time. Make a list of entertaining/educational places you can go (e.g., libraries, playgrounds) with your children when the need arises. Forethought will save you research time later when your time is at a premium. Investigate sibling preparation classes that might be available at your local hospital, YM/WCA, place of worship or preschool. You can obtain a list of books written for children expecting a sibling from the Pediatric Group’s web site at www.pedgroup.com/books/sibprep.htm. The purpose of these readings is to instill the idea that siblings can play together and their parents can love both of them. This gives a first child a framework to identify with when the baby is born. You should pick one or two of the books and begin reading them to your first child as you enter your eighth month of pregnancy. If you start your child’s preparation too soon, you risk making him or her impatient for the final event.
You may want to stock up on inexpensive gifts “from the baby” for your first child to ease his/her adjustment to the sudden appearance of a new family member. You can re-enforce his/her feeling of importance by telling your first child that you and the baby love him/her, having visitors make a fuss over him/her before admiring the baby, and allowing your first child to open the baby’s presents. The baby will not mind and the excitement of tearing off the wrapping paper of a present will be enjoyable for the older child. You can try to include your first child in activities that the newborn requires, such as feedings and diapering as well as those that do not revolve around the baby (toileting, cooking, showering). Offering safe parallel activities (feeding and diapering a doll, sitting on a potty-chair, mixing imaginary foods in a plastic container) is both instructive and pre-occupying. If you must carry your infant, a wearable baby carrier can free your arms for giving the older child attention and for chores. Remember, no child wants to feel like excess baggage!
The initial adjustment period usually resolves by three weeks or so post-partum. After having learned to share his/her parents’ attention, a first child undergoes a second adjustment period when the baby becomes mobile at five to seven months of age. At this time, a first child must learn to share his/her territory (the floor). In anticipation of this stress, you could pre-designate an area (desk, table, play table, area of floor space) as belonging to the first child, calling it his/her clubhouse, office, special place or something else that makes it private territory. You may also want to designate, or have your older child select, a few toys as private (non-shared) so (s)he does not feel as though all is lost to the baby. In this way, when the baby invades the play area, your older child has a sanctuary in which to feel secure.
Maximizing safety is crucial when you have two children. Child-to-child unintentional poisonings and choking episodes with small objects are hazards that are especially challenging to prevent. Re-childproof your home with an eye toward the belongings of your first child and review your CPR training. When you are out of doors, be sure the infant is secure in a carrier, a stroller or carriage in case you have to run after your fleeing older child.
If you have questions about any of the issues raised in this article, discuss them with your pediatrician, clergy or counselor. There are no right or wrong choices regarding the timing of a second child, only what is right for your individual circumstances. Whatever you decide, if you have trouble coping with your increased responsibilities, seek help early from a qualified professional. We sincerely hope you enjoy the thrills and challenges of an expanding family!
© 2007 iMom. All rights reserved. Taken with permission from AllProDad.com.