Growing Your Family: What to Expect

2 1/2-4 Years: Giving Yourself Some Space

family on bed

Thayer Allyson Gowdy

What you'll love: An older child who's more independent means an easier time for you when baby arrives. "My oldest daughter had just turned 3 when her sister was born," says Alison Proffitt, a mother of four in Aberdeen, Ohio. "Not only was she no longer taking a bottle, but she was also potty trained and could sometimes even play by herself, which was a huge help." An older child's greater language skills are also a nice perk. "They can say how they're feeling instead of hitting or hurting," Braun says.

What you won't: "Going back into infant mode was tough," admits Tucker Winter, of Charlottesville, Virginia, whose two children are almost four years apart. And it can be hard for the older child to relate to the younger child, especially once they realize that, far from being a fun playmate, a new baby doesn't do much besides eat, sleep, cry, and poop.

Make it work for you: Take advantage of a 3- or 4-year-old's natural desire to be Mommy's or Daddy's little helper and let your child feel proud of his role as big brother (or big sister), Braun says. And because your older kid is probably ready for preschool, you can arrange the schedule to your benefit. Coordinate school hours with baby's nap so you get some downtime. Or try Borba's counterintuitive approach: "Don't put the older child in preschool during the younger one's nap," she says. "Spend special time with him when the baby is sleeping."

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