"It's natural for moms to worry about not being able to give their older children enough time or attention after the arrival of a new baby," says Rallie McAllister, M.D., M.P.H., a family physician in Lexington, KY, and coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth. A Baby Center survey found that 94 percent of moms felt guilty about many issues, including how much time they spend with their kids.
According to Dr. McAllister, the transition can be especially tough for moms having their second child. "Parents have a unique relationship with an only child. Once a second child is welcomed into the family, the 'only child' becomes a 'firstborn child' and the dynamics of the parent-child relationship change dramatically. This is a good change, but the emotional adjustment can be challenging, especially for the parents."
One way to realize you're not alone in your guilt trip? Talk to other moms! "Many women are reluctant to confide in other moms because they think they're the only one feeling this way and they don't want to look bad," says Elizabeth R. Lombardo, Ph.D., a mother of two and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. "But opening up usually does the opposite: You realize you're not alone and that helps to put things in perspective."
"The better your child adjusts to the new baby, the less guilt you're going to have," says Jennifer Malone, who teaches a class called Second Time Moms for Isis Parenting (www.isisparenting.com), a Boston-based chain of centers offering prenatal classes, new-mom classes, and more. So talking about the new baby before he arrives is a good idea.
Malone suggests letting your child (even boys!) care for a baby doll that you can both interact with. There are also several books about welcoming home a new baby (The Berenstain Bears' New Baby, My New Baby, and Babies Don't Eat Pizza are just a few) that you can read to your kids before your newborn's arrival.
Rebecca Guinn, M.D., an ob-gyn on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford, adds that making sure your older child has possessions that do not have to become community property can help keep her from feeling that the new baby is taking over. "This is especially true of a favorite toy, a blanket, and a bed. If your child is still sleeping in the crib that will be used for the baby, make sure you move her out of this several weeks before bringing the new baby home. And make a big production about getting a new big-boy or big-girl bed. Redecorating a room is a fantastic way to show you care just as much about your child, who may be resenting all the attention being paid to the new nursery."
Coming home from the hospital is a special occasion, and you want to make sure your other kids are a part of the big day. When you arrive, let Daddy carry the baby so you can eagerly greet the older child or children, suggests Lisa Noll, Ph.D., a child psychologist with Texas Children's Hospital Psychology Service. "You can also have a gift exchange between the baby and the older child. Your older child may want to pick out a special gift for the new baby in advance, and can help announce the baby's arrival by wearing a "big brother" or "big sister" T-shirt."
When visitors come to see the new arrival, ask them to greet the older child or children first. "Remind them that the children may want to talk about something other than the new baby," says Dr. Noll.
During those early days of having a newborn in the house, chances are you will have limited time to dote on your older child. But fitting in one-on-one time doesn't need to be a major event it can simply be a few minutes here and there throughout the day. "Try to block out a small period of time to spend with each child individually," says Manisha Parikh, M.D., an ob-gyn on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford. "This will help make him or her feel special." Other times, try to do activities that include all the kids so that family time is enjoyable for everyone. This can include taking a walk to the park or cuddling on the couch while watching a movie (and while you're feeding the new baby!).
"I do try to get fifteen minutes alone with each child once a day when I can," says Chelsea Gladden, a mom of five and cofounder of BreezyMama.com. "This may sound impossible, but it does work. While two are in school, I can spend time with my two-year-old as my twins nap. When my twins and my two-year-old nap, I get time with my five-year-old, who gets out of school before my seven-year-old. My seven-year-old and I take a walk around the block in the early evening. As for the twins, I can get in some time with one when my husband has the other or when one is napping."
A newborn can knock a household off its schedule pretty fast, but it's important to get back into a regular routine--for everyone's sake, says Jessica LeRoy, M.A., founder and clinical director of the Center for the Psychology of Women (psychologyofwomen.com) in Los Angeles. "Children crave consistency, and it will make your life easier if everyone knows what to expect each day."
If you're having difficulty in those early weeks, don't worry. Just keep up with the important rituals, like bedtime routines and family dinners. And don't forget to get Dad involved. "Dads can help moms and their older children adjust to the new baby by being available, flexible, and supportive," says Dr. McAllister. He can help keep everyone on schedule--especially when the kids need to get off to school during the week--as well as help out with the new baby so Mom can spend time with the other children. "Remember not to be critical of his work. No two people do anything the same way, and just because it's not how you would do it, it's not necessarily wrong," says Dr. Guinn.
Don't fall into Superwoman syndrome and think that everything needs to fall on your shoulders. "My greatest piece of advice would be to never feel guilty about having someone help you out," says Coco Peate, a mom of four from Westlake Village, CA, and the founder of VidaCoco, a lifestyle site for Latinas. "This is hard for many new moms because they may feel the need and desire to get it all done on their own. If you have family members or friends around who want and offer to help you out, take them up on it."
"Don't feel guilty about accepting help ever," LeRoy agrees. "If someone is offering to do something for you, it's because they want to do it. And helping out also makes the other person feel good. It's win-win."
You can get the other kids involved, too, which will not only serve as a way for all of you to spend time together, but can also be a great bonding experience between them and the new baby. "Creating ways for all of them to connect will be important for their lifetimes," says Carolyn Bates, an ICF Certified Personal Life Coach. "Let the older kids play a part in feeding, bathing, and playing with the new baby, under your supervision. Let them hold the baby, push the baby in the stroller, and introduce the baby to older children and adults. You want to create the sense that this is the family, not in the sense that the older children are babysitting or being kept from something they want to do, but that a family is a team and dedicated to one another."
The bottom line, says Dr. Lombardo, is that you need to "give yourself permission to be human and need others. Then use the time to have one-on-one time with one of your children or time for yourself."
Moms tend to focus too much on the things they didn't get done during the day--like finishing the laundry or making sure the kids eat their veggies at dinner--and not enough on what has gone right, says Malone. "Moms need to cut themselves some slack. If you had to skip bath time tonight and served cereal for dinner, it's okay. As long as the kids are safe and know they're loved, it will all be fine."
"When I'm with my kids, I focus on having fun with them, playing games, giggling, reading, listening and parenting," says Hilary Bates, a mom of two from Columbus, OH. "Of course, that means that sometimes my house is a mess, but who cares?" Peate agrees: "Give yourself credit for all that you do: balance multiple schedules, run a household, cook, clean, do laundry, and everything in between. The many amazing, inspiring moms I know have showed me that being a great mom can be done in so many ways and it never means perfection."
And when you are feeling guilty after a particularly stressful day, Dr. Lombardo suggests writing down in a journal three things that went well that day. "It can just be three short sentences that take a few seconds to jot down, but it can instantly make you feel better," she says.
"The airlines tell us to 'put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others' because we are no good to anyone if we have passed out," says Dr. Lombardo. "Same goes if you are overwhelmed with stress. Taking time for yourself will help you be happier, have less stress, be healthier and be a much better mother!"
Ask yourself what you loved to do pre-baby: dance, hike, draw, bake, scrapbook, sing. Schedule some regular time on the calendar to engage in activities that help you remember who you are and what make you come alive, says Renee Trudeau, life coach and author of The Mother's Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life. "Not only will you feel more relaxed, patient and generous towards others after participating in these self-care activities, you'll realize your guilt is unjustified!"
Missy Cheatham, a mom of three from Colleyville, TX, makes sure to squeeze in some workout time for herself. "I enjoy running, and I sometimes have to do it at night after the kids are asleep, or my husband and I have to take turns so that one of us can work out and one of us can watch the kiddos. I have to work out. It makes me feel better about myself and gives me a great outlet for stress, both of which make me a much better mom to my kids."
No matter what activity you choose, just be sure that it's something you enjoy--running to Target to pick up diapers doesn't count.
Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.