I thought my oldest daughter would be jealous of her baby sister after she was born, but instead, it was me who became the jealous one. I was envious of her newfound close relationship with her dad. But I found ways to deal with it.

By Miriam Foley
September 25, 2019
Illustration by Sarina Finkelstein; Getty Images (2)

It started when I was pregnant with my second daughter. I was lying on the sofa motionless from nausea that left me depleted of energy. Gone were the days when I'd run around playing football with my firstborn, now 2-and-a-half years old. I used to love pushing her on the swing, or sitting in the sand alongside her with a bucket and spade. Now all I could do was lay next to her and watch Peppa Pig while we waited for my husband to get home.

She was already inching away from me. I could feel it. She was delighted by Peppa, but when her daddy came home she would run to him squealing with excitement. "Daddy's home!" Too tired and sick to be hurt that I was no longer a fun parent to be around, I would close my eyes and listen to them play together.

Once the baby arrived, I continued to watch them from the sofa, this time with a newborn at my breast. I was not included in their play or the new jokes they'd whisper into each other's ears. They'd go out to the playground and tell me stories of their outing when they'd get back. The first time my daughter used the toilet, she chose her dad to accompany her. I tried to get involved but she would push me away.

Then one night when she woke up and called out for her dad, I went instead. "He's asleep, but I'm here," I told her. "No, Daddy!" she cried. Resigned, I went to wake my husband. Instead of feeling grateful for my bed, as I would have been over the last two years when it was me she wanted by her side, I was eaten by jealousy of my husband, who had become her No. 1 parent.

I'm jealous of their games, jokes, laughter, and their outings. I'm jealous of how he calms her down, gets her to eat her dinner, makes sure she brushes her teeth, and how he soothes her during the night. I'm fed up of feeling like I'm on the outside.

I reached out to parent coach and family therapist Nicole Schwarz, MA, LMFT, and she said every family is different. "It makes sense that parents would struggle with jealousy as the relationship with their child changes and as they watch the relationship between their child and co-parent change," says Schwarz, who runs Imperfect Families, an online community for parent coaching. She offered the following advice on how to build the connection with your firstborn again.

Understand your child's feelings.

Firstborn children may feel a bunch of different emotions with the arrival of a new sibling, says Schwarz. That includes feeling confused, frustrated, jealous, upset, or overwhelmed. "I encourage parents to be curious about the behavior they observe and think about the below the iceberg things that may impact that behavior," she adds.

Spend quality one-on-one time.

If you have a newborn to care for and are exhausted post-birth, making time can be harder than it sounds. But a little one-on-one time every day is important, says Schwarz. Join your child in activities they enjoy. Or create "special" activities that are just for the two of you. "It's also important not to put added stress on yourself," adds Schwarz. "There are times or stages in life where one-on-one time might not look like you imagine it should. In these situations, flexibility and creativity are key. Look for small moments or mini connections throughout the day."

She recommends quality over quantity and doing "what makes your child feel most loved and connected to you." That can be physical touch like a quick hug or snuggling, giving praise or encouragement, writing a love note, playing a game, or being silly.

Open up to your partner.

"It's OK to have a variety of feelings when your child pushes you away," says Schwarz. "But share the big tears, angry thoughts, and hurt feelings with another adult, rather than your child." She also suggests some positive self-talk, such as reminding yourself that "you are the parent your child needs, and that your worth is not defined by your child's positive response."

Don't force a relationship.

When it comes to trying to wedge yourself back into your older child's daily activities and making time, you may face resistance, and that's OK. Schwarz reminds me I don't need to force it or make my daughter like it, but just be there while she adapts to the change.

I decided to park all the elaborate one-on-one outings I've had in mind and just ask my daughter a simple question: "Would you like to read a book?"

She looks at me intently. I can see she's thinking hard, but she answers, "Yes." This time, it's that simple: five stolen minutes on the sofa. The perfect, imperfect alone time both of us need.

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