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Home and Family

When is He Going Back?
by A.Ross M.Ed

Mummy goes to hospital for a few hours, for a day, or a week or maybe longer, and comes back with a new baby. Stories abound about older children who resent the new baby and how mothers do everything in their power to prevent the 'ex' baby from feeling jealousy and resentment. 'They' say that all children feel jealous of the new arrival and even when a mother declares that she has seen no sign of envy 'they' claim darkly that it will manifest itself sooner or later.

How do we prevent resentment, and do we really have to search for it when the older child obviously loves the newcomer and takes his presence for granted? There are a few common sense rules of dos and don'ts, yet not everyone keeps to them, and their children are perfectly at peace with the situation.

Firstly, there is the older child's personal furniture. His crib, his high chair and his stroller are HIS domain. If you are going to put the baby into one of these in the near future, make quite sure that the older child has forgotten about them. If he is completely acclimatized to the new bed and perhaps the new location (not in parents' bedroom any more), then by the time the new baby is out of the cradle, enough time has elapsed and the old crib will not be HIS any more.

Secondly, try to prevent the new baby taking up all your attention. Till now, the 'old' baby has been the center of attraction, even if he is the youngest in a very large family, or perhaps even more so, he was their pet to whom they taught tricks: he was the prince. Now this little upstart has come to take what was his. It is perfectly easy to feed a baby without the older child even noticing. This is the time to read with the other child, or play games with him. The same applies to visitors. One woman who was out for the first time, wheeling her newborn and eighteen month old, met several friends, each of whom cooed over the older child after a brief glance at the newcomer. The woman had hung a prominent sign over the new baby's head, proclaiming "I really do not care whether you look at me or not, nor will I even notice, whereas my older brother does care a great deal. Please talk to him." As far as I know, some other women followed this great idea.

Much depends on the age of the ex-baby. When babies are close- born, it is very often the two-year-old who evinces signs of jealousy. He may be told that he is a big boy, too big toň when indeed he is also just a baby. It is wiser for Mother just to tell herself that she has three babies, than to try to make the 'oldest' grow up before his time.

While writing this, I can hear one of my daughters criticizing me sharply for hypocrisy, claiming that I did not follow all these tips when I was a young woman with many close-born children. That may be so; we are all human. But being older now, with the benefit of hindsight, it may be worth passing these tips on to younger inexperienced mothers. Incidentally, children are one's worst critics, as perhaps parents are towards their children. Parents and children are one entity, and we want that entity to be perfect. Obviously one cannot generalize; many parents are blind to their children's failings, and some children idolize one of their parents and are oblivious of any of their faults.

Jealousy finds expression in different ways, depending on the age and nature of the child. If there has not been a baby in the house for four years, the child might welcome the newcomer wholeheartedly. Strangely, it is often the child before the ex-baby who gives a cause for concern. If Mother makes bathing a joint venture, "Would you fetch the baby's fresh clothes, please," "Could you feel if the water is the right temperature" (she should check it first, surreptitiously), "Will you dry his little foot, very very gently," it will be a help.

Let the older child choose what he or she will wear that day, and then choose the baby's outfit. Once again, there will be times when you are in a hurry, but this is a general guideine. If, when you see the four-year-old almost squeezing the life out of the baby, you scream, "Leave that baby ALONE," you are showing her that bad behavior will get her all the attention she so craves, even if it is negative. Pick up the baby and show the child how soft and fragile the child is, and how she can sit on the floor and hold him ever so gently. Older siblings can joyfully proclaim to the child who has been the youngest for so long, "Now you won't be the last to get challa on Shabbos. You will always get Kiddush wine before the new baby; you won't be last any more."

Personally, I feel that the more one expects jealousy, the more likely it is to appear, but this is a personal opinion and most experts will disagree with me. There are true anecdotes of the things children say about the newcomer, yet they do not have to be expressions of deep-seated envy. When a well-meaning visitor asks, "Can I have your baby?" the answer may well be, "Yes, take him, and don't forget all his clothes and diapers." A child might ask his mother, "When are you giving him back?" When the reply is, "He is ours to stay and we all love him, just like we all love you sooo much," with a great hug to show how much, the child will be quite content.

If as mentioned above, the child before the previous youngest shows real signs of jealousy, it is a good idea to give her responsibility. If the baby starts crying and you use a pacifier, let this older child run to pop it in his mouth. Resist the impulse to run after the girl to make sure she is not harming the child. Instead, thank her, and ask her to rock the baby for a few minutes till you have time to attend to him. Show her that you trust her.

Children differ in the amount of sleep they need, or the amount of food which satisfies them. Furthermore, their need for attention varies considerably. If you notice an older child regressing, either by wetting the bed or even wetting by day if they have been perfectly reliable before: or if the child starts talking in a babyish voice, or demanding a bottle when he had already given it up completely — that is a signal that he needs far more attention.

Your time is limited, and you may feel impatient with a child of six who behaves this way. Nevertheless, it is worth spending more time at the moment with this particular child than with any other member of the family: talking, playing games and taking him out with you. In the end, this child may have a particularly difficult nature, and you will not always succeed, but extra love and attention is always a worthwhile investment.

The more children feel loved, wanted, secure and belonging to their family unit, the less likely there are to be problems of jealousy when you are blessed with a gift of a new baby.

 

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