Adding a New Family Member

Well, we’re six months into our life with Gelato, and I have learned a lot of stuff. A lot a lot. While I was growing up, I always admired women in their 50s and beyond because I recognized the amount of wisdom they possessed. I had no clue exactly what path they had to take in order to arrive at this place of wisdom… I just figured it came with the grays. However, now that I’m a mommy again, I feel like I have probably aged about 10 years in six months and I am starting to realize exactly what kinds of things those women have gone through in order to be deemed wise.

I belong to an online group of moms who use the Babywise series to help inform and guide their parenting strategies. Several of the moms had newborns right around the time Gelato was born. It is fun to have a group of babies around the same age! However, now there is a new wave of newborns flooding the group, and it’s fun to go back and address some of the crazy stuff we’ve just been through- I feel like I have at least some understanding and some ideas about how to make it work!

One of my friends in the group has a son about six months younger than Hula Girl, and she just had another son about six months after Gelato was born! In fact, the spacing between both sets of our kids is 26 months. She posted a question recently asking how on earth she could handle her older son’s behavior now that she’s so tied down with the newborn. She also explained that she was feeling so very overwhelmed with the whole thing- a toddler and a newborn are hard to handle!

I decided I wanted to share my response to her here on my blog so that one day when it gets made into a blog book and my very own daughter (or daughter-in-law) goes through the same thing, she will have some of my own personal wisdom… as well as some understanding that she, too, made her Mama’s life difficult for a time. 🙂

Part of my friend’s issues with her older toddler were just crazy two-year-old behavior. The example she gave was that he took all the flowers out of a vase and drank the water. EEW! My kid’s never done anything always doing stuff like that (remember the time when she emptied a container of hand soap into her shoe?… or this morning, when I came down from putting Gelato down for his nap to find a kitchen full of frozen peas and corn!!! ) For anonymity’s sake, I’ve abbreviated her kids’ names- G is the older son, J is the newborn.

Before I address your more pressing question of how to deal with G, here are the things that I have been (slowly, painfully) learning in the last 6 months. In order. 🙂 It really truly helps to have a good perspective before deciding how you are going to handle the situation. (And before we all start thinking I’m awesome or anything… lol… I FAILED MISERABLY on at least 3 occasions that I can remember as clearly as if they just happened a second ago, along with at least 1000 other occasions that all blend together in one mommy’s-done-lost-her-mind fog. So, take my advice/ideas with a few grains of salt!)
1. Very short-term thinking- I adopted this phrase as my mantra in the very early newborn days when both kids were crying at the same time and I couldn’t leave Hula Girl alone for more than 3 minutes but couldn’t just ignore Gelato, either: “Everything will be different 20 minutes from now.” I really did have to take my days and break them down into 20-minute segments and allow myself to feel hope that whatever stressful situation I was currently in would be over 20 minutes from then. Sometimes, it was an even more stressful situation! But it was different.
2. Courage- I realized I was operating in fear 99% of my day- always nervous that “something” might happen: Gelato might wake early (he did most of the time from 9-24 weeks); Hula Girl might throw a tantrum (rare, but sometimes); our dinner might not be ready on time (who am I kidding… dinner is NEVER ready on time); I might not get any sleep ever again for the rest of my life (I have resigned myself to this one); life might always be this hard (I expect it likely gets harder); etc. But my daily readings brought me across 1 Peter and I was reminded that we are facing all kinds of things to develop perseverance. So for the next few months, my new mantra was “I am not afraid.” I needed to let go of that huge knot of terror and tension that I held buried in my lower chest/upper stomach region and just relax and know that God was not going to let me drown. It may be flipping uncomfortable, but there is no need to FEAR what “might” happen. I think this is hard because we’ve got such ideals in our heads. But I realized that what I feared was failure… as if a small baby’s short naps somehow indicated that I was substandard or that somehow I would never measure up to full mommy potential. I was afraid that I would NEVER be the mom I was supposed to be. But that is simply untrue. I am the mom I’m supposed to be. Already. My children are not supposed to have any other mother but me, and God has made it that way, and I trust him, and that’s it! I AM the mother they’re supposed to have. And you are the mother G and J (and Africa baby!) are supposed to have. That’s just how it is! So what is there to be afraid of?!
3. Perseverance- Ironically, 1 Peter played itself out pretty quickly in my life. All those trials during those months truly DID develop perseverance in me. My new mantra, one that I am repeating to moms all over the world right now, is “We can do hard things.” I can do hard things. Being a mom is HARD. But oh, well. I got this. I can do hard things. Sometimes it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and doing it. Like, tonight, I cleaned my house while Jonathan made dinner. That was HARD. We have a sick toddler and a baby who was just plain off schedule all day. On a Friday. Of the longest week ever. Did I feel like cleaning!? Heck, no. But I can do hard things. So I did it. That’s a stupid example. But that’s where I am right now. Yeah, it’s hard. But I can do hard things. It was really difficult not to BEG my husband to stay home from work today so I didn’t have to face the day alone. But he had a lot of clients scheduled and I can do hard things. So I sent him off to work with a kiss and a smile, put on my game face, and made today work. I did hard things.
So there you have it. Short-term thinking, courage, and perseverance. That’s where I am now.
As far as actually handling G’s behavior. Well.
If I can recall correctly, G is pretty cheerful and obedient. That’s GREATLY to your advantage. You know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this side of him is NOT normal and that he is using his behavior to express something that his little newly-two brain can’t seem to express verbally. Think of his behaviors as a new language… and that will get you somewhere. At least you’ll have more patience when trying to interpret what’s really going on.
I have found that a physically intense type of discipline is very important right now. I don’t mean spanking or yanking or grabbing or pulling… I mean VERY gentle hands redirecting, sometimes even without words, ALL THE TIME. I know it’s literally impossible to be hands-on with G right now for a lot of the time because you’re tied down nursing J. But while J is napping, be over-the-top hands-on with G. I find myself withdrawing from physical touch during the newborn days because SO much of my touch need is filled just through nursing, rocking, etc., with the baby. Jonathan has commented on it and I have to work SO hard to reach out to him… imagine what it’s like for our little 2-year-olds who used to be the sole recipient of that touch all day, every day… and now it’s withdrawn and redirected toward some strange little blob who cries, eats, and poops. Yeah.
So when I say physical discipline, I don’t mean just corrective stuff. I mean guiding, teaching, shaping, correcting, and training. Like, I will make up excuses to touch Hula Girl throughout the day in a positive way so that we have less behaviors to deal with. We started doing a daily massage/singing time. She’s old enough now to enjoy a short backrub while I sing her one song. Then she’s up and out of my lap before I can even think of another song to sing… but that’s okay! 🙂 I do hand-over-hand when teaching her to use a knife. I touch her knees while we’re sitting in the doctor’s office waiting to be called. We play patty-cake. I stroke her hair about 100 million times a day. I give her giant bear hugs when I come to get her in the morning and after her nap. Sometimes while she’s eating her dinner, I’ll reach over and poke her pinky finger with mine. Touch, touch, touch, touch, touch!!!
Another idea is to challenge him. If you see him drinking the water (or doing something that’s not exactly a HUGE deal), you might say something like, “Oh, I see you’re thirsty. I wonder if you could drink TWO cups of water!?!” Then fill a couple of cups about halfway to see if he can do it. (Of course he can.) Praise his efforts to meet your challenge. Laugh with him when you challenge him to do something kind of silly. It’s a subtle redirection of whatever behavior is on display. It shows him that you are paying attention to him and thinking of him, too.
When the behavior is really egregious and NEEDS to be addressed, I have found that using a combination of touch and whispers really helps downplay the emotions of the moment. I take her gently by the hand, bring her onto my lap and whisper to her about how it is sad that she chose to perform that behavior and what I would like to have seen instead. Then we practice the correct behavior. I DO NOT USE TIME OUT at all because so much of her behavior is driven by wanting my attention and feeling like she can’t have it… I feel like time out would only reinforce that thought and make her try harder.
When you’re locked in an all-out battle of wills, I suggest being the bigger person and demonstrating to him how to bow out gracefully. And by that I mean, how to break the tension. Pull a funny face, do a silly dance, even stop and take a picture of the two of you together. Throw him for a loop.

Finally, and this is CRITICAL- let G be HANDS-ON with J. Yep, he’ll be rough. Yep, you’ll find yourself saying “gentle!” over and over and over and over and over. I have found Gelato squished under Hula Girl several times. Meh. He’s tough. He can take it. As long as G isn’t doing anything that is harmful, allow him space to “meet” his brother. He craves a relationship with J, too. After all, he is very curious about who this little person is… and you MUST get out of the way so he can get acquainted. But any time G asks to hold him, LET HIM! (I love the relationship I see between my children already. Today, Gelato babbled something in the car and Hula Girl said, “He’s talking to me. He’s telling me how much he loves me. And I love him, too.”) I am a FIRM believer in just letting them be together on their own terms- supervised by me as an observer only as much as possible. It is important to reaffirm that they have equal standing and have every right to have a relationship that does not always involve MY intervention.

 

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3 Comments

  1. Kristy said,

    February 11, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    I like this. All of this. I can really relate to letting siblings have a relationship that is not mediated by mom or dad. I think it involves respecting each of them as a human being. Erik and I still intervene with our boys’ fights and whatnot a few times a day, but I consciously try to be only an observer for most of the time.

  2. thebestmessy said,

    February 12, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Your words about moving from fear to confidence are a direct answer to a specific prayer from “us.” I was so excited to read this. SO excited.

    • February 12, 2013 at 8:22 pm

      I’m glad to hear it. Thank you for prayers! I have been thinking as I pray for Gelato each night… you guys have been praying for me for as long as I’ve been alive… PLUS THREE YEARS. That’s awesome. Thanks thanks thanks.


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