MOTHERHOOD: How not to piss off your toddler with a new baby

Firstly excuse the title, but I wanted to call a spade a spade as we have had some testing times with Etta since introducing Uma to the family.

On paper a 2 1/2 year age gap is wonderful - life long friends you think, will play together nicely in time you think, but the reality is some challenging times as your toddler tries to find their place in the newly expanded family unit.

The thing about being a toddler is that you're developing at a rate of knots, which can make you all kinds of emotional. Sometimes it manifests as separation anxiety, or a new found fear of things such as the dark or monsters, this is very common  as their imagination specifically is really starting to come into its own.

So rather than tell you the tale of when Etta met Uma and all the fun and games we've been navigating since, I wanted to share the best bits of advice I received when I reached out to my friends and online community for advice. I hope you find a few nuggets to try.

* The first meeting is crucial. If your toddler comes to the hospital for a visit try and have it so that neither parent is holding the new baby, so that they don't feel instantly usurped. Then they can approach the little crib and say hi (whilst you quietly sob with emotion in the corner). If you're bringing the baby home for the first meet, similarly try to carry them in through the door in a car seat etc, as supposed to lovingly cradling them for that first introduction.

* Try telling your baby that they need to wait whilst you do XYZ with, or for, your toddler. That way the toddler feels like they are your focus. For example "Uma wait a moment whilst I go and get Etta her drink", this really takes the edge of all the "Mummy I need you" you'll likely get from the toddler.

* Create a box of special toys that you only get out when you feed the baby - as this is a particualrly testing time where you'll find your toddler all of sudden wants a cuddle or to be played with. 

* Pretend to your toddler that the baby is talking to them. I often find myself saying "Oh Etta, did you just hear Uma say she loves you?" but it can be normal everyday stuff like "she just said she loves your dancing".

* Get them involved if they can. Etta is now a master at grabbing me muslins, wipes, changing mats, bananas etc. She oddly enjoys watching nappy changes and is obsessed with the colour of Uma's poo. Lovely...

* If your older child is a little bit too enthusiastic with the baby and likes to get a bit too close to their face, try telling them that the baby can't actually see them when they're that close so they need to stand back a bit if they want to be seen clearly.

* Tend to the toddler as soon as possible when they need something. I know that Etta's biggest frustration is having to ask me 20 times for her water or a snack, so i've got very good at wandering around the house whilst feeding Uma, getting bits and bobs for Etta so she doesn't feel like second best (not always possible I know, especially if they want to do something as supposed to have something).

* Give the older child a lot of praise for all the lovely things they do. Gush as much as possible - "Oh Etta, Uma is so lucky to have you as a big sister as you're so caring" or "Uma just said she can't wait until she's a little bit older as she wants to dance with you because you're such a good dancer". We all like a compliment and children are no different.

* Try "love bombing" with the older child. Which just means spending some quality one on one time at least once a week, ideally daily. It can be a small moment like their bathtime (jump in with them and have a play, if you have someone who can take the baby for 20 minutes or so) or I take Etta for a little breakfast every Friday morning. Uma is with us but I time it so that Uma generally is napping so Etta and I can have a good old chit chat - normally about how many marshmallows have come with her babychino or some other syntilating subject - but we both really enjoy it and head into the weekend feeling far more connected.

* Explain to them that they were a baby once so you cared for them in the same way. Etta also loves hearing about which clothes Uma wears that were hers, and how cute she was too.

* Try and put the baby to bed first, and then the toddler. Bedtime is super tough logistically with more than one child, but if you do toddler then baby it can all feel a bit rushed and distracted for the toddler. Obviously this is once your baby has a 7pm ish bedtime.

* Buggy boards work well too, as not only can the older child distract the baby, but you can also encourage them to chat to them. 

Ultimately time will be the biggest game changer. We're asking our children to adapt to something monumentally huge in their life, often taking them from being an only child to feeling very much like they're not our focus any more. It's a big ask emotionally so give them time and as much attention as you can manage. We'll all get there and they'll love having a sibling to grow up with.

Good luck, and please do share any tips or trips you have in the comments.

Jen x


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Etta & Uma

MOTHERHOOD: From one to two

On 5th July this year we became a family of four. A lot of people had warned me that going from one child to two was far more than twice the work but I didn't believe them. I had failed to consider quite how much a new addition would impact on our toddler Etta's behaviour and emotional stability, and this for me has created the biggest challenge, one that's been very hard to manage.

With your first born you tend to be full of anxiety and paranoia about what you should be doing, whether you're doing it right and whether the baby is ok. It can feel hellish at times but you get through it as you start to trust your instincts and realise that you're doing a good job, and they're more robust than you first thought. You have the option to sleep when they sleep and people flock round in those early weeks with offers of help (if you're lucky) and coo's of love over your little bundle of joy. The bubble is large, full of wonder and love.

Fast forward to number two and wow it's another level of emotional and logistical challenges. Yes you're probably far more relaxed about the new minature human, remembering that everything does tend to be a phase and that you know what you're doing (although it's perhaps a little hazy...) Quite frankly you don't have time to fuss and fret as much as the first time around.

You life becomes the ultimate juggle: Time with the overly emotionally toddler who needs reassurance, stimulation and lots of cuddles, not to mention constant supervision that they're not being TOO loving to their new baby brother or sister, whilst also looking after a tiny human who's completely and utterly reliant on you for survival.

The first born has gone from being the sole focus of your attention, an only child effectively, to having to share you with a more needy, less fun minature human who people tend to coo and fuss over far more than them. The best analogy that I've heard is that it's how you'd feel if your partner brought home a second partner. Your partner could tell you that they still loved you just as much as before but that they're going to have to split their time between you and someone new - and that new person is pretty needy. They're also expecting you to be happy and excited to have someone else in your life, and that they love your equally, but even so my god you'd be mightily pissed off wouldn't you? So I can fully understand what Etta is going through.

The timing of our second meant that it also coincided with a move to a new town - so a new nursery and home - alongside her changing to a toddler bed and some failed attempts at potty training  - aka the poo that broke the camels back.

I feel like we're coming through the worst of it, 13 weeks in, but it's not without its epic meltdowns, occasional karate chops and flying kicks to all three of us, and the need for a whole lot of cuddling, chocolate / bribery and wine for me. I now feel virtually zero guilt when i bite into a wedge of brie like an apple because no doubt i bloody well earnt it.

To end on a huge positive, having Uma has brought my husband even closer to Etta as he showers her with love and attention to distract her from my seemingly constant need to feed or shush Uma. I also adore catching those moments when Etta strokes Uma when she's crying and tells her she's ok, or when she kisses her on the head and says "I love you Uma" when she thinks i'm not looking. That is real, not to get chocolate or praise, and it's the start of something really special.

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