When we introduce a new baby to the family, our kids might hear a lot of the following (from us, or from family members, or from well-meaning well-wishers):
“You’re going to be such a good big brother/sister!”
“Aren’t you so excited to be the big brother/sister?”
“Isn’t it so fun having a new baby?”
…etc, etc, etc.
And many parents (who are also exhausted from a newborn/1 month old/2 month old/6 month old…) also put this narrative onto their older children.
Maybe when they explained “We’re having a baby,” their child was excited. Maybe the older child even asked for a new baby brother or sister.
I am *not* here telling you that all of this is false and babies are horrible; don’t get too far ahead of me. But we as parents know how to hold two things in tension: we love the new baby, AND they’re exhausting and infants are a lot of work and everything is changing and change is hard.
The fact is that our kids are allowed to hold two (or three, or five, or twenty) things in tension, too. But most of us don’t want to “introduce bad thoughts” to our kids — so we might never voice them, thinking that they would voice those thoughts if they had them. The problem is, that puts the responsibility for complex emotional communication on our very small children instead of on us, the grown-up.
A simpler way of saying it: Your older child understands that the narrative is “supposed” to be, “Yay! A baby! This is everything I hoped and dreamed and everything is wonderful!”
Depending on their temperament and age, they may try to voice this narrative as often as they can. They might struggle behaviorally or emotionally, but never once say anything to go against this narrative.
Or, they might do the exact opposite. They might use the strongest words they know, like, “I hate the baby” or “[Baby’s name] should go away” or “Take him back”.
It’s hard not to take this personally (they’re talking about your baby, after all). But it’s also important to remember that *they* are your baby, too.
In addition to not taking it personally, you can make space for them to express their hard feelings — grief, anger, missing you, missing the way it used to be. Many adults feel worried to start hard conversations with their kids because they feel like they will be introducing these ideas into their mind. I promise you will not be introducing these hard emotions to them for the first time. They have already felt them. You are making space for them to use language to talk about it or process it, if they want to.
Try asking one of these at a connected time — maybe already snuggling together, or sharing a special treat, when the baby is napping or with another caregiver or elsewhere:
“Sometimes I miss when it was just you and me.”
“New babies sometimes make a lot of loud noise, huh?”
“It’s hard sometimes when things change, like how our house seems different now with [Baby] around.”
“I remember how you used to be my [only/littlest] baby. It’s different now that [baby] is here, huh?”
“Sometimes it’s tough being the big sister/brother.”
Maybe the conversation goes nowhere — maybe you say “it’s tough being the big sister/brother” and they say “no it’s not!” and you guys talk about dinosaurs instead. Sometimes kids are like that.
But by starting the conversation, you open a door. They understand that it’s not taboo to come to you with their harder emotions. They feel like you see them for who they really are.