Each pregnancy, it happens at least once.
A grocery store clerk, relative, older woman, a waiter– someone– says to my youngest child: “Are you gonna be jealous of the new baby?”
Here’s what I want to say in response to that: “Be quiet!”
(Of course I don’t say that.)
What I actually say is,
“Oh, no, (s)he is excited about the new baby, aren’t you? (Excited head nod from my little one.)
It will be so amazing to have a new little person in our family. We’re all excited!”
Each time we’ve added a baby to our family, we’ve seen that children are incredibly moldable in regard to their attitude about a new baby.
What I mean by that is this: you will (most likely) get the attitude you expect to get.
YOU GET THE ATTITUDE YOU EXPECT
This is actually a form of the biblical principle of sowing and reaping.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. ~Galatians 6:7
If you expect that children will be bitter, jealous, and throw more tantrums and generally be a pill when the new baby arrives, they will probably lower themselves to meet your expectations. If you nervously keep asking them if they’re going to be jealous of the new baby, they’re learning that you expect that they will.
If you expect that children will be thrilled to have a new sibling, while setting real expectations, and preparing for real adjustments, then they will rise to the occasion. They may even surprise you and be more gentle and thoughtful and helpful than you imagined possible for one so young.
Jealousy doesn’t have to happen.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I haven’t seen a jealous attitude even ONE time with a new baby in our home. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been any difficulties or adjustments when we have a new baby… of course, there’s (temporarily) a more tired mama, and of course, she’s busy doing more than she did previously. BUT that is not a bad thing.
And it doesn’t have to link to their feelings about the baby at all. (Just like we don’t look at the resulting feelings from a long day at Disneyland — exhaustion, bickering, whining, fussing, grumping, tears, tantrums, etc.– and then say that they must dislike Disneyland. No, that’s being a tired, worn-out kid.)
A kid adjusting to a big change in life is not the same as jealousy.
But every time we have a newborn, when we look in the eyes of our children (from the 13 year old on down to our littlest guys), we see awe. Straight up awe. There is also curiosity. And then (especially with the 2 and under crowd), it’s back to normal life– toys, snacks, snuggles with mommy, naps, coloring, and making messes. 🙂
YOU GET THE ATTITUDE YOU MODEL
Our attitude and approach directly correlates to what attitude the kids take on.
When we see babies as amazing, adorable, awe-inspiring gifts from God, our children look at our awe and joy and sit alongside us in joyful awe. Like anything else– gratitude for a home-cooked meal, kindness to a sibling even though you’re tired, a willing attitude as we take Saturday morning to clean up the garage together– this must be taught.
If you’re expecting an addition to your family, whether it’s your first, or your sixth, or your twenty-fifth (I think that includes everyone) decide now that you will speak positively of that baby, EVERY time.
Decide in advance that if a grocery store clerk or a grandparent or a friend or anyone suggests “jealousy” to your child, that you will stop it right then and there and choose to plant words and ideas of LOVE.
Choose to have this attitude– in your heart, and in your words:
A new life! We have a new baby! This little person is an eternal soul that is a unique expression of God’s creativity, made in God’s image.
Someone you’ll know and love for your whole life!
There is so much to celebrate & be thankful for.
LOVE JOYFULLY GIVES
While you are planting these ideas of love, you are defining what love IS for your child. Teach them, from the start that loving one another means GIVING to one another:
- “You’re going to be such a big helper, waiting and playing toys while mom changes the baby’s diaper.”
- “Sometimes the baby is going to cry, and so we’ll have to help her settle down.”
- “Mama’s going to be tired, and so when the baby lays down to sleep, you and me will take a nap together too!”
- “Mama’s going to spend a lot of time nursing the baby. You’ll get to sit by mama and read books near me on the couch.”
Let them know that the way they act toward this baby matters… that they can be a loving and kind big brother and sister.
“We are ALWAYS gentle and sweet to little babies.” (And then show them what that means… around small children, around small animals, when hugging a frail great-grandma, whatever… show them what protective gentleness looks like.)
Use words and ideas of love, so that every time the baby is mentioned, the older child thinks about that baby with an active, gentle, self-giving love. Give them specific ideas about what patient, self-sacrificing LOVE looks like, so that jealousy isn’t a part of the equation at all.
No matter what others suggest, jealousy is not a given.
LOVE IS NOT IN LIMITED SUPPLY
This idea of assumed new-baby-jealousy reveals an undercurrent of belief that love is like a pie: there is a limited amount of love, and each child added cuts into the portion of love each child receives.
If you believe this, then each new baby leaves them with less and less of the “pie”.
Let me tell you the nitty-gritty of how it works here, 7 kids into the gig of family life: the relationships that go on in our home are so much fun. I wrestle and tickle with the 5 year old. He says “I’ll get you” a million times in a row to the 9-month-old, inducing laughter every time. The 9-month old is pulled onto the chest of the 13-year-old, and they cuddle while the baby tries to pull off his glasses. The 11-year-old sits patiently and reads a Dr. Seuss book to the 3-year-old. The 3-year-old asks the 9-year-old if she will jump on the trampoline with him. The 9-year-old asks her 7-year-old brother to go ride bikes.
And on and on.
Relationships are built. And love is multiplied as it rolls along.
Sibling rivalry is NOT unavoidable. There is no need for any child to be “jealous” of a new baby. And love can multiply. It can multiply right there in your home. Just wait and see!