We had heard the stories. Unbridled anger. Fits of jealousy. Retaliation. Complete anarchy. Yet, we made our choice and, despite knowing it would have lasting repercussions, we forged ahead. There was no turning back. We were going to bring a second child into the world, a world dominated by our first son, Xavier.
My wife and I come from big families, so we always knew that we wanted more than one kid. Our brother, sisters, and our extended family are some of our closest friends, and we wanted that for our kids. And the fights? Well, those only made us grow closer. Eventually. The only issue we ever talked about was the number of kids, not how they’d get along with each other. We figured the “getting along with each other” part would just work itself out.
A storm was coming, and we didn’t have an umbrella. So, we decided to grab as many umbrellas as we could. One of my wife’s friends told us that we should prepare Xavier for his brother Gio’s arrival as soon as possible. And, since we did not know what exactly was the best way to do that, we took the “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach.
The first thing we did was the easiest—we talked to Xavier about Gio’s coming. “Xavier, you’re going to have a baby brother, and he’s here in Mama’s tummy.” At first, he would just look at us quizzically, his eyes asking, “What the heck are you two talking about?” But, eventually, he loved visiting his little brother, kissing my wife’s bump, and talking to Gio. He would sometimes talk to my belly too, but I think he was just joking around instead of commenting on my sympathy weight gain. Also, we wouldn’t just tell Xavier that another kid was on the way, we’d tell him things like, “You and baby will be best friends,” or “You two are going to have so much fun together.” I wanted Xavier to be excited about the baby coming as much as my wife and I were.
What helped me phrase what I said to Xavier was a book called Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life by Laura Markham. Among other topics, it had suggestions on how to prepare a child for a new sibling, things like “speaking to our baby about how lucky he will be to have such a wonderful big brother” in Xavier’s presence and taking Xavier with us for ultrasounds (p. 223). I would immediately implement what I read, and Xavier enjoyed being included in so much talk and activity. When we took Xavier to the ultrasounds, he was fascinated by what showed up on the screens. He was amazed that all those moving circles on the screen were his brother. And he sat quiet and attentive, which, for a jumpy kid like him, showed a great amount of focus.
The other books that helped us ensure Xavier wasn’t blindsided by his new brother were for him—Waiting for Baby by Rachel Fuller and I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole. Part of his routine before going to bed that he has grown to enjoy is reading books. We read the books about families preparing for a new baby, and we began to say that the characters in the book were us, pointing at Mommy’s baby bump in the book and then to Mommy’s baby bump in real life. Pretty soon, he’d pre-empt us, pointing at pictures in the book, exclaiming “Mama! Daddy! Baby! Me!” We would ask him questions to link the big brother in the book to him, too—“Are YOU going to share your toys with baby, like in the book?” “Are YOU going to take care of your baby brother like in the book?” And, though we got a few playful and emphatic “nos,” we would also get nods, which we would cheer. He enjoyed reading those books, and, for a while, he would request them when we tried to read him other books.
Dr. Markham’s book also suggested we buy Xavier a doll so that he could nurture it (p. 223). A doll? I was a bit skeptical. And not because of any antiquated belief that boys shouldn’t play with dolls—I was fine with that. I was skeptical because a doll is an inanimate object. How would my son learn to accept and love his new baby brother by holding a piece of plastic?
The decision to get Xavier a doll was made for me at his daycare. One day, visiting with his teacher at pick-up, she told me that Xavier’s classmate’s mom heard my wife and I were having a baby and gifted Xavier a doll to take care of. His teacher said that Xavier instantly loved the doll and refused to put it down the whole day. And, when I saw Xavier, he was clutching that doll in his hands, a huge smile across his face, and he screamed at me proudly, “Baby!” Well, that was that—welcome to the family, baby doll.
Xavier loved that doll. He brought it with him everywhere and took care of it like, well, like a little baby brother. And we played along. We would ask him to share his food with the doll. We would wait for Xavier to grab it before we started reading a book. And, of course, the doll was with Xavier wherever and whenever he went to sleep. I sincerely believe that that doll helped tremendously in making room in my son’s heart for his baby brother. As for the baby doll nowadays, it still sits in the corner of his crib, watching over my son when he sleeps.
The final thing that we did to help Xavier with the transition was just appreciating every moment we had with him as a single child. We wanted him to know that there would be more people in our family but that he was still just as important as anyone to follow. All our lives were about to change, but we wanted him to realize that our family started with him and that the one thing that wouldn’t change was our love for him.
And then Gio was born. As my wife and I waited in the recovery room for my parents to bring in Xavier to see his brother for the first time, we were filled with anticipation. How would Xavier react to a real, live baby? Though hesitant at first, I think it was love at first sight.
Now, I won’t say that things in our home have been perfect. Xavier grabs Gio’s pacifier out of his mouth and pops it into his own mouth, and I had to stop him from ramming his toy car into Gio’s head one time. Still, I don’t think it could be going any better. Xavier is still the happy go lucky kid we’ve always known and loved. But, now, he’s shown that he has a big heart. When I pick him up from daycare, he can’t stop chattering about how he’ll get to see his brother at home. And, when he has toy time, he always makes sure to share toys with his brother. The umbrellas kept us, all four of us, dry from the rain.