Sunday, March 24, 2013

From Uterus to University - No Return Policy

Baby Pete and his brother and sisters
Pete and I both come from large families.  I am the oldest of six and he is the youngest of five.  It does not seem strange to us to have a robust family of our own.  We enjoy our monkeys and treasure each stage and phase that they grow through. Some of those stages and phases are more difficult than others.

There is always a learning curve waiting around every corner when it comes to parenting.  Lots of life lessons to be learned.  It is humbling really.  I still feel like an amateur mom everyday and I have been doing parent thing for almost 16 years!

One lesson that we have learned is that some kids are better with transitions than others.  A couple of our monkeys just seem to roll with life.  They do not appear to be bothered by something like a move or maybe a new sibling. Some of our other monkeys are more sensitive to change.  We have concluded that these monkeys have my genes, because I am not fond of change.  Growing up, I remember that it would really bother me if my mom rearranged the living room, or (gulp!) my bedroom.

As we have welcomed new monkeys into our zoo, not everyone has been at ease with the idea.  At four years old, our sweet middle monkey girl had her little world turned upside down when her baby sister was born.  She had been the baby for a long time and now there was this new human jockeying for her spot.  The new human didn't play fair either.  She took up a lot of mom and dad's time and she was not an instant playmate like our little monkey was hoping she would be.  Oh, and she became middle monkey's noisy (and sometimes stinky) little roommate.

I heard an analogy once that stuck with me in regards to how some children might feel when a new sibling is brought into the family.  It would be like your spouse suddenly bringing home another spouse and spending a lot of extra time with that person.  I know it's a strange comparison, but it did make me wince.  Then for good measure, I gave Pete the stink eye and made him wince.

So, what's a parent to do?  I mean, you can't return the new human and ask for a refund (although your older child might fancy that idea).  What we found that you can do is allow your older kids to feel how they feel and meet them where they are at emotionally.

We did not take it personally that the new baby was not welcomed wholeheartedly at first.  We provided as many opportunities as we could for our middle monkey girl to spend alone time with one of us.  We also encouraged her to cuddle up next to us when the baby was in our arms, slowly introducing her to her sister, letting her absorb all the newness. She would ask to hold her or burp her and we would see her slowly falling in love.

One activity that she really loved was looking at pictures of herself as a newborn and having us tell her stories about that time.  We think that it helped her relate to her baby sister.

Also, middle monkey girl liked to draw pictures.  Sometimes kids draw what they feel.  Those little scribbles and stick figures can offer valuable insights and open up communication.

Above all, we just tried to make sure that we felt secure in our love for her.  We stayed consistent with her when she would act out, but we also tried to give her some grace through it all.

Middle monkey girl seemed to adjust fairly quickly to having a new sister.  She enjoyed holding her and as the baby grew, she loved interacting with her - making silly faces at her, showing her toys, talking to her.  It was really fun to watch their relationship blossom.

Then, a year after the new baby entered her life, our middle monkey starting having some odd behaviors.  She became very anxious and she had a sort of nervous tick. Our pediatrician checked her over and concluded that she was fine physically, but that she was having some anxiety.  He believed that she was having some post-baby anxiety. It was hard for us to hear, we had really tried to help her with the transition and after all, it had been a year since she became a new sister. But then we realized that transitions are not on any type of man-made time table.  Everyone that faces change deals with it differently.  We can't rush a relationship. We can't wave some proverbial "magic parent wand" and expect that all of our kids will adjust to change in the same way or at the same rate.  We are all unique.

The new human and middle monkey girl have been sisters for eight and a half years now.  They have a very special relationship with each other. They are super close.  So close, that when middle monkey girl recently inherited her older college sister's bedroom, she decided to wait to move in.  It turns out that she loves having a roommate, even if she is still a bit noisy and stinky from time to time.

Actually, it's the dog that insists on sleeping with her that is the stinky one.

Do you have any "kids in transition" stories to share?  I would love to hear from you.



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