Lying in bed I hear the feet clattering down the stairs, a small elephant tripping over itself. A moment of hesitation. And then there at the door, with five cuddly dogs clutched to his chest, is my baby. All four years, eight months and about-to-start-school of him. He gives me a tentative grin with one eyebrow raised – is it time to wake up? He knows it isn’t, his clock tells him so, but I’m awake anyway and can’t resist his mussed up jammies and bedhead. My tiny nod from me is all the permission he needs, before he and his pack of stuffed toys catapult on to the bed. He expertly finds his space between mummy and daddy and can’t contain his naughty laughter as he sticks his finger into poor, snoozing daddy’s ear. Warm and drowsy, I cuddle into his back as it judders with giggles. My heart sings at this perfect way to start the day…but then it breaks.
This little boy’s life is about to change in big ways. And it’s all our fault.
Life is currently coloured by the fact that in a few weeks I’ll be popping out a sprog.
We’re all very excited about our new baby’s up-coming arrival and, as I’m sure most of you know, as that magical due date approaches we’re all a bit distracted by tiny little clothes and worries about sleepless nights.
But underneath all the planning, prepping and daydreaming I’ve got this sense of yuck. It makes my stomach sink, my heart flop and my thoughts cloud over. I’ll watch my four year old grinning with glee or giggling away at something and feel suddenly very sick.
Sick with guilt.
This is not my second baby, it’s my third, but I didn’t struggle with feeling like this as I waited for our now four year old to join our family. My oldest son was ten when we finally got around to making him a sibling, and whether it was because he was older or because we knew that a brother was something he had wanted for a while, I approached the expansion of our family from a totally positive place. There was no guilt, only excitement. But with the four year old, things are very different.
We are the centre of his world…
(…well, as long as grandma and grandpa aren’t around. And daddy is a smidge more central than mummy). Our four year old thrives on our attention, is a constant presence no matter what we’re doing (even as I type this, Hubs is trying to replace some guttering whilst answering questions from his welly-wearing spectator), and lives confident in the knowledge that we are his. Rightly or wrongly, he is often the point around which everyone else orbits. Sure, some of the spoilt brat tendencies which come from that frustrate me. But I do love the self-assurance, articulateness and passion for life he exhibits, all of which I think come from having a family which are so interested in what he has to say or what he wants to do.
But soon he will be sharing that particular limelight with his new little brother
In the past few weeks my sense of guilt has been building and the worries are swirling in my head. How will he interpret the sudden shift of attention from himself to the new baby? How will his relationships change? Will his confidence take a knock? So far he is very positive about becoming a big brother – he has moments of incredible tenderness towards my bump and has even chosen his brother’s name. But will that blossoming love be enough to help him understand why mummy and daddy are suddenly too busy to play with him as much as usual, is it strong enough to grow even when he feels jealous? I don’t know.
Of course, there are things we can do to help him.
We’re already talking a lot about how much work a new baby takes and what that means for us and him, and we’ve read books from the library about older siblings and new babies. I’ve encouraged his sense of being a big boy, by asking him if he will help me look after his brother and talked about how sure I am that he can be so grown up and responsible. We’ve looked back at videos and photos of him as a newborn and talked about how special that time was. I’ve shown him the clothes which were his, and asked if he will let us use them for his brother. We’ve talked about how he’ll feel sharing us with the new baby.
We’re going to keep his nursery hours the same over the summer, which at first felt counter intuitive (especially on a maternity pay wage!) as it pushes him out of the house. But he loves nursery and that’s his routine, so I actually think having something he can rely on and which doesn’t change at the same time as the baby comes along will be good for him. He starts school after the summer, which is another big change, but we are making a point of celebrating that with him, so he has something which is special and just about him.
Once the baby arrives, I’m going to ensure that he still gets time alone with both me and Hubs – we’ll protect his bedtime routine and make a point of at least weekly one-on-one activities which don’t include the baby. But equally, we will be encouraging him to spend time with his new brother, as well as his older brother, to build that sense of family. I’m hoping to keep things like housework, exercise and blogging to times where he is at nursery or asleep, so that when we are together the focus can be on fun as much as possible, even if that just means flicking through a book as I feed the baby or playing with his cars whilst his new brother has tummy time on the playmat.
I’m hopeful all of this will ease the transition and get us off to a positive start.
But that doesn’t stop me from those moments where I look at him and feel a panic rising. Watching him dig in the garden with Hubs today, in his little blue rain mac with his face streaked with equal measures of dirt and grins, I sobbed into the washing up. This chapter of our time with him is coming to an end, and I can’t shake the sense of guilt that we are going to turn his world upside down.
I’m sure I’m not the first mum to have felt this way, and maybe hormones are not helping. But I never anticipated this emotion. I can only hope he thrives in his new role as a big brother, as the middle child, and that we handle this transition well enough that he never questions the love around him or his own worth. I guess the fact I’m even thinking about this means I will be mindful of it, and he has an incredible big brother to show him the way too.