Four years ago yesterday, Jacob met his baby brother. From the beginning, it didn't go particularly well. He kept his distance and seemed generally uninterested. Everyone insisted it would get better. Instead, we've ended up with this situation of two extremes--sometimes Jacob seems nearly obsessed with getting his brother's attention, and sometimes he hates him with a passion. It is a serious challenge managing both of them together. We've been going through this messed up family chemistry for four years now, and it's such a shame that this is the only reality Carter knows. Things weren't perfect before he arrived, but they've been rockier ever since, and I second-guess our past decisions all the time. How could we have avoided the place we're at? Or was all of this just bound to happen no matter what? After reading tons of blogs and talking to other moms over these four years, I feel like there were so many things we could have done to transition Jacob into the big brother role better. Here are just a few, with some thoughts on why it never happened:
1) Talking more about the baby - I don't really remember asking Jacob to feel the baby kick or making a major effort to help him understand that there was a real baby in my belly. I'm sure we did some of that, but he seemed pretty uninterested and we didn't want to push it (remember, challenging personality), so we just mentioned it here and there when it felt natural. We really should have pushed it a bit more to make sure it was clear what was coming and that it was a normal thing that people go through. We definitely should have warned him that my attention in particular would be divided. Maybe that one section of books in the kids' section of the library with all of the kid books about baby siblings would have been helpful. We totally dropped the ball here, it seems.
*Why we didn't do it - Jacob was already a bit volatile at the time--nothing like he was six months into it, but difficult--and we were worried we'd ramp up his anxiety more and make him automatically resent the baby. We barely knew what to expect ourselves, so I think it was just hard to properly prepare him without blowing it out of proportion in his little mind.
2) Sibling classes - Some hospitals offer classes for siblings. I assume they teach them baby care stuff like changing diapers and holding a bottle, and I'm guessing they probably help the siblings to understand how their parents might change, too. I probably would have thought Jacob was a bit young for this, but looking back it probably would have been fun and possibly helpful.
*Why we didn't do it - I honestly don't remember this coming up at all. Again, I probably would have thought Jacob was too young, but I feel like I would have given it some consideration nonetheless. I'm thinking maybe we just didn't come across it. Obviously we weren't seeking out childbirth class (or the weird baby care class we took the first time), so maybe we just missed it or someone didn't think we needed that stack of literature the second time around.
3) Better introduction - When Jacob walked in my hospital room the morning after Carter was born, I swear I literally saw him change. He came in, saw me and smiled, then looked down to the baby in my arms and his face changed. I think at that moment the guard went up. He pretty much wouldn't come near me or Carter after that, unless Carter wasn't around. If I could have done it differently, I would have made sure that Carter was not in my arms and that the first thing I did was give Jacob a monster hug.
*Why we didn't do it - I didn't know exactly the moment my parents and Jacob were arriving, and I was probably either trying to soothe him or feed him right around that time anyway, so chances are he needed to be in my arms at any given moment. I just wasn't thinking that deeply at that point, thanks to sleep deprivation and exhaustion, and all I could do when Jacob came in was to greet him excitedly and hold his brother so he could see him better. Clearly that didn't work.
4) Better gift - Last week at my moms' group at church, someone mentioned the big gift their older child got when his brother was born, one that they told him was from his brother. Granted, that kid was a little younger than Jacob at the time so he believed it completely...but still, years later, he legitimately believes his baby brother gave it to him. Jacob was a little more suspicious, even with the smaller gift he got...which I cannot really remember right now. But maybe if there would have been something awesome and we could have sold it properly, Jacob would still be eternally grateful for the awesome gift.
*Why we didn't do it - We probably figured Jacob was spoiled enough from Christmas and already had enough stuff around the house. Aside from an epic Lego set (again, he had a lot of those), I'm not even sure what we would have picked. It didn't seem like a big deal at the time, so a token gift seemed fine (Jacob got Carter the tiny bear in the picture I took on his birthday). But it turns out any sort of goodwill might have been helpful.
5) Big brother party - I had never really thought about something like this until the same mom friend as above mentioned it. It's sort of brilliant, actually. You make a huge deal out of it--the excitement, the responsibility--and then maybe they feel at least a tiny bit of guilt/pressure/sense of duty to live up to it. It's like the kid version of a promotion at work, without the added paycheck. Imagine...dinner out, balloons, some select family members, the aforementioned big gift, a couple well-intentioned speeches...I think it could have been pretty cool. I'm sure Pinterest or the internet as a whole has some wonderful suggestions to make it big without it being really big. Kids aren't too hard to impress when they're the center of attention to begin with. That could have been awesome.
*Why we didn't do it - Again, I didn't even think about it. But let's be real. Right around the time Carter was born, I could barely walk through Wegmans. I had a baby room to set up, Craig was in mid-season form, and I was completely overwhelmed with just functioning on a daily basis. I have no idea when I would have planned anything. And after the baby was born--ha! I was definitely not in a place to make that happen since I was exhausted, sore, and unable to drive for a couple weeks. As it was, Carter came three weeks early so any plans we had probably would have gotten messed up anyway.
6) Better division of labor - Admittedly, probably our biggest misstep was that once Carter was born, immediately it was "divide and conquer" in our house. And usually, because newborn babies eat all the time, and I was the source of nourishment, I usually had Carter and Craig usually had Jacob. And in general that probably would have been his preference anyway. But it's become clear in the last year or so that Jacob really felt a bit abandoned by me, that Carter took his place. I hate that he feels that way. And I do think I've done many things to assure him that I love him, but for all of the toys I've fixed, or gluten-free foods I've made or bought, or the praise I've given when something goes well, or the times I have specifically tried to reach out to him, very little seems to resonate with him as expressions of love. Part of that is his general, inherent selfishness--which is common to all kids, but his usually goes a step above--but maybe I'm just not taking an extra step to make that clear. It's hard to say. But looking back I'd definitely try to find more opportunities to have special time with him and make sure he felt comfortable with my dedication to him.
*Why we didn't do it - Like I said, much of the time Carter was nursing and it wasn't really possible to get away. Inevitably this happened during bedtime, so that made it hard to keep that bedtime bond with him that I used to have. And I suppose most of the time I was content just sitting and holding a baby, partly because I was so sore for a while and partly because babies are awesome. I also usually figured Jacob was totally cool being with Daddy all the time because that was usually his choice anyway. I never really thought that from his perspective it might seem like I was not "fighting" for time with him enough. If I could do it over again, I would specifically find nights to do bedtime with him or take him out to dinner or hand the baby over for a bit and just play. Easier said than done, but clearly I was a little lax about it and I should have done better.
In case you're wondering what we DID do...let's see. We took him out for ice cream to tell him he was getting a sibling. I made him a "Big Brother" shirt, which is what he wore when we did the Facebook-official announcement. He got an all-new, bigger room. He got new furniture, including a big boy bed. I know he got some sort of gift from Carter, but again, I can't remember what it was. I'm guessing it was either a stuffed animal or some sort of Lego or Playmobil set he'd been eyeing up. I'm sure he got some special time with Daddy at times when I was stuck at home, and I'm pretty sure I recall a night where just he and I went to dinner and a Knighthawks game alone within those first couple months. And we definitely tried to encourage him to hold his brother, or give him a bottle, or help us out in little ways, but we were turned down across the board aside from the couple times we forced him to hold him for a picture. We tried, I swear. And clearly, we failed. And ever since we've been trying other things and not much has worked. But we'll still keep trying, as long as it takes for peace to reign in our house and for peace to reign in Jacob's heart and mind.