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Don’t Mind the Gap

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February 13, 2012

When I was a little girl, before I knew that God’s response to those who planned out their lives in detail was laughter, I decided that I was going to go to college, travel around the world, become a Broadway actress, write a bestselling novel, then marry a gorgeous, wonderful man, whereupon we’d be blessed with raising  two children – twins – a boy and a girl, and, well, of course, I would live happily ever after.

Instead, I married, divorced, married, birthed a boy, birthed a girl, lived five years as a single mom, five years in Italy, two in London – not necessarily in that order. My boy and my girl, with their matching teacup saucer sized eyes and Bambi eyelashes, their dimpled, sincere yet sneaky smiles, their jovial and frequent bouts of laughter could be twins. If they were born on the same day, that is. But they are years eight years apart. And they have different fathers.

Which means that just as soon as I had been able to carve out time to floss my teeth, or take more than a five-minute shower, or go out on a date with my husband; just as soon as the Thomas the Tank engines were cleared from the dining room floor; just as soon as I’d been granted the luxury of sleeping in on Sundays, while my son made his own cinnamon toast and poured his own milk and sat down to cartoons on his own, without my interference – it was then that … Out of the blue came Baby #2.

Before my daughter, arrived, I worried the age gap between children would mean they would each be more or less on different planes within the same home. I knew I had to come up with a plan. Here are some simple steps I took to help foster a loving brother/sister relationship from the beginning:

Involve your older kid from Day One. Give your child a voice in the new baby preparations. Maybe you won’t want him choosing the baby’s name, but he can choose a mobile for the baby’s crib or a pack of pacifiers. Give him $20 and let him go on a shopping spree for baby gear. Allow him to feel that he plays an active role in the preparation for a new sibling’s arrival.

Talk with him about how difficult life with a newborn can be. My son imagined that the baby would smile right off the bat, for example. Practice baby care with a doll. Teach your older child how to burp a baby and change a diaper.

Purchase some toys/games/books that will keep your older child occupied while you are inevitably engrossed in newborn baby care.

Make a big deal about your child becoming a big brother/sister. Remind him that he’s going to have to be a good role model for the rest of his life. Celebrate his new role with balloons and a special treat just for him during the week that the baby comes home. Celebrating this new role is essential.

Each day, try to provide at least a half hour of uninterrupted one-on-one time with your firstborn. The balancing act of providing equal love and attention to both children can be difficult. Take a deep breath.

Encourage your older child to read to his favorite baby books to his baby sibling. It’s never too early to read to a baby and it makes for great bonding time. Your older child will get a kick out of getting reacquainted with his old favorites.

Enlist your older child to help out with baby care. Assign him some official tasks. He can be the official baby wipe dispenser, for example, or the mobile wind up master. Let him know how much you appreciate having him at your side as a helper.

How have you helped bridge the age gap between your widely spaced siblings?

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