The Second Child

"When I held that child--the one that didn't exist ten months ago. His eyes looked up at me, and a surreal feeling came over me--that he was a package sent directly from the hands of God. Like he still had traces of Heaven on him. No device or invention of man can compare to the staggering task of creating a soul."

I wrote these words shortly after the birth of our second son, Caiden Josiah. I meant every word, but I also make a habit of pointing out the vast expanse between the romanticized versions of things and the real-world versions. 

Yes, he is a miracle. Yes, I adore him. Yes, I thank God for him.

But yes, he screams a lot. Yes, I loath his squawking and fussing at all hours of the night. And yes, I thank God when he shuts his mouth and falls asleep.

See the difference? Both are true.

Let's get off track for a minute and talk about math. I can't help it, I'm a nerd.

In math, there are linear relationships. For example, if x increases by 2, then y increases by 2. Simple and easy to understand.

The common misconception is that there is a linear relationship between the number of children in a home and the amount of work.

Actually, the number of children in a home belongs in a special place called the exponent. That means the amount of work increase exponentially with the number of children. For you that struggled in math, that means that...

Work (w) = Tasks (t)^Number of children (n)

If Tasks (t) = 10, then...

Work (w) does NOT equal 10 x 2 = 20. Oh no! That's too easy.

Work (w) = 10^2 = 100

That's the fun of exponents.

Now that I've bored you with math, let's get back to baby talk; or more precisely, children talk.

Like most parents of multiple children, we are facing the issue of "properly" dividing our attention among two bundles of joy. It's a task, not only of effort, but of emotion. 

It's really a battle of psychology.

While the first child was relatively simple, the second child exponentially complicates matters. I'm not complaining in the slightest bit. I'm just acknowledging the facts. I can romanticize our baby and talk about the huge blessing he is (which he is), but blessings often come with challenges and responsibilities. Take marriage, for example.

I certainly can't explain child psychology in one blog post and expect to do it any justice, but I can say I've learned things over the years from advice and from my own experience. 

Here are some of the things we plan to put into action:

1. Talk to the firstborn--often.

Our firstborn is 3 years old. He's smart. He understands about 85-90% of what we tell him. Sure, he forgets things and doesn't pay attention sometimes; but adults do that too, and we keep talking to them! 

As situations arise with our two children, I find that taking a few minutes to explain things to my firstborn can really help.

If mommy needs to be left alone for awhile, she or I can tell Micah that he needs to play by himself for a little while as mommy needs some "personal time" with the baby. 

Talking to him doesn't mean he's always going to like what we say, but at least he's being kept in the loop.

2. Involve the firstborn whenever possible.

A big challenge we're facing is keeping Micah from "helping" too much. He's a hard worker. He takes the initiative. He has a little bit of knowledge, a little bit of skill, and gobs of enthusiasm. It can be a dangerous combination.

But if we discourage him from helping, he won't want to help in the future. Not allowing the firstborn to help will also cause him to associate the baby with being rejected and refused. That's bad news.

To accomplish this, we're compiling a set of tasks for Micah that he can be responsible for that makes him feel like part of the team. If he takes some ownership of the baby, I believe he will be less likely to resent the baby.

3. Don't worship the baby.

The baby is not the next Pharoah or Prince of Persia. Sure, he needs food and clean diapers, but there are other people in the house! If the family is going to operate well, I think we need to start early at teaching children they are all equally loved and valued.

That starts every day--with every thing. If you drop what you're doing (like playing with the firstborn) every time the baby squawks, the firstborn interprets that as him being less valuable. Sometimes the baby will require attention, and the firstborn will have to deal with it. It's a give and take.

Sometimes we snuggle with the baby and give him undivided attention, and sometimes we go into Micah's room and give him our undivided attention. 

Lastly, don't suspend fun in the house just because you have a baby. Even if the baby is sleeping, don't be afraid to play games and turn on some music. Don't shush everything and everyone just because there's a newborn in the house! 

Keep living life, and the newborn will adjust to the family and our way of life.

4. Draw attention to the firstborn when visitors arrive.

The natural tendency of all people is to be magnetized to the baby in the room (unless they have no soul). But the problem is we can accidentally be rude to the firstborns. If five people walk into a room and all gather around the baby and ignore the firstborn, he will interpret that as him being less valuable.

When we have people come see the baby, I keep my eyes on Micah to see what his reaction is. Sometimes he plays by himself and doesn't seem to mind. Other times he's over by the people, staring at them, dying for attention. When I see that, I try to jump in and get him involved.

I say something like, "Hey everybody, look at what Micah is doing." It seems cheesy and artificial, but he doesn't notice or care. He just wants eyeballs on him.

Firstborns just need the spotlight. It's a weakness they have (I was a second child, as you may have gathered).

5. Use positive reinforcement.

Words are powerful. I'm not a weirdo about it. I don't listen to self-help tracks in my sleep; but what we say matters. If you tell your firstborn they are jealous and resentful, they will probably fulfill that prophecy.

If you tell them they are a great big brother and such a good helper, they will strive to attain to that expectation. Sure, they will fail constantly and make mistakes--they are cut from the same cloth as us! Making mistakes is in our DNA. (That may sound cliche, but seriously, you should look up single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs.).

Every time Micah does something kind or helpful for Caiden or for us as we help Caiden, we make a BIG deal about it. Positive reinforcement is like butter--you can't use too much. 

Don't mistake this for child worship! If he's NOT doing a good job or NOT being kind, then he should not be lied to about how "wonderful" he is. There will certainly be times (and have been already) when some negative reinforcement will be necessary.

Image credits:
All images are copyright of Daniel and Elizabeth Devine

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