I have been asked to submit a story for a booklet produced by our local twins and triplets club. They suggested I contribute something about having a toddler while pregnant with twins and while caring for newborn twins. Here are some of the strategies we used to get our son prepared for the new babies.
When we thought about having a second child I had images of snuggling the new baby in to the carrier and heading off to do all sorts of things with my 2-year-old son. I imagined going to the library, the park and the indoor playground. I thought it would be a chance for me to explore the world with my son, with the baby hanging out with us. Having twins meant reconsidering that plan.
I don’t think our son really understood we were going to be having twins until they arrived home from the hospital. He was only 27 months old when they were born and I’m not sure he was old enough to conceptualize what it meant to have a new baby in our family let alone two. But, it isn’t from a lack of effort on our part.
We talked about babies and big brothers
Starting a few months before they were due, we began to introduce the idea of babies. The timing was good because he had suddenly started to notice babies and we had a couple of friends who had new babies. We spent a lot of time talking about babies in general and about having two new babies in our family. We read books and talked about looking after babies. We pointed to my tummy and talked about the babies inside. At the same time, we started talking about being a big brother and how that is a special job. The day before the babies were born (scheduled c-section) we went and bought him a “big brother” shirt. He loved that shirt and wore it for days after the babies were born.
We established and maintained routines
We moved him to his new bedroom and made the transition from his crib to his bed a few months before the babies were due so he was settled there before they were born. We set up the crib and change table and sorted clothes for the new babies to establish their presence.
Fortunately my pregnancy didn’t interfere too much with his routine. Later in my pregnancy, Daddy had to look after getting him up because I couldn’t lift him anymore. But, as much as possible we kept things the same. Our son went to the same dayhome until just before Christmas (the babies were born in early January).
We took advantage of the time we had before the babies were born
Over Christmas we spent lots of one-on-one time with our son. We did practical things like getting his hair cut, and fun things like going for pictures with Santa. This meant I had to borrow a wheelchair so I could get around more easily, but it was worth it.
We prepared gifts to and from the babies
We took our son to the baby section and let him pick a gift for the babies. He chose a package of socks. So we wrapped those up and he brought them when he came to meet the babies at the hospital. We also bought two books for him as gifts from the babies. The books were also a good distraction for him while he visited in the hospital.
We prepared for my hospital stay
We didn’t really do much to prepare him for my hospital stay. The morning of my c-section, I spent a few minutes explaining to him I was going away to have the babies and that Daddy and Nana would look after him. In the hospital, we found out where there was kids playroom. We also brought some snacks and toys for his visits. When he did come to visit, I tried to spend time with him and let someone else hold the babies.
We explained to him in simple terms (“Mommy has an owie on her tummy”) that I couldn’t carry him or hold him on my lap for a little while. He needed some reminders, but he accepted it.
We made sure there were two adults around
During the first six weeks after my c-section, I always had someone around to help. I could lift my son, so someone needed to be there to look after him and to entertain him. Whenever there were errands to do Daddy or Nana would take him along so he got one-on-one time.
We included him
Our son picked outfits for the babies and got them blankets and bibs when they needed them. We made the baby supplies accessible to him and gave him some responsibilities in caring for them. He could rock them in the swing or turn on the bouncy seat. When I was breastfeeding, which seemed like all the time, I would read him stories so he could feel included. After I finished feeding the girls, he and I would have cuddle time with a blanket.
We got out of the house
When the girls were three months old, our son started going to the dayhome again two days a week. This was for him as much as for me. He enjoyed playing with the other kids his age, getting outside, and not having everything revolve around the babies. It was also a chance for me to spend time with just the girls and to rest. As the weather improved and we got more organized, we started to do more things. We went to the indoor playground, we took mom and tots dance classes, and we went to the library program. It helped to have a friend in the same class to help out if necessary. And it was important to leave enough time to get ready for any trip.
We made him the expert
When people wanted to visit the babies, our son would the one to tell them things like the babies’ names. We wanted to be sure he was included when people came to see the babies. He loved to show off his “big brother” shirt. Some people brought him gifts when the came to see the babies, so he didn’t seem to be too jealous of the attention. When visitors wanted to hold the babies, it was good time for him to cuddle with Mommy and Daddy.
Surprisingly, there hasn’t been too much jealously or negativity towards the babies. In fact, soon after they were born we were out at a store. The people next to us were unloading an infant car seat and our son asked “why do they only have one baby?” as if having two was the norm.
Do you have any other suggestions for helping an older sibling prepare for multiples? How did your children respond to having new babies in the family?