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Sibling on the Way: Good Parenting with Dr. Debbie

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I’m about a month away from delivering my second child. Since we only moved into our home after the pandemic started, we haven’t really had a chance to meet neighbors. My two and a half year-old is a good talker and we have lots of fun together as she explores our house and yard. We don’t have any family nearby, and Daddy can only take a few days off when the baby arrives.

How do we ease into this transition?

Almost Mom of Two

Dear AMoT,

The pandemic has made making new social connections extremely difficult. However making new friends for yourself and your daughter will help this transition immensely. As you may remember, a newborn takes 24-hour attention including frequent diaper changes and unpredictable sleeping patterns. Putting the baby’s needs first, parents of newborns are often challenged to get themselves to the bathroom and to get enough sleep to function. Managing the newborn’s needs will compete with your older child’s ongoing requirements for adventures and stimulating conversation.

An essential tactic for good parenting is to develop a support network. You still have a few months before cold weather makes outings more challenging, so get out there and find a Sister and a Mother.

Find Your Sister

Your “sister” is a friend that you’re happy to see at your door even when your house is a wreck and you’re wearing mismatched shoes. She will gladly take your child for a walk so you can catch a nap with the baby. Often this is someone who also has a young child or two. Your children and hers get along like cousins because their moms are such close friends. She knows what a night without sleep feels like – and the mind-numbing (and marriage stressing) effects of a string of them. She’ll even take your children overnight  – when they’re a little older and the pandemic is behind us – so you and your husband can reconnect. And you’d do the same for her. This special friend is golden.    

She’s out there – at the weekly library story time, at the children’s museum, or among congregation members at a church, synagogue, or mosque. Parent peers are a nice benefit of enrolling your two and a half year-old at a preschool. Your child gets friends and so do you. My mother made a lifelong friend in the waiting room of the pediatrician’s office. For decades they shared information and resources to help each other to be better parents. They commiserated through the ups and downs from teething and weaning to college admissions and planning weddings. Each supported the other through a family tragedy. You’re looking for someone who will help you to be your best and who will put up with you when you’re at your worst.

Find Your Mother

Also out there is a mother figure. Her grown children may be scattered far and wide. They may be among the childless or child-delaying set of today’s grown-ups. She’s eager to listen to your worries and struggles and to tell you it’s going to be all right. She’s struggled through it, too – sleepless nights, toilet training, the agonies of adolescence – and survived.  She “mothers” you with comforting words, and caring advice.

Find her out in her garden when you take a stroll around the block. Or smile and wave at her from your yard when she’s doing her regular walks through the neighborhood. You’ll know she’s a good match for your family as the conversations get longer each time you see each other. Offer to collect her mail if she mentions travel plans. If she’s a good match, she could be worked into your birthing plan to come care for your daughter at delivery time. Once the baby joins you and your daughter in your walks around the block, accept this special neighbor’s offer to hold the baby so you can help your older child harvest a couple tomatoes from her vines. You will repay this treasure of a relationship some day in the future when you’re adopted by a younger mother. 

There is nothing like the instant understanding one gets from someone who’s walked in their own mismatched shoes. Joys are multiplied and sorrows are eased when chosen family members work their way into each other’s hearts.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  

The museum is open with online reservation  or call: 410-990-1993.

Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.

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