Monday, November 24, 2014

Brotherly love: How siblings adapt to a new baby

Hobo Mama wants you to know she's a professional blogger! Look at how professional she's being!

I thought I'd give a little update on how the big boys are handling a new little brother. In general, Mikko and Alrik (7 and 3 years old) can't stop swooning over baby Karsten.

Now, it's not all fun and games. Mikko's adapting really well. Alrik's much more prone to meltdowns and seems to need a ton of attention from both Sam and me (which is fair).

We're making sure he feels included in taking care of baby Karsten and letting him know the ways Karsten looks up to him. (This is all imagined right now, but I assume it will become true soon enough!)

Karsten loves baths with his "bath buddy" Alrik.

Since Alrik loves baths, and I need perineal healing, we all jump in the tub together on a regular basis. That gives Alrik and me some time to play with him leading the games (raining on a boat that dives under the water, building buttons and other shapes with his floating blocks, etc.) and lets me show Alrik how calm and happy Karsten is around him. (This is due solely to the womb-like warm water, but let's pretend it's also because his bath buddy is near.)

This has led Alrik to take charge of other duties as well. He's our go-to helper for putting dirty diapers in the pail. (He always volunteers!) And he holds Karsten's hand in the car, which I think is adorable, and was fully Alrik's idea. Karsten doesn't like the car seat until we start driving fast, so Alrik wants to let him know it's all right.

We encourage Alrik's own dialogues about what it means to be a big boy versus a baby. He likes to occasionally play at being a baby but then surprise us by morphing back (shocker!) into a big boy. He emphasizes all the things he can do, and we point out that the (so far less interesting) baby will be able to do those things eventually and he can show him how. We've shown him photos of himself when he was little and told stories of how Mikko was a good big brother to him.

Another coping technique is just plain old giving Alrik lots of time talking, snuggling, and playing together, ignoring the baby if he's sleeping or nursing or otherwise being boring. It seems like we can never fill Alrik's cup enough, but we give it the old college try! In any case, he doesn't seem to resent Karsten and he's quite protective of him, literally tiptoeing and whispering if he's sleeping when he enters a room. I hope he feels more secure, then, as time goes on, since it's early days yet.

Mikko for his part just loves Karsten to bits and doesn't seem at all put out or displaced by his presence. I imagine it's partly that he's been through this before and partly his age. Maybe also partly his personality, since he knows he's all that and a bag of chips. I remember when my little brother was born when I was 9, and some kind souls gave me "big sister" gifts so I wouldn't feel left out. I was quite surprised and thought this was funny, because I totally understood that a baby was special magic and didn't feel the need at my age to insert myself into the attention. Mikko seems to be mostly that even-keeled about the whole thing.

Except…we have had some random moments of tears that have come out of the blue. They seem unrelated to anything baby-specific, but maybe they're not. I'm sure we're all adapting to the new dynamics, so it makes sense that Mikko is, too. He's content to play independently more and more, but we try to make sure to connect with him regularly throughout the day.

Pizza: a winning bet

Video game: a brother's gift

We also speak to Mikko in his language: that of stuff. We made sure his baby brother gave him a postpartum present, a video game he'd been craving, and Mikko was very, very excited to give gifts back to Karsten and to me as well.

Mikko had also made a bet with us early in the pregnancy that the baby would be a girl and that, if he were right, he'd get a large pizza and a large slushie when the baby was born. He tacked on a hasty addendum that he'd get mediums if it were a boy. Well, it was not in fact a girl (surprise!), but over the months he conveniently forgot he lost the bet and negotiated his way back up to the large sizes. He's a true business person that way.

Matching mother blessing bracelets

And the ceremonial cutting

Another way I've included Alrik was to give him his own red yarn bracelet as we awaited (and waited) his birth. We wore them together and took them off once Karsten was safely earthside.

Mama with baby Karsten inside

Mama now (it's a true likeness)

Another one of me pregnant,
with Karsten's little face in the center,
drawn on my phone app

Maybe this is like art therapy — Alrik also likes to draw what he sees. I love his pictures of what's going on in his life.

Asleep in the loft

Mikko has gracefully (more or less) agreed to sleep in the big boys' room with Sam and Alrik. He insists it's only temporary and then he's coming back in with me, but he's been mellow enough about it, probably because no one relishes the prospect of sleeping next to a screaming, leaking baby. (Trust me.)

If you don't remember the entire changes-in-cosleeping saga, we currently have a full mattress on the floor underneath an IKEA Kura loft twin bed in the kids' room. Sam and Alrik begin the night on the full. If Alrik falls asleep by himself, then Sam tackles getting Mikko to bed. If not, then often I handle reminding him to get himself to bed, for he is a night owl. Sometimes Sam ends up sleeping up in the loft with Mikko. Sometimes all three of them end up on the full mattress below, with one or more cats accompanying. In either case, eventually Sam wakes up feeling cramped and moves to a free spot. Musical beds! We're hoping once both big boys are more reliable sleepers (Mikko for the going to sleep, Alrik for the staying — he can't seem to sleep to a reasonable hour without warmth nearby) that Sam can transition himself back into the king mattress with Karsten and me. Anyhow…for now, it's working as well as can be expected. I'm alone with Karsten all night, which some nights can be trying, but he has stretches of good sleep, so I'm surviving.

I should point out that Alrik has been totally chill about this arrangement from the first and didn't seem to mind leaving me behind at all. (Should I feel unloved?) I'm not sure he'd handle Sam being gone all night, but that's more a combination of unavoidable factors: (a) He has zero body fat. (b) He kicks off all his covers immediately. Ergo, (c) he needs a warm body next to him or he wakes up. Maybe footie pajamas are the answer?

Mikko as the biggest brother also takes it upon himself to hold Karsten at any and every opportunity. He seriously loves it — though generally only when Karsten's calm and awake, so it limits the potential holding time!

He's also fascinated with baby gear (see emphasis on stuff, above), so he's been trying to get Karsten to like pacifiers, toys, stuffed animals, the swing, and the bouncy seat — so far, without success. He also is encouraging me to pump and let him feed a bottle already. Soon, my love.

That said, Mikko's a born-and-raised lactivist (quite literally). The moment Karsten cries, he tells me cheerfully that the baby needs nummies, and he loves to talk to Karsten directly about how much that baby loves his nums. Unbidden, Mikko says he remembers how good nummies tasted — like the best milk, he says. I asked Alrik if he remembers nummies, and he does not, even though he stopped nursing much more recently than Mikko, only a matter of months ago. Interesting, hey? I wonder how long Karsten will nurse, being my last (so no pregnancy challenges to interfere). I had also wondered if Alrik would be curious about trying out nursing again, but he's assigned that as a babies-only task and he's a big boy. Fair enough!

Scampering around the playspace

Side note: Alrik's wearing his present from Karsten,
a Power Rangers hoodie that he lurves!

Speaking of big boys, they have big energy, so we have to make sure we venture out of our babymoon cocoon (say that ten times fast) often to let it out.

We are not being awesome right now at unschooling or working in our home business (in the sense that Sam and I are rather distracted and sleep deprived and have sort of one-track minds), but we're accepting the lull as temporary. Sam's doing a good job at making time for both kids to work on some sort of learning projects daily, and I've been participating catch-as-catch-can. (I guess I'm at my kid limit.)

For instance, I brought all three boys to our homeschooling co-op tae kwon do class last week and was sooo proud of myself for getting everyone there on time…until I realized we were a full hour late. I'd misremembered the starting time. Duh. Oh, well, we stuck around and played in the gym a bit with the other kids.

One advantage of being less available is that Mikko, at least, has taken on the extra responsibility with élan. He's more inclined to take charge of Alrik, for instance, and he's figured out ways to get himself snacks and get out and put away his favorite outfits (kid seems to love fashion all of a sudden) and accomplish whole levels of video games and so forth. Daily he snags our keys to go outside by himself to get the mail, and he's willing to be our go-between at stores and restaurants, asking what aisle things are in or for a to-go box. As an example, one day both little dudes were sleeping in the car, so I pulled up right in front of the drugstore (I could see in from where I parked) and gave Mikko cash to run in and buy us some snacks while we waited out the naps. He was totally on the job, got everything on the list, and brought back the change. (Does any of that sound impressive for a seven-year-old? Well, anyhow, I'm impressed! Maybe because he was stuck to us like glue for so long.)

Alrik, on the other hand, is still in the sticking-close phase, but it's to be expected. He has a lot more meltdowns than usual, and I don't know what the primary cause is, or if it matters: new baby in the family (emotions running high), lack of sleep (getting up too early when Sam gets up to help me with Karsten), or just being three and a half. (Anyone else find this a difficult age? Raise your hand.) Sam is much more patient with the random wailing than I am — I'm trying. The good news is that, even though Alrik feels suddenly so much heavier than he did a month ago, he still seems like my little boy. Mikko, too, still strikes me as adorable.

You know who's much less adorable and much more annoying? One of our cats. Boy howdy, but she will not leave me alone! I keep pleading with everyone else to please give her attention as well, because she is clearly suffering a lack! The other kitty is mostly just hiding herself away, clever feline. So even if your pre-baby family is only fur-babies, be aware that extra attention giving will likely be necessary postpartum!

All my sweet boys

All in all, we are adapting and happy and making it work with our newly minted family of five. I think both boys are glad to have their little brother, and will be even happier once he's more responsive and can show his return devotion to them.

While I did go ahead and worry (because why not) that we ruined our older boys' lives by introducing a new sibling, I remain content that we went for number three. I think it gives them enough empathetic people to complain to about us down the road!

And right now, I get such a thrill hearing both of them ooh and aah over baby Karsten and light up when I enter a room with him. They're going to be (are) great big brothers.


c said...

I'm raising my hand. 3 and a half is DEFINITELY a difficult age. :)

paganista said...

My little guy is just over 3 and a half, it's definitely challenging!
(Also, I think that all sounds extremely impressive for a 7 year old!)

Helen said...

Just another one here saying YES YES to the challenges of three-and-a-half (oh but the joys too), and with a new baby as well we're definitely seeing some consequences even when they don't, on the surface, have much to do with the baby.

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