One of the hardest things about having a second baby is trying to keep enough of yourself for your first born too. This is easy enough when the baby’s happy and things are going according to plan, but when the baby cries and needs cuddling or feeding, it always seems that the first born needs maximum attention too. This is… challenging.
The past four and a half months have seen our family dynamic go through a seismic shift. Relationships have changed between all four of us. This isn’t always a negative thing. In fact, there are far more positives to chart. Frog has found a new closeness with her dad that is lovely to see. Plus, as her baby sister grows she is forging a new bond with her too. But, recently, I’ve found parenting a four and a half year old new big sister particularly tricky.
I suppose it was always going to happen. The novelty of those early newborn days was bound to wear off eventually. The force and sudden BANG! of sibling rivalry has been a bit of a shock though. And, to make things even more confusing, it’s not happened in the way I always expected it would.
Three weeks ago Frog went through about five evenings of terrible bedtimes. And when I say terrible, I mean horrendous. It followed the same pattern every night: refuse to come upstairs at bath time, refuse to get undressed, refuse to get in the bath, cry all through bath time, thrash about and deliberately splash water all over the bathroom floor (and her baby sister), scream when it was time to brush her teeth, scream when it was time to get out of the bath, scream and scream and scream.
Although we do a double bedtime routine for both girls, it was always me who got the baby into her pyjamas and fed her, while the (self-proclaimed) Northern Love Machine focussed on Frog. By the end of the third Bedtime From Hell he was a nervous wreck, rocking in the corner. He tried being calm and patient. It didn’t work. He tried getting cross. It didn’t work. He tried taking away the bedtime story. It didn’t work. In the end he resorted to ultimate last ditch attempt tactics, and put a couple of her favourite toys in the loft. And guess what? Yep, it didn’t work.
On day five I suggested a new plan. That night the NLM got baby ready for bed while I looked after Frog. I cut her toenails and painted them “sparkly glittery mummy”. I blow dried her hair (she loves a pamper – definitely my girl) and got her in her PJs, fresh and warm off the radiator. That night I read her a bedtime story for the first time in ages, like the old days pre-baby. She went to bed happy and calm, with no screaming or kicking or hitting or “I HATE YOU MUMMY!!!!” at all.
Since then we’ve done our best to recreate that dream bedtime. It’s clear to us, now, that all those tantrums and shouty behaviour was simply Frog’s way of telling us that she needed more attention from me. Apparently, sometimes Dad just doesn’t cut it.
This isn’t always possible though. Sometimes (like this morning) I can’t give her the undivided attention she’s grown so used to over the four years before her baby sister was born. Sometimes I need to tend to the baby too. Even if the baby isn’t crying, in the morning she is often on me in the sling, so even if I can give Frog lots of time, the baby is still there physically between us.
Sibling rivalry never displays itself in meanness to her baby sister. Frog is becoming more and more interested and protective over her new sibling. There are moments when I catch her reading her sister a story, or putting on a show. Frog often goes to the baby when she’s crying and tries to make her laugh with a funny face or silly dance. Sibling rivalry presents itself with anger and frustration directed at me, always. “I DON’T CARE!” she’ll scream. Or “I HATE YOU ANYWAY!” or (my least favourite) “MUMMY IN THE BIN, I WIN!” followed with an attempted kick or punch. Blimey, those words hurt.
My rational, grown-up head knows this is all just a reaction to becoming a big sister. I know that the awful school run this morning where I had to half-drag, half-carry my screaming four year old up the road will probably be forgotten this time next week. I know this is a time of huge change for her – a new school routine and new friendships not to mention a new baby sister. But, when you’re in the thick of it, at the eye of the tantrum storm, it’s difficult to remind yourself of these facts.
I’m ashamed to say I was not Mother of the Year this morning. I bellowed at my daughter in the street, as she threw herself on the floor right next to the side of the road. All my attempts to negotiate and speak calmly to her fell on deaf ears and I felt myself running out of options. As I stood in the rain with a baby strapped to me in a sling and a four year old writhing around in anger at my feet, I genuinely thought how nice it would be to be anywhere but here, in this moment. I vowed to myself that those hazy ideas of a third baby somewhere down the line would be scrapped. And then, once the school run was over (with my child having to be forcibly removed from me, screaming) I got home and had a little cry.
Totally normal, right?
Tell me, what are your tried and tested tips for dealing with sibling rivalry and out of control temper tantrums?