Even More About Transitioning The Only Child To Older Sibling

I do like this back post about this topic:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/01/11/transitioning-the-only-child-to-older-sibling/  but today I wanted to add a few things to that post.

I still think siblings are the best gift you can give your child (see back post here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/11/01/siblings-are-the-most-precious-gift/) .  However, this is not to say the transition point of this is all roses.  Many mothers at one time or another have felt as if the baby was intruding on their special time with their older child or the older child was intruding on their special  time with the baby.  Some mothers have told me they felt like it took them longer to bond with the second baby simply because they had less time to just sit and hold the baby and they were so concerned about the adjustment of the older child.

I think all of these feeling are normal. 

I think the other thing no one says about transitioning to two children is that you may be going from things being more focused on one child, a rhythm around one child, to having a rhythm now encompassing more of the needs of everyone in the family, and encompassing children who are at different developmental stages. I don’t mean that to sound harder or scary, but just to point out that it is what it is. It is also better to know that some of these transition points don’t come up right away when your baby is still small and mainly in a sling nursing, but come up as the infant grows and matures and becomes more mobile and has more of a personality.

I had one mother tell me she wished people had told her that her relationship with her older child was going to change when she added an infant to the mix.  Your relationship with your older child will change, that is true.  However, I think sometimes when there is a younger sibling/infant in the house we tend to see that as the impetus for change and we forget that that older child is growing and changing and that our relationship with that child would be changing as well, (with our without a younger sibling)  because of growth and maturation and new developmental stages that would happen naturally anyway.  This is not to downplay the transition that does occur with adding a child to the family, but to remind us all that our relationship with our older child would not be frozen in time anyway.

These are the areas I have heard from mothers that they found hardest to deal with when nurturing two children:

  • Dealing with guilt!  Mothers have told me how hard it is to stop feeling guilty because they cannot give 150 percent to each child individually.  It is okay that your neighbor takes your four-year-old to the pool.  It is okay that you can’t run next to your child on their bike with training wheels because you are nine months pregnant.  It is okay for that older child to not be center of the universe, and in fact, I would argue it is better for them to not be under a microscope all the time.  🙂
  • The other area of guilt is in dealing with feelings of perhaps not liking the older child’s behavior.  This is normal.  Toddlers, preschoolers, go through different behaviors as they adjust to the family rhythm changing.  You can still love your child, and show them as much warmth as possible and as much attention to their needs  because they still need Mommy too. You don’t have to love every challenging behavior :), but you still need to be their loving parent. 
  • Co-sleeping.  Mothers have had to work to come up with what works best in their family, whether that is moving another mattress into their room, co-sleeping with the infant only and having Dad sleep with the older child somewhere else, or whatever worked out best for the needs of the whole family.
  • Tandem nursing.  For many mothers this works well, most mothers seem to feel happy they could do this for their older child and felt it did ease some of the transition, but I have also heard mothers who did wean their children over the age of four after a bit of time into tandem nursing.  Again, you will have to sort out what works for your family. 
  • What to do with the older child during the infant’s naptime is another area that comes up as a challenge.  If your child is young and still taking naps, you can encourage your child to sleep when you and your infant sleep.  Some mothers have talked about the older child being wakened by the infant and also the infant being wakened by the older child.    If your child no longer naps, baby wearing can be a real lifesaver.  Some mothers will set up a play scenario in the napping room or a snack in the napping room.  Some mothers will read to the older child and nurse the baby and when the baby falls asleep, mother and older child will slip out.  Some mothers use white noise to help hide the noise of a toddler or younger preschooler during the nap.  Some have babies who can sleep through it.  These things are all individual and take time to sort out.
  • When both children are crying at once.  The best thing with two children is you still have room in your arms and your lap for both children.
  • When the baby needs you during the older one’s bedtime routine and is crying throughout bedtime story time.  Having extra help around bedtime is helpful, as is planning calm afternoons with early dinners and early bedtimes.
  • The transition the fathers go through at this point because their  calm presence and their help is needed more than ever.  They may have to step in and guide the older child’s behavior, deal with being the “less wanted” parent because the older child wanted Mommy to do it, or the baby really wants to be held by Mommy.  It can be a hard role, and especially challenging if Dad has not really stepped up to the plate with nurturing the first child or taking a very active role with the first child.
  • Mothers remark that the lack of time for themselves is difficult; that with the first child they thought they were so busy but with the second child they realize now that any of the little pockets of time they had carved out with the first child is now being filled.

Goodness, I look at this list and I hope it doesn’t sound too negative!  But I think as mothers we need to talk about the reality of things more and support one another.

Thanks for reading and I welcome your comments.  What was hard for you as you transitioned from having one child to two children and what worked best for your family?

Many blessings,


23 thoughts on “Even More About Transitioning The Only Child To Older Sibling

  1. I had a baby 10 days ago and we’re struggling with our 2 year old. Our night time routine is totally all over the place and she will not sleep! She still nurses, but the baby does cluster nursing at the same time in the evenings and I can’t nurse both lying down yet! I keep telling myself that it’s only 10 days into this new life and we’ll find our stride, especially as the newborn becomes less of a newborn and develops his own routine. But it’s hard. Lots of screaming and not a lot of sleep.

    • Hi TopHat,
      I just want to encourage you – this will get better. Can you create a new nighttime routine that includes nursing but also other elements toward winding down for sleep? I wrote a little bit about the role of the father in creating this in the original Transitioning post.. There are also several posts on here about co-sleeping, bedtime routines and such. I am sorry things are so challenging right now.
      Here is hoping for peaceful dreams for the future.
      Many blessings, and congratulations on your new little one!
      Carrie 🙂

  2. How timely, we are expecting our second baby in September (our son will be two years old then). We will also be transitioning our son to a bed in August. Right now I am most worried about meal preparation and bedtimes. Our son’s bedtime routine is very simple (bath, pajamas, books, a short lullaby and into bed) and I’m hoping that maybe I can just nurse the baby while I read books. We’ve also been practicing with Daddy doing most of the bedtime routine, as I think that’s what may need to happen, at least at the beginning.

  3. Looking back to having one child seems so easy now, even though at the time I didn’t realize it. We added our second child to the family almost a year ago, through adoption (our first is a biological baby). My oldest son was two at the time, and the baby was 9 months when we got him.

    The past year has been filled with many challenges, and I’ve definitely felt overwhelmed frequently. My relationship with my oldest son has changed, and it has been difficult watching him struggle with the transition. My husband has definitely had to step up to the plate – our youngest is a “daddy’s boy” – he really bonded with with dad, so dad has had to take on new responsibilities.

    I didn’t realize how stressful it would be to adopt an “older” child, and one who had spent the first 9 months of his life in an orphanage. I thought it might be easier, since we wouldn’t have to go through the newborn stage, but there were many other challenges that I hadn’t considered that are still allowing us to grow as parents.

    Allowing more outside help and less guilt on my part would have eased the transition, I think.

    Thanks for the post, Carrie. Your list is right on for me.

    • Hi Jodi,
      It is hard to see the older one struggle, and it is also hard to see the younger one struggle when they grow and the older one is experiencing everything first, is usually faster, wins games more, etc. It is always interesting to see what emotions that brings up for us as parents and what it triggers for us in our past.
      I think adoption is wonderful, but as you mentioned, it has its own challenges because it really is instant family with not a lot of time to ramp up into that that the newborn stage actually does provide as they just eat and sleep…:) But it will be so worth it, and it sounds like you are doing great. There is a reason this child is part of your family, and I love how you have looked at this as a chance and opportunity for growth!

      Thanks for reading Jodi!

      Many blessings,

  4. I’ve been reading and loving and being transformed by your words for some months now…it has really been my greatest tool and ally in raising myself as a mother. I’m expecting a second child in January, and have been feeling pretty positive about the transition (though this post made me question my decision to completely wean my 2.5 year old daughter before the birth–any thoughts on that? Right now she nurses when waking and sleeping, about four times a day). Lately, though, we’ve been in tantrum land. And I thought the whining stage was hard! I have lots of questions for you about this, too–my husband really believes that she only acts out this much around me, and prescribes separation. I honestly don’t know what to think sometimes, because it’s true that when I’m gone she’s fine. Any back posts about this? My main tools have been rhythm, focused time together, getting outside, and of course learning to be present and loving in the face of so much emotion. Which brings me to the point of this long comment (I’ve been storing some of these questions for awhile, sorry!): What to do when the older child is melting down and needs you close, but a small baby shouldn’t be around so much screaming? Is it okay to have one in each arm at times like this, or should an infant be protected from the noise, etc.
    I’m off to read the back posts you linked to…
    With appreciation and Gratitude,
    ps while I’m rambling I’ll say that I hope you have a book in the works, and while I have no idea how you find the time for these thoughtful, in-depth posts, I’m so glad you do.

    • Kay,
      You are very kind. I have no idea how I have time to do these posts either, LOL. They just happen and flow out….In regards to weaning, there are a few back posts, I know one called “Weaning With Love” and one about weaning a child over the age of 4. I recommend both to you, hopefully they will help you think through what you would like to do. As far as tantrum land, have you read Smearing Peas or More About Time-in for Tinies? Those might help. I also can recommend the posts about the two-year old and the toddler posts, check under the gentle discipline header. Many time small children do “act worse” around their mothers because that is where they feel safest to let their emotions go. Some mothers have found success with just being calm, doing something repetitive whilst the tantrum is occurring, or taking the child outside to the grass to scream outside (outside voices outside). THere is no one fast fix, and tantrums even raise their head later on in various forms (I mean really, even an adult slamming a door or banging something down is kind of a mini tantrum, right?).
      There will be times when you have a baby in your arms and the older one is melting and also needs to be held. And the baby will be crying because the older one is crying. Yup. Not much you can do. I am a strong advocate of babywearing. I think sometimes having a baby in your arms forces you to stop a minute and think how you want to handle things, rather than jumping right in. Maybe that is a good thing.
      Sorry for being so rambling!
      Thank you for reading,
      Many blessings to you and congratulations on your pregnancy!

  5. We had the hardest time when my daughter was born because my son, who was 20 months old then, started getting violent and hitting us or our new baby. He had never been like that until she was born. We struggled with what to do, especially when my husband went back to work. I had so many days where I called my mom or husband crying. I was exhausted and in pain from birth still (I tore very badly again and it took at least a couple months before I healed somewhat).

    I literally could not leave them near each other for one second, which also meant I couldn’t do much housework during the day, or hardly even go to the bathroom without putting up baby gates to make sure the baby was safe! Now my daughter is 14 months old and my son is almost three and he still randomly hits and bites and is violent, and we just continue on with vigilant supervision and practicing gentle disciplining and giving LOTS of love and attention to both.

    It’s been a HUGE transition, but now that I look back on it, it has gotten better. 🙂

    • Oh Sheree,
      How challenging…if it makes you feel any better at all, I have heard what you are saying from many mothers of 2 and 3 year old boys. And really children under the age of 7 just can’t be left alone with a baby..I only encourage you that you are doing a good job and to think about keeping your baby close with babywearing, to give your son lots of time for getting his energy out outside (lots of back posts on that)..
      You are doing great!
      Many blessings,

  6. Dear Carrie,
    I’m completely off topic but when I read your first point, the sense of guilt, you can’t imagine how sometimes a mom like me can feel guilty for having a single child…All the homeschoolers I read about have at least two children, all the theories talk about all the pros and benefits of siblings. I share them but sometimes it seems that being a single child is a terrible tragedy…

    Sorry for being off topic, couldn’t resist!


  7. Nigel was born in april and Emerson turned 3…it has been suprisingly easy. We had so many challenges when emerson was born…7 weeks early, nicu stay, issues with sleep, teething, GERD, nursing…the works!

    Nigel is so easy to sooth, he sleeps well, nurses like a champ and is generally easy going.

    I foudn that getting nigel to bed between 7 and 7:30, then going STRAIGHT to Emerson’s bedtime routine and she is in bed by 8:30 is working…Emerson will not allow papa to put her to bed….it must be me…so while I get nigel nursed and ready, papa is playing with Emerson. Nigel goes right down during nursing…and is out until 4 am…so we are lucky in that regard.

    I’m LOVIN’ it though…it’s so fantastic! Hard to believe now that I was disapointed at the prospect of having a little boy.


  8. Hi Carrie, great post, as always 🙂 I have a 5 month old and a 2 year old (and a 9 year old) so I can really relate to the transition points you raised. Luckily the two year old has a lot of love for his baby brother so I haven’t had to deal with jealousy issues yet. Probably the hardest thing is lack of time to yourself. Unless they both take a midday nap, and I can have a little time out to myself, the day can seem extremely long!! I try to take “time out” for myself and not do housework etc while the baby naps, and this really helps. Often the 2 year old will amuse himself at this time so I am free to read, journal, craft. He does distract me a bit (some days a lot!) but it’s better than nothing. thanks again for your great post, your blog is one of my favourites.

  9. I just wanted to add for Top Hat – it does get easier!! The first few weeks (months) were extremely difficult for me too. I had to ASK for a lot of help, I even had my mum come and stay with us for two weeks to help deal with the toddler and the night time routine. I thought i was getting PND because I had so much anxiety about how i was going to cope with the two little ones. Luckily I did not actually go on to develp PND and things are still challenging at times now, but a lot easier than they were. Just ask for as much help as you can and celebrate every passing day as a victory. take care, (sorry to hog so much comment space)

  10. This post is timely for me…I have a 2.5 year old son and an almost 4 week old daughter. 4 week old is just as intense a baby as my son was, and my son is super sensitive to noise. The periods of inconsolable crying are hard for us all right now. As is bedtime many nights, since my husband’s work schedule demands that I be solo for bedtime quite often and my son still prefers to nurse to sleep. He really does better in the afternoons with a nap, but we have been skipping it because of the challenge it presents to the evening. Today I experimented with a nap for him and unfortunately, that made bedtime just late enough that my daughter was too far into the evening to be able to tandem nurse/nurse my son to sleep. After a long, sad bedtime with only a few moments of nursing possible, he finally fell asleep wearing his noise canceling headphones.

    On a related topic, I have really noticed the importance of my modeling during these past few weeks. To be honest, I get overwhelmed by the noise and intensity of my daughter’s crying as well (and yes, we babywear, cosleep, nurse on demand, EC, etc, etc, and just apparently have very, very intense babies, lol), and yelled at my son for his yelling in the midst of her being upset. I am slowly trying to get control of myself back, reintroduce self-care (no easy feat since my husband’s schedule is exhausting for both of us – we have a not quite year old business that he runs). But man, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

  11. Hi. My son turns five next week and our daughter is 7 months old, so we have been dealing with this exact issue for the past 7-9 months. Late in my pregnancy and in the early month or two of our daughter’s life we resorted to lots of yelling. Not usually our style and we didn’t even realize we had done this until our son was always yelling at us. The best thing for us has been one of your suggestions, Carrie. To hold the child that is upset or the perpetrator b/c they actually need the hugs more maybe than the “victim.” I have to say that it has helped with the yelling — we stopped in short order, but our son needed a bit longer to make a change. And as far as the guilt, I truly believe that a sibling is a wonderful thing, especially in teaching us our place in the world and with others. We are not the center of the universe and neither should our children be. Although, that said, my son really was the center in our family for far too long. It has been a transition for him, but as long as he knows that we love him, he’ll come through it stronger.

  12. I am due in about 2 months time with our second baby and my anxiety around how to integrate a new baby into our lives is rather high. I am particularly anxious about sleep issues, and will go and dig around for tips on how to stay sane with conflicting sleep needs.

  13. Thank you for writing down reality.

    I have an almost 3yo and an 8mo .. I have to say, its becoming more challenging as my 8mo grows. It was easier when she was a newborn.

    So, its challenging, its hard, its demanding, its exhausting, and I have never been happier in my life.

    So thank you for the truth, being hard doesnt mean it isnt wonderful and worth while.

  14. Pingback: Quick Responses To Sibling Rivalry, New Baby In The House and More « The Parenting Passageway

  15. Carrie, both your posts (2010 & 2011) resonate the truth which is so important for mothers to read. It is not negative, because understanding reality allows us to rise up above muddy feelings, pitfalls and trying moments of parenting more than one child.

    My children are 2.5 yrs and 8 months now, and I experienced (and still do!) the points you listed in your posts. I think the biggest thing I have gained over the last year is PERSPECTIVE. Despite babywearing, rhythm, and support, there are just times when a small someone in my house will not be happy no matter what I do. 🙂 My infant has had to wait briefly to be held at times which I did not have to do with my oldest and my oldest has to wait, too. I think the best way to reduce sibling rivalry is to let my oldest see that the baby has to wait (although not as long as he!) for a hug or pick up or drink or whatever the need. I also carve out small pockets of time for one on one time with each child (with the help of my mom and trusted sitter–finding a sitter is a whole other story, though…). Now, instead of intolerance or violent outbursts, my older son responds to his sister’s cries with soothing words and ‘help’ (aka giving her toys). I have also found that with two children, there is less of a ‘routine’ although there is a distinct rhythm to our days. Naps and meals are a part of every day, but as the baby grows and her needs change, there is often a shifting of events throughout the day. It seems to me that the more children you have, the more you just need ‘to go with the flow’ sometimes.

    I agree with you that one of the best gifts you can give your child is a sibling. 🙂 Seeing even just the briefest of loving exchange between the two of them — a shared smile or laugh — fills my heart with so much joy.

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