I remember sitting with Matt just before Gracie was born saying, “How will we ever love another baby as much as Tilly?” says Penny Attiwill, mother of 5 year old Tilly and eighteen month old Gracie.
According to psychologist, Rosalie Pattenden, a senior counsellor with Relationships Australia, feelings of anxiety that a second child will never be as special as the firstborn are common. She says, “I see many couples who wonder whether they are doing the right thing having another child at all.”
If you are considering (or already expecting) another baby, you will welcome Ms Pattenden’s reassurance that ‘love is like a chocolate cake – and we have a whole chocolate cake for every person in our lives, we don’t have to divide it. There is enough love for everybody. However, you might also be dismayed (or relieved, if you already have a second child) to learn how normal it is for your unadulterated feelings of tenderness towards your first-born to evaporate into frustration and irritation as you fall in love with your new baby.
Penny Attiwill says, “the first few months were hard work trying to juggle Tilly’s feelings while I sat for hours and breastfed, and Gracie needed the majority of my attention. Just as Gracie latched on, Tilly would say, “what can I eat, I’m hungry?”, and I would find myself snapping, “can’t you just wait!”
Betty Chetcuti, psychologist and mother of two was completely shocked to discover she had ‘fallen out of love’ with her firstborn. She explains, “there was a point when I felt that all my love had been transferred from Nicholas (my firstborn) to Liam (the baby). Nicholas became the bad boy – I was tired and stressed and I was always upset with him. Chetcuti’s wakeup call came when she was watching a video of her children. She says, “Liam (the baby) was standing doing nothing for about five minutes and there was Nicholas in the background whimpering ‘Mummy, Mummy’ the whole time. I had panned the video towards him for a moment and offered some superficial praise, then focused straight back on the baby.”
Chetcuti, who now shares her hard won mothering skills along with her professional knowledge through ‘Being a Mother’ workshops, went into action to rekindle the flames with her older child. She says, one thing that helped was a drawing I made of a sun with Nicholas’ name in the middle. Each day, I wrote down all the good things he did at the end of the rays – for instance, if he wanted to share his toast, instead of being annoyed I would write down ‘sharing’. This helped me change my perception so I was focusing on the positives instead of being hypersensitive all the time, and really taking time to notice Nicholas helped me fall in love with him again.
Penny Attiwill’s tip for keeping love growing as your family grows is letting the first child help with pushing the pram and baths and nappies so that they feel they’re really involved. In a way, watching Tilly do those things made me love her even more. She was so gentle and proud of her new sister that my appreciation of her as an individual deepened.
Learning to love again:
- Look at your first-born’s photo album to remind you how adorable (and agreeable) she used to be – and will be again soon.
- Give yourself time with each child separately. Taking turns with your partner, rather than simply handing the older child over to him, will help you both bond with each child.
Remember, if you had a close, loving relationship with your first child there is every reason to believe those loving feelings will return.