Becoming a mother for the very first time fueled me with so much enthusiasm about every single thing my child did. I was infatuated with my firstborn. But when my second baby came into the picture, I often found myself feeling so stressed in managing two little people that it felt like I was falling short on my first baby's emotional needs.
I've struggled with having enough patience with the challenges that come with toddlerhood—like messes and attitudes. There's even been a bit of a disconnect as I've had to be more physically present for the baby by feeding him and being extra vigilant of his surroundings.
So how did I stop my feelings of guilt in order to make sure my oldest felt seen and validated while navigating these new waters? These five things helped us tremendously.
1. Show them affection
It is so easy to stop cuddling your oldest because you don't "have" to carry them anymore or because they prefer running around or because you have your hands full with a little one. Or maybe they are much older and that physical affection seems awkward. Whatever the case may be, remember to remain affectionate with them.
There are multiple ways you can do this. As I say in Spanish, hazle cariño, cuddle with them, take advantage when your little one is asleep or is with another adult, and hold your big kid's hand, give them a hug, rub their shoulder.
Touch and affection is a powerful thing. My husband and I have been teaching our oldest to let us know when she needs affection so I try my best to put down whatever I'm doing when she asks to cuddle and say yes.
2. Show them justice
When I was younger, there were many incidents where my siblings would go through my stuff like my crayons and notebooks and tear it all apart. It not only broke my heart but I felt unheard and unseen when my parents would tell me to just get over it or say something like, "You're the oldest, you should know better."
But my friend brought up a great point recently that really resonated with me—just as much as we need to remember to "baby" our oldest, we also need to be stern with our youngest. If my little one is grabbing my oldest's toys or hitting her (even playfully) and she seems bothered, instead of telling her that he's little and doesn't know any better, it's best to remove the little one from the situation and tell him in front of her that he needs to be respectful of her stuff and her body.
Our children get conditioned early on and our energy is received when we dismiss or honor something. So I try to make sure my children feel like I am looking out for them and that I make just decisions for them in these situations.
3. Give them your time
I talk with my big girl, I engage with her whenever I can—I give her my time. Right now, I spend so much more time with my youngest for so many reasons, which my firstborn is very aware of. That fact paired with all the chores and to-do's that need to be done, I find it hard to set time aside to play with her.
But I realize most of the time, if I just sat down with her for a few minutes to play or to engage with her in a conversation, I probably could've prevented the tantrum that took much longer to cool down from.
If possible, I'm sure setting up a special one-on-one date with her would make her feel very special. A few other friends suggested involving them in your creative work if possible or even asking them to help you with some chores. This way they can feel like they're included and they see the important work that you do at home. The time you spend with them will translate to love and meet their needs.
4. Be mindful of them
Consider their needs and be patient with them. Empathize with these big feelings they are figuring out. I feel like when I am mindful of my daughter, she feels loved and the trust we have between us gets even stronger. This sense of trust is so important to me so that she knows if she is feeling scared or stressed she can come to me and tell me, and we will figure it out together.
5. Acknowledge your big kid
I think many times as eldest, we just wanted to be acknowledged. We want recognition for all the time and help we've dedicated to our families.
Eldest children sometimes take on an important role in trying to set an example and taking on many responsibilities as that is often the role we are given. And whether those expectations are met or not, eldest kiddos just want to know they are seen for who they are and are appreciated for what they do, even if just for being present.
Acknowledge your eldest with words that hold value like recognizing them for being responsible and dependable or even words that go out of the service context and recognize them for their unique qualities like them being inquisitive, thoughtful, funny, creative, etc. They will hold onto those words more than you know.
And when its all said and done, remember to be kind to yourself as a parent. It's so common to feel guilt when we catch ourselves slipping into habits we're not proud of like yelling or a lack of affection. But it happens to the best of us. All you have to do is reflect and reset your intentions.
What are some other loving ways you treat your oldest?