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?

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When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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My husband and I always talked about starting a family a few years after we were married so we could truly enjoy the “newlywed” phase. But that was over before it started. I was pregnant on our wedding day. Surprise!

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