I am the mommy of two boys. My first is a very feisty and charming two-and-a-half-year-old. I used to call him Small Fry, which eventually morphed into the nickname Potato because he was a pretty round baby. He looked like an actual potato—round, big eyes—and he is handsome and equally edible.
Potato has had a pretty sweet set up for the past couple of years. Birth order has served him well. He has enjoyed unlimited one-on-one time with his Mem and Pep, including as much ice cream, tickles, and kisses as he could ever want or need. On my father’s side, Potato has been the only child at family gatherings and sits at the head of the table in his high chair, like a tiny czar. You “cheers” him when he asks, you give him a “big bite” when he asks, and you forgive his occasional projectile carrot. Everyone loves him. Life has been good.
Then, picture this; A new baby joins the scene—a baby brother we will affectionately call “Pickle.” Pickle isn’t just a baby—he’s downright charming. His cheeks are pink, he has a dimpled chin, and he coos like a dream. He is the Cadillac of babies, with regards to his “cute” and “look at that baby!” factor. Mem and Pep still come to visit, but now he has to share their affections with Pickle. At the dinner table, Pep gives Pickle bites of baby food and sometimes makes Potato wait five seconds for his “cheers.” When Potato leaves the room to grab some toys, Mem might be snuggling the baby when he comes back. Potato looks upon this atrocity with this expression on his face, which can be best described as “What do you think you are DOING? Put that baby DOWN.”
Potato quickly shoves his face into Mem’s line of sight, smiling with all the cuteness he can muster, trying to steal some of that precious attention back. He’s been known to want to sit in whichever lap Pickle happens to occupy. Luckily, his jealousy is rarely directed at Pickle, and Potato generally expresses his displeasure towards the appropriate party—the adults who have clearly ruined everything. All joking aside, I worry about my little dude. Feeling “replaced” is a complicated and hard thing, and he’s still only two—I can’t expect him to understand his feelings or ours fully.
I know what it’s like to be the center of attention. My father is the oldest of three, and I was the first grandchild born on that side of the family. For two and a half glorious years, I reigned supreme as the mayor of Attention City. Photos from Christmas 1984 are essentially a series of different people holding me. On my mother’s side, I was the first grandchild born in 21 years—and the only girl. The gifts and hugs from my Grammy were unlimited and unrivaled until my brother arrived 4 years later. I remember my Grammy once telling my little brother he gave the “best hugs.” At the time, I remember thinking I needed to do better with my hugs, since that little brother of mine, with his cuteness and tiny voice, was a rival for my grandparents’ attention. Eventually, though, I adjusted and am very close to my brother and cousins despite their theft of my attention. Being the oldest has its advantages, but it’s not without growing pains.
I am always thinking about my boys and how this transition could impact them. Will Potato continue to feel loved and important? Will he feel replaced? Am I doing enough to help him through this?
And on the flip side—what about Pickle? He deserves one-on-one time too. He has the right to mommy snuggles even if Potato is trying to kick him off of my lap. It’s not his fault his chin dimple is so darn cute. Potato has had two consecutive years to form strong connections—and I want Pickle to have those relationships too. To do that, I need to let the baby have that attention, those cuddles, and that love, both from family members and from me. I’m just constantly balancing Potato’s feelings against that, wanting him to understand the concept that our love multiplied, even if our attention had to be divided.
To that end, we’ve been trying to do things separately with Potato to make him feel important. As the older child, he can partake in activities that the baby can’t—and so we maximize that. Easter egg hunts, playgrounds, swim lessons—things he can do as a “big kid” and make him feel special. I give him tons of praise when he treats his brother kindly and as much one-on-one attention as I can. But it’s a daily balancing act. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.
(But there’s no room left in my lap.)