Sibling Jealousy is NOT Unavoidable

Even as a mom of six, every time I am pregnant, it happens at least once.

A grocery store clerk, relative, older woman, a waiter-- someone-- says to my youngest child: "Are you going to be jealous of the new baby?"

Here's what I want to say in response to that: "Be quiet!"

Of course I don't say that.

What I actually say is something like, "Oh no, (s)he is excited about the new baby, aren't you? (Excited head nod from my little one.) It will be so amazing to have a new little person in our family. We're all excited!"

Each time we've added a baby to our family, we've seen that children are incredibly impressionable in regard to their attitude about a new baby.

What I mean by that is this: you will (most likely) get the attitude you expect to get. If you expect that children will be bitter, jealous, and throw tantrums, they will probably lower themselves to your expectations. If you expect that children will be thrilled to have a new sibling, while setting real expectations, and preparing for real adjustments, then they will rise to the occasion.

They may even surprise you and be more gentle and thoughtful and helpful than you imagined possible for one so young.

Jealousy doesn't have to happen. 

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I haven't seen a jealous attitude even ONE time with a new baby in our home. That doesn't mean that there haven't been any difficulties or adjustments when we have a new baby... of course, there's (temporarily) a more tired mama, and of course, she's busy doing more than she did previously. BUT that is not a bad thing.

A kid adjusting to a big change in life is not the same as jealousy.

But every time we have a newborn, when we look in the eyes of our children (from the 11 year old on down to our little guys), we see awe. Straight up awe. There is also curiosity. And then (especially with the 2 and under crowd), it's back to normal life-- toys, snacks, wanting to snuggle with mommy, coloring, and making messes. :)

Our attitude and approach directly correlates to what attitude the kids take on.

No matter what others suggest, jealousy is not a given.

I think this idea of assumed jealousy tracks back to the notion that love in a family is like a pie: there is a limited amount, and each child we add will cut into the portion of love each child receives, thus leaving them with less and less of the "pie".

But the truth is that love is like a multiplication problem:

First you start with two people. And their love doesn't just add to one another... it multiplies.


So when you add another person, it looks like this:


and when you add another person, it looks like this:


And so on.

The relationships that go on in our home are so much fun. I wrestle and tickle with the 5 year old. He says "I'll get you" a million times in a row to the 9-month-old, inducing laughter every time. The 9-month old is pulled onto the chest of the 11-year-old while he watches a movie, and they cuddle. The 11-year-old sits patiently and reads to the 3-year-old. The 3-year-old asks the 7-year-old if he can play babies with her in her room. The 7-year-old asks her big 9-year-old brother to go ride bikes.

And on and on.

Relationships are built.

Sibling rivalry is not unavoidable. There is no need for an 11-, 7-, 3-, 2-, or 1-year old to be "jealous" of a new baby.

If you're expecting an addition to your family, whether it's your first, or your sixth, or your twenty-fifth (I think that should cover most everyone) purpose now that you will speak positively of that baby, EVERY time. Decide in advance that if a grocery store clerk or a grandparent or a friend or anyone suggests "jealousy" to your child, that you will stop it right then and there and choose to plant words and ideas of LOVE.

Choose to have this attitude-- in your heart, and in your words:

A new life! We have a new baby! This little person is an eternal soul that is a unique expression of God's creativity, made in God's image.

There is so much to celebrate & be thankful for.

The other thing that plays into this is that while you are planting ideas of love, that you are defining what love IS for your child.

Teach them, from the start that loving one another means GIVING to one another:
  • "You're going to be such a big helper, waiting and playing toys while mom changes the baby's diaper."
  • "Sometimes the baby is going to cry, and so we'll have to help her settle down."
  • "Mama's going to be tired, and so when the baby lays down to sleep, you and me will take a nap together too!"
  • "Mama's going to spend a lot of time nursing the baby. You'll get to sit by mama and read books near me on the couch."

Let them know that the way they act toward this baby matters... that they can start being a loving and kind big brother and sister.

"We are ALWAYS gentle and sweet to little babies."

Plant words and ideas of love in your older child's mind, so that every time the baby is mentioned, they start thinking about that baby with an active, self-giving love. And give them specific ideas about what that patient, self-sacrificing LOVE will look like, so that jealousy isn't a part of the equation at all.

Sibling jealousy is NOT unavoidable. And love can multiply. It can multiply right there in your home.

Just wait and see!


Nancy said...

Great article Jess, it's very true. Mine have always been super excited for the new one, even though there can be sometimes difficult adjustments for everyone. A new baby means lots more love!

Hannah said...

This is absolutely true and I applaud your encouragement. I do want to say that it *somewhat* depends on whether you've had Irish twins or not. My babies were so close in age that the youngest was still a baby himself. While I did not give in to his tantrums, and I did not expect them in advance, they *did* happen. He was not old enough to understand who the baby was and was not very verbal so he did cry and want me because he was feeling displaced. I say this because I know your intentions are to encourage moms and I don't want them to think that if they *do* see some tantrums in the beginning and have to correct them, that it's because they "expected" or "facilitated" them. Sometimes, in the beginning, they do happen. They will pass!

Kacie said...

You're right! People just assume the worst, and then they can plant seeds of the wrong idea. No thank you.

Catie said...

Love this! The entire time I was pregnant with our third I talked about what good little helpers my girls would be. We talked about all the things they'd do with the baby so when he FINALLY came, they were so excited. They've been in love ever since. :)

That's not to say of course, like you mentioned, that they're weren't (isn't) adjustments! But jealousy? Nope.

I agree with you--expect what you want to see in your children--the very best! :) (easier said than done sometimes!)

C.L. said...

Loved this!! Thank you!