Being a big brother, big sister takes time

Being a big brother, big sister takes some getting used to

Kelsea Gurski
GateHouse News Service

Arin McCaherty has big plans for when her baby sister arrives in November. And her list keeps getting longer: Barbies … Polly Pockets … Littlest Pet Shop …

When the 5-year-old first learned she was getting a new sister, she had asked her parents, Travis and Adrienne McCaherty of Athens, Ill., if it could be a big sister. Adrienne, who is due Nov. 15 with Madelyn Kate, said she’s been working with Arin to help her understand that her new sister will come as a newborn baby and can’t play Polly Pockets right away.

“I think she has a pretty good grasp of the reality of the situation and seems to be excited about it,” said Adrienne, 28. However, she said, she has been pointing out to Arin newborns in the community to help her understand just how little and helpless Madelyn will be.

“We’ll see how much she’s actually ingested when the baby comes,” she said.

Welcoming a second baby into the home often means preparing a young, firstborn child who has become accustomed to having Mom and Dad’s full attention. While there’s no right way to handle the transition, many parents say they rely on other parents, Web sites and community resources.

Adrienne said she and Travis have turned to several friends who already have more than one child. She also believes the five-year gap between Arin and Madelyn will be a blessing, because Arin is old enough to understand, in most cases, that the baby will need some attention. Arin’s also old enough to help her mom out, though Adrienne said she’ll leave that up to Arin.

The couple brought their daughter along to the ultrasound during which they learned Madelyn’s gender. The sonogram technician printed out an extra-big photograph of Madelyn with a speech bubble drawn on it, saying “Hi Arin!!!!!”

It’s posted on the McCahertys’ fridge.

“She’s really looking forward to having another person in the house that’s not a boring adult who’s telling her what to do all the time,” Adrienne said.

Jen and Eric Madiar expect to have their hands full in the next few weeks when they welcome a baby girl to their family, which already includes 16-month-old Jack.

Jen, a stay-at-home mom from Springfield, Ill., said she’s relied on members of the community – including her fellow board members at SpringfieldMoms.org – and Web sites such as the Berkeley Parents Network (parents.berkeley.edu) for tips to help Jack during the transition, as well as simply keeping her eyes open around her.

“I learn a lot by watching people, as basic as that sounds,” she said. “I’m constantly looking around. Every once in a while, if I’m at the park and see a mom with two kids close in age, I’ll go up and ask for tips.”

One of the key things Jen has learned is that offering Jack a safe, stable area of his own at home – in their case, his bedroom – can help him during the transition and ease some animosity he may feel toward his baby sister.

She said she doesn’t plan to change any aspect of his room, and will wait to transition him to a toddler bed, until, she joked, he’s “at least 18.”

Additionally, because of Jack’s young age, Jen already is working with him on how to be gentle around his baby sister. To do so, the 34-year-old broke out a blast from her past: a Cabbage Patch doll.

“I keep the doll in the (baby’s) swing, and I try to encourage him to interact with her gently,” she said. “Being gentle and being careful – those are two very important words in our house right now.

“I encourage Jack not to touch the doll’s face, and instead just to touch her toes and to touch her hands, and that’s also been a good way for him to learn some of his body parts.”

Jen also takes Jack into what will be his sister’s room for 10 to 15 minutes a day to talk about different things the baby needs, such as diapers and wipes, and to simply help him grasp that things are changing in the house.

When her daughter does arrive, Jen hopes to find wintertime activities to which she can take both children.

As her time alone with Jack dwindles, Jen said she’s finding this part of the transition bittersweet.

“I’m a little sad that my time with him is coming to an end,” she said. “I want to make sure … especially in those first couple months, to still be able to spend time with him one-on-one – that is a priority with me.”

It’s been eight months since Chatham, Ill., couple Aaron and Stacey McLaughlin expanded their family to include a second baby girl. They have been adjusting to life with 4½-year-old Lydia and baby Kinsley.

Stacey, a 29-year-old teacher at Ridgley Elementary School, said they began preparing Lydia for her role as a big sister early on, first by buying her a “Big Sister” shirt. She also enrolled Lydia in a siblings class at St. John’s Hospital, bought her a “mommy doll” that moves and makes sounds like a real baby, and let her help decorate Kinsley’s room.

While Lydia seemed to understand she would soon have a sister, she didn’t seem to fully comprehend the situation until Kinsley was born.

“When she came to the hospital, she just stared at her like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ ” Stacey said. “I don’t think they actually get it until they see the baby.”

“It was a big transition,” she said. “She was excited when we had the baby. And when we brought her home, she was excited. But you could tell she thought she needed to get some extra attention.”

What helped, she said, was having a gift prepared for Lydia to receive when Kinsley was born, and others who brought gifts for the baby brought one for Lydia, too.

Now, she tries hard to keep both girls on a routine, which she says helps a lot. She also finds time for outings just with Lydia.

Both Stacey and Jen Madiar said one lesson they’ve learned since having a second child is to not feel guilty leaving the baby at home while spending time with their older child.

“The baby will never know you didn’t take them to do something if you take the other sibling,” Stacey said. “But your 4-year-old will remember those special times with Mommy and Daddy.”

State Journal Register writer Kelsea Gurski can be reached at 788-1526.

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