Imagine a world where you're the center of your small universe. The attention is on you, the toys are for you, the food is for you, and all the love is for you. Then, imagine having immediately having to share everything with a wrinkly, noisy, drowsy little being. This is what I imagine it's like for an older sibling when a baby is brought home.
As much as we prepared our daughter for what was coming, there's no way her 3-and-a-half-year-old mind could process what her baby brother being born would mean. But now, as his first birthday approaches, I'm finding that my focus is actually mostly on her and how far she's come in the last year — as a little girl, as a big sister, and as a daughter. So, this year, as we celebrate my son's first year of life, I think it's also so important to celebrate my daughter's first year as a big sister.
A year in preschool-hood brings a lot of changes, and while she grew as a little lady this past year, she also grew as a big sister and has become truly established in this role.
My daughter was always excited about our growing family, and I think we did all the right things to prepare her for having a baby in the house. We took one last family trip just the three of us, where we put all the focus on her before her world (and ours) changed forever. We read books about being a big sister, played with friends who had young babies, and showed her how to hold and take care of her baby dolls, just like she would her baby brother. We worked on things she could learn to do by herself so she had them mastered by the time he arrived. She had fun making crafts for his nursery, helped set up the changing table, sifted through toys and books she wanted him to have that were hers when she was a baby, and helped pick out his car seat and double stroller. But no matter how excited she seemed, I was anxious about how she would feel when he was actually here. I couldn't quite explain that when babies first come out, they don't do much, aren't superfun, and it would take a few months before she might even be interested. But I didn't give her enough credit.
When she came to meet him in the hospital, it was a moment straight from heaven. She was so excited, sweet, quiet, and calm. She held him, snuggled him, and smiled the biggest smile while her eyes sparkled with pride that only comes from becoming a big sister. But while she loved him with every inch of her being and never once asked to give him back, she did struggle with the loss of mommy's undivided attention for things like dinner conversations and bedtime routines. So, she took it out on me. Whining, crying, and throwing fits became an almost daily thing for her. A friend of mine told me she thought she broke her sweet and perfect older daughter when they had their second child, and I began to wonder if I'd done the same.
But, my daughter powered through as we all got used to our new normal. She helped change his diapers, picked out his outfits, sang him lullabies, gently patted his back, and made funny faces to help him stop crying. When he became old enough to really interact with her, she couldn't stop telling us how much she loved him and how she could tell he loves her, too. She teaches him words and animal sounds, proudly boasts to friends and family that he can say the first letter of her name, and shares her toys (most of the time). The moment he begins to fuss, she's there with a reassuring "shh" and spoils him by giving him everything he wants at a moment's notice.
So, while his birthday party is planned to celebrate his first full year of life, I will really be celebrating both kids. One popular reaction I've received when sharing this is: "She has her own birthday, she needs to learn it's not all about her." But I don't plan to celebrate big sis on baby brother's birthday every year, but this year, it's a big deal to me. A year in preschool-hood brings a lot of changes, and while she grew as a little lady this past year, she also grew as a big sister and has become truly established in this role.
She asked me recently during their joint bath time — while being splashed in the face, having her hair grabbed, and being kicked in the tush — if I remembered what bath time was like before we had him. I laughed and said yes, I do remember, then asked her if she misses having the tub to herself. She instantly responded, "Nope! I like having him here!" and embraced him in a slippery hug. And that right there is why this year is not just about the birthday boy. This little girl needs to be celebrated, too. Her world changed because of a choice we made as parents, and she not only adapted, but thrived. And that's a big deal in my book.