A Fine Balance One family prepares their daughter to be a big sister

For my family, this will be the summer of The Second Coming, by which I mean the birth of our second daughter in August.

My wife and I are mostly thrilled; she’s healthy and feeling pretty good, the doctor is pleased, and the anatomy scan indicates the appropriate number of fingers and toes are present and accounted for. There’s the usual work to be done preparing the nursery and lining up day care, but we’re making good progress and there’s plenty of time yet.

Mostly absent this time is the background anxiety that leads first-time parents to obsessively (but not irrationally) consult the pregnancy guidebooks to find out which bit of produce most closely approximates the size of the fetus (It’s an artichoke! It’s a rutabaga! It’s a taro root!) and how this week’s side effects may differ from last week’s. Whatever, we say. We’re pros, we say.

But the old worries have been supplanted by a new anxiety: preparing our nearly 3-year-old daughter for life with her new sibling, rival and potential usurper. The party line we’ve been pushing has been, of course, that the new baby will bring joy and excitement to the family and that life as a big sister will be great.

But will it? Once the initial novelty and curiosity wears off, I’m really just hoping the joy and excitement will follow for her. But I don’t know. I’ve made my peace with the small fictions we tell our children (“Try it! You’ll like it!”) and a few of the larger ones (see “Claus, Santa”), but I feel like we’re walking a tightrope here and that our credibility is at stake. If first child decides new child is a dud, we’re screwed and I’ll be a liar.

The good news is that the early returns on siblinghood look promising. Our daughter understands that there’s a baby growing in Mommy’s tummy — although it seemed to take her a little while to understand there wasn’t also one in mine — and that it will be her baby, too. She will sometimes declare herself to be “Mommy” and designate my wife or a day-care playmate to be her “baby” or “sweetie,” diligently making sure her charges are fed, well rested and wearing clean diapers (the last one can get a bit awkward, not gonna lie). A few weeks ago, she even said, of her own volition, that the baby could share her stuffed animals.

We know it will take diligence on our part to make sure she still gets the attention and appreciation she needs once little sister arrives, and we’re trying to smooth the way by talking to her about what the baby will need from us and from her and reading stories about children whose families get new babies.

A special shout-out is due to Daniel Tiger, our daughter’s latest crush, whose eponymous “Neighborhood” includes numerous episodes dedicated to the difficulties of having a new baby sibling, from no longer being the center of attention to not wanting to share your toys and stickers. It’s all she wants to watch these days.

We’re really proud of her. We are. But as encouraging as all of this is, some problems are too great even for a cloying cartoon tiger to solve. And, in a way, I feel like the deck is stacked against our firstborn. She’s been the center of our universe for as long as she can remember, and that’s about to come to a screeching halt. She’ll also likely be dealing with her parents — her father in particular — as they reach new heights of exhaustion and frayed nerves (and I can be a bit too uptight under the best of circumstances).

Even if she’s prepared to share her toys, sharing the limelight is another story altogether. For better or for worse, the new kid is going to rock her world in ways she surely can’t imagine yet.

“But it’ll be great!” we tell her. “You’re going to be such a good big sister!” we say. “The baby is going to love you so much!” we say. But every time we do, this little pang of guilt I’ve been nurturing in my gut gets bigger. Because what I really want to do is ask the child to tell me that I’ll be OK and to assure me that being a big sister is going to be great and she’ll be happy.

But that’s not how it works, of course.

So we sit, and I read to her about bears who welcome new babies into their families. And we watch “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” And I cross my fingers, hoping I’ve been telling her the truth.

About Daniel Leaderman

Daniel Leaderman is a former journalist. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and daughter.

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