Kathleen Whitfield

I've been working on this since I saw the initial post, so this isn't in
reaction to anything posted today!

When I had three kids who were (in my case) 6, 4 and 10 weeks, I was feeling
very overwhelmed with adjusting to life with three children, partially
because my third newborn was quite a bit harder to calm than my older two
*and* she had some anatomical issues that made breastfeeding more
challenging for her.

Around that time, I also had the misconception that 11-year-olds would act
more like little adults. I know lots of eleven-year-olds now who are
wonderful and great fun, but I had unfair expectations of how friends'
11-year-olds would be acting when I had only younger children -- I didn't
expect all the activity and noise! It's similar to how I had a misconception
that it was easier to have older children than babies and toddlers. It's
easier in a certain sense because their physical maintenance needs are
lessened, but older children have emotional and intellectual needs that take
more than a breast and a cuddle to fulfill.

I'm not accusing anyone of having unfair expectations, but I'm sharing what
I remember of my life at that times. It sounds as though it might be a
possibility that the original poster can explore herself.

Also, I've found that it helps to treat other people's kids who are guests
in my home as though they are my own. Which, for me, has translated into
giving them the benefit of the doubt about things and talking to them
kindly. I've found when I make an effort to establish rapport with the
children in my kids' lives that our time together is a lot easier. If I sit
and play with them, they're much more open to my suggestion of "Let's pick
this up now!"

I also think that sometimes with a young baby that a lot of issues that have
been simmering without much attention on mom's part suddenly seem really
urgent because of the increased stress her life. The problem is is that the
mother is now in a situation where she has these really intense needs and
isn't the best at problem-solving herself, particularly if she has a picture
in her mind of what she *needs* to feel good again and isn't thinking about
other ways that she might feel even better.

I can tell you how I got through it. I got out of the house as much as I
could so we weren't a) messing up the house or b) having me look at the mess
that was there. I went over to a friend's house a lot, where they had
playmates. I played with the kids and read to them a lot, just like normal,
at the library or at parks. I sat outside with them and watched them while
they played with their friends and I held the baby.

I think, though, too, that a lot of the things that make family life happier
when you add another child are things that are best done *before* the new
one comes. Having a strong foundation of listening to the kids makes it a
lot easier when stressful times hit. Which doesn't help the original poster.

One thing I also do when adding additional children is talk honestly and
nonjudgmentally about the adjustment on the family, talk about how it takes
some time for me to recover from having a baby and how I know it's difficult
for them, too. I've found that my kids, who get their needs met, do
understand pretty well when I have to say, "Right now, I'm sorry; I can't do
(fill-in-the-blank)" My fill-in-the-blank is a specific and temporary
limitation and not, significantly, something like "Your friends can't come
over anymore." It's not something that I say to them arbitrarily or
frequently. We plan when we can do the desired thing again, so they know
that the baby doesn't mean we'll *never* do certain things again! I remember
being overwhelmed with my first child at all his needs in early infancy --
and I was a relatively well-read adult. Kids can feel that overwhelming
feeling just as strongly.

Talking honestly about the whole family's adjustment meant that I'd hear
things like, "I wish you didn't have another baby" from a 6yo while a 4yo
nodded vehemently. I found that accepting those kinds of statements (I have
heard mothers discount or react with anger to negative feelings like this)
seem to lessen the tension in the family for everyone. Also, lots of talk
about what their babyhoods were like is always delightful for them.

I do find it interesting that many people do come to the list with questions
and many personal non-negotiables right when they've added a baby! I think
the non-negotiables are a way of feeling back in control; I think it's
important, though, to avoid damaging relationships. Letting go a bit seems
to help considerably more with feeling normal again than trying to hang on
to an attachment to what would have been normal before the kids came.

Kathleen Whitfield
in SoCal

P.S. I'm off to play Polly Pockets with my 3yo boy!