You are happy parents to one child and are thinking of trying for Number Two. The days of frequent soiled nappies and interrupted sleep may not be far behind you, but how long can you afford to wait before trying to conceive again?
How do you know whether you – and your partner – are ready for a second baby?
If only it were as simple as answering a parenting quiz like this one (Mummies & Daddies - Are You Ready For Another Baby?), one of the many fun quizzes available online.
The reality is, adding a second child to your family involves more planning than clicking through ten questions on the Internet. It even goes beyond the problem of sibling rivalry, which is a secondary consideration.
In this three-part series on “Planning for a Second Baby”, Maybe Baby takes our readers through key emotional, physical and financial considerations when planning for a second addition to the family.
In Part 1, we invite Mr Jonathan Seow, a Centre Manager at Care Corner Counselling Centre, to share some insights on the emotional aspects of having the second child.
1. Why have more than one child? Is one not enough?
This is a question that only you can answer. Everybody’s situation is different. A person who had a good experience growing up with many siblings may want to recreate his happy family moments for his own offspring. Conversely, someone who remembers having to scrimp and save and make sacrifices for his younger siblings may want to avoid burdening his child with similar hardship and decide to stop at one. A parent who experienced a lonely childhood as the only child may fervently wish to provide his own child with brothers and sisters for company.
There is no right or wrong answer on how many children you should have. The most important thing is that you both agree.
2. How can I be sure that I am emotionally ready to have another baby?
Jonathan offers some pointers to help couples figure out their emotional readiness.
- How well are you coping with your first child? “If a couple has already been feeling very stressed from caring for their first child, having a second child follow soon after would actually make things worse”, says Jonathan.
- How has your marriage been affected by the presence of your first child? Jonathan asks, “Has the couple drifted slowly and silently apart since becoming parents? Does each partner have the other’s support when it comes to parenting duties? Have there been more instances of conflict in the relationship since the birth of the first child? How has the couple been coping with the changes in the marriage since becoming parents?” These are all important questions to ask yourself when evaluating your emotional readiness for a second child.
It is wholly understandable that parents may feel this way because they want to be as fair as possible to both children. “I think it’s a good concern!” says Jonathan. He recommends that they delve deeper into their feelings and talk to each other to try and understand why they feel this way:
- What if my second child is not as adorable as my first? What if no.2 is a difficult child? All children go through stages where they become more difficult to handle – and that includes your first child. “Ask yourself again if you would love your child any less during such periods,” says Jonathan, “If the answer is ‘yes’, you have to reflect on your ideas of parenthood and recognise that your love for your children is dependent on how fond you are of that child, which may be an unrealistic condition of parental love.”
- I am very attached to my firstborn. I’m worried that the arrival of my second child will be less significant in comparison. “Don’t worry too much about this,” assures Jonathan, “It is natural for first-time parents to have a strong attachment to their firstborn as creating life together for the first time is an exciting and significant milestone in their relationship as a couple. While the feelings of elation and excitement could be stronger for the first child, it doesn’t mean that the second child is any less significant. It certainly doesn’t mean that the couple will not love subsequent children as much, or be less attached to them. .”
Even within a marriage, it’s hard for feelings and emotions of a couple to be in sync all the time. Your partner may not be ready to add another member to the family just yet. He or she may feel that introducing a newborn may upset the current balance, especially if your first child arrived not long ago or if he or she enjoys devoting full attention to your firstborn for now.
The first step is to talk openly about your differences. “It is important that both parents share openly about their wishes and worries,” says Jonathan, “Be as open as possible about the reasons behind your preferences and explore ways to address any worries.” While you may not be able to resolve any differing viewpoints just yet, it helps that you have a better understanding of the issues.
If you meet a standstill, don’t despair. “It is important that both partners respect and accept each other’s feelings and preferences, even if the reasons given for wanting or not wanting a second child may not sound too convincing to the other party,” advises Jonathan, “If your partner is firm about his or her desire not to try for another baby now, it will help to put the issue on hold for the time being and subsequently ask for his or her permission to revisit the topic again in future.”
In the meantime, you could try to reorganise the family’s routine by structuring play times and bed times, so that your partner won’t feel that his or her current lifestyle will be further threatened by more upheaval when a new baby arrives. Encourage your partner to help you with routines so that he or she feels more involved too.
5. When will my firstborn be emotionally ready for a new baby in the family? Is there an ideal age gap between siblings?
There is no absolute “right” age gap between children. Every age gap has its own pros and cons. Besides emotional readiness, it also depends on other factors such as the couple’s fertility. Children below one may never remember life without a sibling, which may reduce the occurrence of sibling rivalry in the later years. Children over four may be eager to attain more independence and be willing to share mummy and daddy’s attention with a new sibling.
“Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that parents should not consider having another child when their first is between two and four years old,” explains Jonathan, “All the parents have to do is ensure that the firstborn’s sense of insecurity, if any, is attended to. Most parents do that quite well.”
“For older children, while parents may expect more “mature behaviour”, the older child may still have insecurities as he is still developing emotionally.” Introducing a second child at this stage may reinforce this idea of the first child having to be a “big boy” or “big girl”, which may cause him or her to harbour feelings of resentment and rejection when parents chide the older sibling for acting like the baby of the family.
At the end of the day, every child has his or her own personality and whether or not siblings can get along is more likely to depend on their personalities rather than their age differences. Jonathan highlights, “It is important that the parents are sensitive to how they relate to the older child and how they ensure that the child still feels secure and cherished, just like before.”
6. How can I prepare my first child to be emotionally ready for a sibling?
Jonathan offers some useful tips to help parents prepare their child for the arrival of the new baby:
- Parents can spend more time with the older child and have him/her share the pleasant experience of mummy’s pregnancy. Parents can also talk about their happy experience of the first pregnancy, which may help the child feel cherished.
- Get the child involved and seek his/her opinions when it comes to naming the new baby and preparing items for the baby’s arrival.
- Talk about how things will be different after mummy gives birth and highlight the positive aspects of it.
“Some children may regress (e.g. act like a baby again, imitate younger sibling’s behaviour) due to insecurity and the need to seek love and attention. Parents should avoid punishing their child and instead offer positive attention and help him/her express his negative feelings”, he adds.
Jonathan reminds parents not to be upset if the older child expresses dislike for the younger sibling as children may not know how to express their feelings appropriately. He encourages parents to ask questions like, “Are you afraid that your brother may take daddy and mummy away from you?” or “Are you afraid that daddy and mummy will no longer love you because we love your sister?” Parents can then show empathy and reassure the older child of their love for him/her.
Parents’ negative reactions towards a suddenly “difficult” older child may be brought on by stress and lack of rest. “Parents may be under a lot of stress during the second pregnancy and after the second child is born,” highlights Jonathan. He reminds parents to take good care of themselves and shower positive attention on their firstborn, and continue to build a strong parent-child relationship based on love and trust, which will weather any changes in the family brought on by the arrival of a new baby.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Planning for a Second Baby” where Maybe Baby discusses physical factors to consider before trying for Number Two.
I Love Children would like to thank Mr Jonathan Seow and Care Corner Counselling Centre for their professional input.