Guest Post: Good on Paper

I’ve asked some of my favorite creative mamas to help out while I’m away with our new baby. Today, one of my favorite stationers – and mama of two boys! – Lisa from Good on Paper is sharing some thoughts about motherhood! –Nole

Hi guys! While Nole is out on maternity leave, she asked me to share something I love or found surprising about motherhood. Since Nole is soon to be a mother of two, I thought I would share a few stories and tips about being “Mama” to my two boys, (Lucas, 4, and Theo, 2), and in particular, preparing the older sibling for the newest member of the family. Lisa from Good on Paper

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One thing that surprised me about motherhood was how much emotional energy is involved (in addition to the physical demands of chasing two boys around). From the fun and silly moments to the complete meltdowns for no apparent reason, motherhood has been rewarding, but exhausting. There are so many good days and a fair number of not-so-good, but I try to remember that the difficult phases will pass. Rather than focus on the negative, I’ve found that the important thing is to cherish every moment, take lots of pictures, and write down all those delightful toddler phrases and “preschooler-isms” for posterity. (Lucas recently observed, after sending a Hot Wheel car off a ramp, “Whoa! That one was extra does it!”)

A few things that worked for us to prepare Lucas for Baby Theo:

1. Refer to the baby-to-be as “your baby brother/sister,” rather than “my baby” or “our (the parents’) baby.” This seemed to resonate with Lucas, and he felt very special and proud to be such an important figure  in Theo’s life.

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2. Invest in some “older sibling primer” books.  I bought three books for Lucas about being a big brother, and his favorite by far was “I’m a New Big Brother” by Nora Gaydos.  The illustrations in particular seemed to help him understand what to expect from his new baby brother, and how he could help Mama and Daddy out in this new family adventure.

3. Get a “trainer baby.”  I bought Lucas this adorable baby brother doll that (as far as we knew) might resemble the real baby Theo. Lucas carried him around gently (only occasionally tossing him across the floor), and always referred to him as “baby brother.”

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4.     Buy the older kid a “birth-day” present.  At the hospital, we made it a point to get a gift for Lucas that was “from his baby brother.” We got him a new backpack, a book, and a toy fire engine. To this day, he remembers that Theo gave him those things.

Now that Theo has been around for a couple of years, I’ve also learned a few things that have helped our boys start their lifelong friendship on a positive note. So far so good.

1. Make the older kid feel extra special. We give lots of praise to Lucas for being a great helper, a kind and sweet big brother, and a teacher to his little brother. Theo copies everything Lucas does. And I mean everything, both good and bad. Lucas hides in the laundry hamper; Theo does, too. Lucas takes off his shirt; Theo does, too. Lucas holds hands; Theo does, too. Lucas throws sand; Theo does, too. We are always telling Lucas how much Theo loves him, appreciates him, and wants to do everything just like him. I think, for the most part, this builds Lucas’ self-esteem and encourages more good behavior than bad. Lucas always wants to hold his brother’s hand and take care of him when we leave the house, which has been incredibly sweet to watch.

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2. Make one-on-one time with each kid. My husband Nick and I like to use the “divide and conquer” parenting tactic on a regular basis. We do a lot of things as a family, but we also find that taking one-on-one adventures is rewarding in its own way. I’ll take Lucas to swim lessons, breakfast, play dates, etc., while Nick stays home with Theo during his nap (aka “nap jail”), then takes him to the park or on a hike. I realized just how much these one-on-one dates mean to Lucas when he said in the car one day, “Mama, I really like it when we do things just me and you. No one else. Just me and you.”

3. Reward good behavior. Whenever I see the boys playing nicely together, I make sure to give them lots of praise. One of the best toddler books I’ve read is “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” by Harvey Karp, M.D. The methods in this book worked well with both kids, and it has been a life saver. One little trick I’ve  learned is “gossiping,” i.e. praising a child’s behavior to a third party, within earshot of the child, but pretending you don’t want the child to hear. It’s a fun little game, and it seems to make the praise more effective. For example, I’ll say to my husband (in an audible whisper):  “Hey Nick, look how sweet Lucas is, holding Theo’s hand and making sure he gets down the stairs safely. I love that!” Or, “Hey Nick, I loved seeing Lucas and Theo taking turns with their toys today. It made me feel so happy.” Or, “Did you see how Theo gave Lucas his car when he was done with it? He probably learned that from Lucas!”

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It’s been such a treat for me to watch my two boys interact and grow together.  Of course, they don’t always agree on things (especially whose turn it is with the cool new toy), but I love how proud Lucas is of his baby brother; how he always says Theo is the cutest baby brother in the whole world;  how he introduces all of his friends to his baby brother;  how he holds his hand, kisses him, and pats his head; and how he teaches him to say new words (good, bad, and invented).  I honestly didn’t know what to expect when Theo was born, but I couldn’t be happier about the great big brother Lucas has become.