Motherhood

What Do You Do? – Labels and Mum Guilt

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Becoming a Mother seems to go hand-in-hand with being neatly labelled, like rows of veg in a garden. You’re a ‘Stay at home Mum’, a ‘Working Mum’, a ‘Full-time working Mum’ or ‘Part-time working Mum’… Over the last four years I’ve had to fill out a few forms or answer various administrative questions about my ‘occupation’, and I’ve always felt a bit funny about writing ‘stay at home Mum’. The title seems to be heavily loaded; it’s one step away from saying ‘I’m a housewife’ (very un-P.C now) and in our current society where work success and just general business are lauded, choosing to stay at home and look after small children seems to somehow fall short of the mark in terms of society’s expectations of us, or perhaps the expectations we now put upon ourselves as women (the perpetual question: can we have it all?!). It may just be that British society sadly doesn’t seem to value or respect individuals who care for young children, as it should. What are your thoughts? Do you think that other countries seem to value those in childcare roles more highly? I think this is something we should continue to question.

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WORKING MUMS

Having children and making the decision of whether or not to go back to work is a tricky one for women. It’s great to see that more people are taking up shared parental leave after having a baby, but I would hazard a guess that the majority of Dad’s go back to work after their two-week (or so) parental leave is up, and that’s that. There are people fighting for flexible working for parents (most notably Anna Whitehouse of Mother Pukka) so hopefully things are starting to move in the right direction in that respect. But I’m not going to go into more detail about that just now. I’ve been thinking about the questions that Mothers get asked, and along with the usual (rather controversial) questions (ie “are you breastfeeding?”, “how is the baby sleeping” etc) , one that crops up from when your baby is between six months and one year old is “So, are you going back to work?”. I think that whatever your answer to this question, it will throw up conflicting feelings and a certain amount of guilt. If you are going back to work (full-time or part-time) it could be for a number of reasons: you want to keep your career going; love your job; need the second salary; have to go back for a certain amount of time to keep your maternity pay etc. I can only imagine the difficulty in returning to a job and juggling everything on very little sleep, not to mention the emotional strain of leaving your baby in someone else’s care. This must be particularly hard if you would rather stay at home with your baby, but need to return to work for financial reasons. I’m sure some Mum’s (and maybe some Dad’s too, but that’s a whole other conversation) struggle with feelings of guilt over this. On the flip side, though, I can completely understand how freeing and wonderful it might be to have time away from the baby where you are pursuing something you (hopefully) enjoy, in an adult space where you can have proper conversations, pee in peace and drink hot tea!

 

STAY-AT-HOME MUMS

For those Mums, like me, who decide not to return to work, or are unable to for whatever reason, a whole array of conflicting emotions emerge around staying at home to look after the baby. For a start, there is undoubtedly a high level of drudgery and repetition involved in staying at home and keeping small people alive. You don’t get any thanks, or constructive feedback on how you’re doing, and can often feel lonely or bored. Some days the house will feel like a prison and you won’t talk to another adult until your partner gets home. When you become a Mother you change as a person (to a degree), and you lose the freedom you had (that, in hindsight, you sometimes think you didn’t make the most of) and can’t just decide to go on a last-minute mini-break to Paris, or even go on a night out with friends so easily. But being a Mum and staying at home to look after your babies doesn’t render you completely devoid of a personality outside that of ‘Mummy’. You still have interests, ideas and dreams: they might be hidden or suppressed for a while, but are still there. The thing is, with not going out to work, you can lose sight of yourself a bit, and forget about all the other things you’re good at (you’ll probably be especially hard on yourself if you’re having a tough time and don’t feel like you know what you’re doing as a Mother). So, even if you’re quite happy to stay at home long-term with your baby/child, you might not enjoy every minute of it. You may sometimes long for adult company (especially if you’ve been stuck in the house all day and can’t bear to watch another episode of Paw Patrol), or even no company at all! Feeling ‘touched out’, where your senses are overloaded after a day being pawed at by little ones is something most Mums have probably felt at one point or another.

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I’ve never regretted my decision to leave my career and be at home with my children, but it doesn’t mean that I’ve not felt somewhat confused over the years about my current ‘role’.

 

I gave up my career in academic publishing when I went on maternity leave with my daughter in 2013. It was the best decision for me/us for a number of reasons: 1) I was able to take voluntary redundancy as the company was undergoing a major shake-up and office move; 2) I didn’t much fancy doing the busy daily commute into London; 3) I felt ready to have a break from the world of publishing (even though it had been a great, although at times stressful, career); 4) The cost of childcare meant that returning to work, either part-time or full-time wouldn’t make sense financially; 5) It wasn’t a guarantee that I would have been able to go back part-time, or even in the same position (and my job involved a fair bit of travel, which would have been tricky with a young family); 5) My husband works freelance in the film industry: his work is unpredictable, involves long hours and often working abroad (sometimes for months at a time) so it made sense for me to stay at home and be on hand for the children.

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I’ve always felt fairly happy and comfortable with this decision but there are times, particularly if someone I don’t know asks me what I ‘do’, when I find it hard to answer; because being a stay-at-home-mum carries a certain degree of stigma, and I battle with the feelings that I might be seen as boring, un-ambitious or ‘un-cool’ because I haven’t kept a career going whilst raising children. These feelings come purely from a place of vanity and ego as it’s all about other people’s perception of me, so it seems silly to give in to those thoughts, but early motherhood is a strange time in your life when your identity, confidence and self-worth are often called into question (sometimes on a daily basis). In a way, you have to reconstruct who you are in relation to your new responsibility of caring for young children.

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When asked what I ‘do’, I say ‘I’m at home with the kids’ (I never use the phrase ‘I’m a stay-at-home Mum’), but I always manage to slip into the conversation that ‘I used to work in publishing’ (why do I feel the need to do this?!), just so that the person knows that I did have a career, and used to do something that might be considered ‘interesting’, or even ‘successful’. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of social aspiration and one-upmanship. Telling people that you spend your days looking after small children seems to quickly shut down any interesting conversation (unless they are a fellow parent), whereas when I was in my old job people would usually say ‘oh that’s interesting – what have you published, do you travel much…’ etc etc. Sometimes I almost have the feeling that I’ve literally shrunk in their eyes to someone who is not really worth investing time in.

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But perhaps all these feelings are really inconsequential, and I need to ‘own’ my status as a stay-at-home-mum? Are you bothered about labels? Or what people think about your life choices?

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Over the last four years, I’ve often wondered what I might eventually ‘do’ in terms of a job or career, once both children are in school. In truth, I have absolutely no idea. I’ve been out of an office environment for so long that I don’t know if I’d like going back into that sort of setting, and I’m really keen to be flexible so I can be around for Annabelle and Rafe. On the other hand, I would like to do something that I get a lot of satisfaction from, and to be a strong role model for A and R. I sometimes get a bit panicked that I won’t ever find something that I really enjoy doing (that also pays some bills!). Part of the reason I started this blog was to give myself a focus, to do something for me, and to bring in some semblance of ‘work’ (ie by carving out time to sit and write these blog posts) to my days. We’ll just have to see what happens in the future but for now my job description is ‘Mummy’, and that’s OK.

 

Travel, Holidays, Uncategorized

St Ives – The Perfect Cornish Getaway

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There are some places that you are drawn back to again and again, and the Cornish town of St Ives is one of those places for me. I first visited on a day trip with my family when I was about 11 and have memories of walking along the harbour front and watching a seagull pinch someone’s chips. The next time I went back, it was as a giddy 16 year-old on a post-GCSE holiday with seven school-friends. Lots of other people in our year went to Newquay or places where there was a bit more nightlife (this was back in the mid-90s when you could use your fake ID to get into pretty much any club/pub!) but we were happy just chilling out on the beaches. I’ve been back to St Ives a number of times in the 19 years since then, usually staying in the house of a family friend, which is in a fantastic location right by Porthgwidden beach.

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Above, view of Porthgwidden beach from the house we stay in, and below, my favourite spot for reading/day-dreaming.

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There’s something quite special about returning to a place you love over a long period of time, and building on all the memories and experiences you’ve had there. Something about the place seeps into your psyche and connects you to it in a way that is really comforting: you can call up your memories or visualize the scenery at times when you need to bring back a sense of calm, or inspiration, or whatever feelings are associated with that particular location. When I think of St Ives I picture blue skies, a Mediterranean-turquoise sea, the sound of seagulls, a salty breeze and sandy toes. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to return to St Ives most years with Annabelle and Rafe, so that they get to know it and build on their memories of lovely family holidays there. Annabelle’s first visit was when she was only four months old, and then we went again when she was 15 months and able to walk around and explore the beaches.

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Annabelle and I on Porthgwidden beach in 2015.

We’ve just returned from a wonderful week there with my parents (all our holidays to St Ives have been with my parents!). When you have young children it’s great to have the extra help on holiday (so you get to relax a bit too) and to all spend time together. Unfortunately Ryan had a job come up for the week we’d booked away (the downside to being freelance) so my parents drove down with all our stuff and I managed to survived the nearly 5 hour train journey from Reading and back on my own with the children.

The Train Journey

We went into the train station to book our tickets as I think it’s easier to find out more information face to face with someone. I’m so glad we did in the end as they recommended that we buy a Family and Friends Railcard (for £30, which lasts a year). This worked out cheaper for one standard class adult and two child tickets (coming in at just over £135). We had one window and two gangway seats, which worked out fine. It was the first time I’d done a long journey on my own with both children (I did the same journey on the train with Annabelle when she was four months old and she slept most of the way). I was pretty apprehensive about it as I wasn’t sure whether Rafe would have his nap and just envisaged him wanting to run up and down the train for four hours! Luckily he did sleep for over two hours (each way) and it all went pretty smoothly (apart from the last hour or so when they got a bit excitable and I became slightly frazzled!). I packed a picnic lunch, lots of snacks, story books, sticker and colouring books, and a Kindle with CBeebies games. My parents met us off the train at St Erth (with the buggy) and we all got on the little branch line train to St Ives (with wonderful views when you round the bend and first see the town) and then walked to the holiday house from the station.

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Tide out at St Ives Harbour, with Smeaton’s Pier and it’s two lighthouses on the right, made famous by Virginia Woolf.

One of the best things about St Ives is that you don’t need to use the car while you’re here. Of course, there are lots of lovely places you could visit nearby if you wished, but we like just pottering around the winding cobbled streets of the picturesque town (which is very compact), relaxing on the sandy beaches and popping into all the quirky little galleries and independent shops. There are a number of walks you can do from the town along the South West Coast Path, including the walk to Clodgy Point through Porthmeor, and the stroll to Carbis Bay, following the railway line (this is just about doable with a buggy, and you can always hop on the little train back, after stopping for a coffee and fabulous views at the Carbis Bay Hotel).

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So, here is some more information about St Ives and tips on things to do/see there:

Beaches

St Ives is an old seaside fishing town on the West coast of Cornwall. It enjoys a mild (almost tropical) climate and has four gorgeous beaches: Porthmeor, a Blue Flag Awarded surfing beach located in front of Tate St Ives, Porthminster, a long sandy stretch near the little railway station, Porthgwidden, a small cove by ‘The Island’, and the Harbour beach, a working port and best for strolling along. As with any holiday in the UK, you can’t bank on the weather being nice, but we were very lucky and mostly woke up to warm, sunny days.

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Porthmeor Beach in May 2018, with Porthmeor Artists Studios facing onto the beach.

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Porthminster beach and cafe.

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The secluded cove of Porthgwidden beach, with clear, turquoise water.

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The beach at the Harbour, where you can hire deckchairs on the promenade.

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Food

St Ives has something of a reputation for being a foodie hub. You really are spoilt for choice with the range of restaurants on offer, many providing excellent seafood options, but also tasty vegetarian and vegan options. There are three critically acclaimed gastro cafés/restaurants overlooking the main beaches, which we always visit as the views are fantastic:

Porthmeor Beach Café, located just below the Tate, offers indoor and outdoor seating and has a cool, relaxed vibe. It’s best to book in advance for dinner (do it as soon as you arrive in St Ives, or before, if visiting during peak season!) as it’s a very popular spot, and I highly recommend booking one of the outdoor ‘pods’, which come with comfy cushions, blankets and heaters to keep you toasty if the temperature drops. The views over Porthmeor beach and the Atlantic are superb- the perfect spot for a morning coffee (watching intrepid surfers) or an evening cocktail watching the sun set.

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The food here, whether you come for breakfast, lunch or dinner, never disappoints, and the service is friendly and efficient. We went twice for brunch and once for dinner on our recent holiday. The buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup and fresh fruit are delicious, as is the broccolini, mushroom and feta omellette with spinach and walnuts, and they do an ingenious ‘build your own breakfast’ option.

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The dinner menu includes a fantastic range of tapas, which I cannot rave about enough! Each dish is packed with such interesting flavour combinations and I was so caught up with eating and making ‘mmm’ noises that I forgot to take any photos (apart from the churros with chocolate dipping sauce!).

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The views from Porthmeor Café.

Porthgwidden Beach Café is nestled in a little whitewashed building right on Porthgwidden beach. The small, cosy restaurant inside and the terrace outside afford lovely views of the beach. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, and families with young children are made to feel very welcome. I highly recommend ordering the ‘Porthgwidden Fish and Chips’ – probably the best I’ve eaten! During the daytime there is a take-away hatch serving ice-cream, fish and chips and other food which can be eaten at the picnic benches in front of the colourful beach huts.

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Porthgwidden Café with views over the beach – on one of the overcast days we had.

Porthminster Beach Café sits right on the beach and offers wonderful views across to St Ives Bay and Godrevy Lighthouse. The restaurant inside is bright and contemporary, with cool artwork adorning the walls, and the outdoor seating area and terrace is relaxed and comfortable. The food is tasty and most of the fresh vegetables, salads and herbs come from the kitchen garden which has been cultivated on waste land opposite the café. There is also a takeaway beach bar and beach shop near the café.

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Breakfast at Porthminster Café.

Art/Cuture

One of the main things I love about the town is its artistic and literary history. Artists have been drawn to St Ives since the late 1800s, captured by the quality of light, mild climate and picturesque views. An artists’ colony was founded in the late 1920s and Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell holidayed here as children. The town remains an artistic hub, with the working Porthmeor Studios attracting many artists in residence.

Tate St Ives is built on the site of former gasworks overlooking Porthmeor beach and opened in 1993. It has a permanent collection of modern art as well as constantly changing exhibitions (most recently the Patrick Heron retrospective) and the café (with outdoor terrace) on the top floor is well worth a visit for the spectacular views of the sea and town’s rooftops.

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In my opinion, no trip to St Ives is complete without a visit to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. It offers a calm little oasis away from the bustling streets and is a lovely place to spend some time. Barbara Hepworth was one of the greatest sculptor’s of the twentieth century and the small museum offers a brief history of her life and work. She lived in St Ives from 1949 (when she and her husband, fellow artist Ben Nicholson, bought Trewyn Studio, now the museum) until her death in 1975. The garden, which was laid out by Hepworth, contains wonderful sub-tropical plants over different levels and includes over 30 sculptures in bronze, stone and wood. The studio has been preserved and maintained, with paint, tools and aprons displayed, offering further insight into the artist’s working method.

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Shops and Galleries

I could spend all day wandering around the many little galleries and shops in St Ives. As well as some big high-street brands (such as Cath Kidston, Joules, Fat Face and Seasalt) there are a plethora of little independent shops, jewellers and galleries. I recommend browsing in the independent St Ives Bookseller, which has a particularly wonderful range of children’s books. A couple of galleries that are really worth visiting include the Penwith Gallery (in a former Pilchard Packing factory) on Back Road West and Porthminster Gallery at Westcott’s Quay. My favourite gallery and shop for browsing and buying artwork is The Blue Bramble Gallery in Island Square, which sells prints and original paintings of one of my favourite contemporary artists, Kate Lockhart (we have two of her St Ives prints).

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The Blue Bramble Gallery in Island Square.

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The window display in St Ives Bakery on Fore Street is always so enticing!

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Roly’s Fudge shop on Fore Street, one of the many fudge shops you’ll find in the town.

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The Allotment Deli is a wonderful place, specialising in a range of local Cornish produce, including fresh, seasonal veg and award- winning local cheeses.

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Hudson Art St Ives offers a great range of homeware, gifts and art, with lots of wonderful things for children.

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The homeware/lifestyle shop Port of Call, in Market Place, is beautifully laid-out.

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Sweetlime Studio on Wills Lane have a gorgeous selection of accessories, jewellery and homewares.

General Things to Note

1) Be very careful if eating food ‘on the hoof’ – the seagulls are brazen and will swoop down to steal whole ice-creams/scones/bags of chips.

2) Parking can be an issue depending on where you’re staying (a lot of rental cottages don’t have parking spaces). There is a largish long stay car park on the Island where you can park your car for a week for £47, or £8 per day.

3) The summer months in St Ives are pretty busy so if you can go off peak, you will enjoy a little less hustle and bustle.

4) The streets are fairly narrow and mostly cobbled, with a fair number of hills/steep inclines. It’s perfectly doable with a buggy (although a bit bumpy!) but a baby carrier/sling/backpack carrier may be easier.

So if you’re looking for a great UK holiday which offers something for everyone, and is great for kids, St Ives is well worth visiting. And who knows, maybe you’ll love it as much as we do and want to return there year after year to make more happy memories. If there are any particular UK holiday spots that hold a strong pull for you then I’d love to hear about them.

Olivia x

 

 

Siblings, New baby, Toddler, Motherhood, Advice, Two children, Uncategorized

Going From One Child to Two – Tips for Preparing your Firstborn for the Arrival of a Sibling

 

I think that most parents are a little nervous about having a second baby – ‘how will I/we cope with two?!’. By the time you’re thinking of having another child (or pregnant with number two), you’ve probably come out of the real ‘baby’ stage with your first child and may (!) be getting more sleep and have some routine to your week. You’re settled as a family of three and can’t quite imagine adding another small person into the mix (hey, life is busy enough as it is!).

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Having your first child is a special and very intense experience, from pregnancy onwards. Every stage is new and exciting (with many, many challenges along the way) and you spend an awful lot of time just you and the baby. Every ‘first’ is something to be celebrated and gushed over with friends and family, you take loads of pictures and can’t imagine loving another human as much as you love your little one. But at some point (probably when your memories of pregnancy, birth and the difficult newborn stage/ lack of sleep are beginning to blur and fade!) you might think you’re ready to make a sibling for your little one. You start to imagine another baby – what they will be like, who they might look more like, and what sort of relationship they’ll have with your son/daughter.

One of the biggest worries I think most parents have is wondering how your first child will react to having a new brother or sister. I remember my friend and hypnobirthing teacher, Deborah, telling me something she’d heard that was really insightful, around the time that my second baby was born: just imagine that your partner came home one day and said that something wonderful had happened: they’d met another woman who was so sweet and lovely and beautiful and they were brining her home to be a part of your family. You now had to share your partner’s love with somebody else. Now apply the feelings you might have in that situation to your first child learning that another baby is on the way: hurt, confusion, anger, jealousy…these are all quite natural responses to finding out that they will have to share the spotlight of their parents love. Of course, it depends on the age of your first child as to how much they will understand, and in what way they might react, but there are ways to slowly prepare them for the arrival of a new brother or sister.

I’ve listed some things below that worked for us. Our daughter, Annabelle, was 20 months old when I fell pregnant with Rafe (2 ½ when he was born). We were lucky that she had a good level of understanding and communication so we could talk to her fairly early on about the new baby.

 

A few tips on preparing your first child for a new sibling:

  • Talk about babies and siblings during your pregnancy.

We started talking about babies and brothers/sisters in a very general way from when I first got pregnant, but didn’t actually tell Annabelle that there was a baby on the way until after our 20 week scan, when my bump was more noticeable (we have a heart-melty video of the moment, and of her saying ‘I’m not a baby anymore’). It’s a long time for little ones to wait and they won’t necessarily understand why the baby has to stay in Mummy’s tummy for a long time and can’t just pop out tomorrow! This is a really personal decision, however, so tell your child whenever you feel the time is right. In the latter stages of pregnancy you can talk more about how babies need to be cared for, what they eat, how gentle you must be with them etc (if your child has/likes playing with a doll or special stuffed animal, this can be quite useful role-play practice). Visit friends or family with babies, if you can, so your child can see how they are cared for. Once you feel the baby kicking it’s great for your child to feel the kicks with you (if they want to/are interested – don’t push it if not!) as it can make it seem more real that there is a baby in there and you can play games guessing what position the baby is in etc and see if your daughter/son wants to talk, or sing, to the baby.

  • Read books and watch TV programmes that explore the sibling relationship.

We love the Alfie and Annie Rose books by Shirley Hughes (old favourites from when I was little) and watched a fair amount of Peppa Pig during this time. Talk about what it might be like to have a little brother or sister. We also picked up a copy of There’s A House Inside My Mummy (by Giles Andreae and Vanessa Cabban), and there are loads of other books for children that explain pregnancy and what it’s like waiting for, or having, a new baby.

  • Tread delicately with feelings.

Try not to assume how your little one might feel when first told about the baby. It’s really difficult not to say ‘are you happy/excited?’ or ‘isn’t that exciting?!’ when you are yourselves excited about it, but your daughter/son may feel otherwise. Sometimes these feelings might be expressed through difficult behaviour (although it’s hard to know whether it’s just normal toddler behaviour!) so bear in mind that your little one might need reassurance of your continued love. You can talk about what it was like when you were pregnant with them, as it will help your child understand that you went through this special time with them too. Annabelle loved hearing that she used to get lots of hiccups when she was in my tummy, and that her nickname was ‘Bean’!

  • Be careful of the language you use and get your little one involved.

Use inclusive language when talking about the baby. Refer to it as ‘our’ baby, or ‘your’ baby brother/sister and make sure your little one feels included in some decisions. Most people choose a pet name for the baby bump and its nice to get your firstborn involved in that. Getting them to choose some new clothes or toys for the baby can make them feel like they have a real role to play and are already being a helpful big brother/sister.

  • Once the baby has arrived, ensure your son/daughter gets enough attention.

It’s a lovely idea to get a present for your first child (either from you, or ‘the baby’) so they don’t feel too left out with all the fuss and presents the baby receives when they arrive. Make sure family members pay as much attention to your oldest as they do to the baby – maybe they could take them out for little trips or treats (so you can have a much-needed nap!). If you can, also make sure you and your partner have some special one-on-one time with your oldest as you can check in on how they’re feeling. It should help with any feelings of jealousy they might have if they know they have your undivided attention for certain periods of time. Buy lots of sticker books, stories and films so you have plenty to keep them occupied, as you’ll probably spend a fair amount of time at home during the first few weeks after the baby is born.

  • If you’re making any big changes to your oldest child’s routine, do it before the baby arrives.

A lot of people seem to aim for an age gap of 2-3 years between their children, so ironically the new baby often arrives during challenging times, such as potty training your first or moving them out of a cot into a toddler/single bed. If you can, try to do these things a few months before the baby arrives so that there aren’t too many big changes at once and it doesn’t seem like your oldest is being ousted from their bed because of the baby. Potty training can be a long process so don’t stress too much if your toddler regresses and has more accidents when the baby arrives (it’s quite normal, apparently). It’s sod’s law that your child often desperately needs to use the potty/loo when you’re in the middle of changing a pooey nappy or feeding the baby (buy lots of carpet cleaner!). If your older child has a dummy but you’d like to wean them off it, do this well before the baby arrives, especially if you plan on giving a dummy to the baby at some point (otherwise there may be a lot of jealousy and dummy stealing!)

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So, these are some of the things we found helpful. No doubt I’ve probably forgotten some things, but I think the main thing is to give your oldest child lots of love, cuddles and reassurance throughout your pregnancy and once the baby arrives. This will not always be easy as you’ll probably be dealing with toddler tantrums combined with morning sickness/fatigue/feeling like a whale, but don’t feel bad for being snappy once in a while – we’re only human!

I was going to write more about what it’s like for the parents once you have two children, but have probably written enough for one blog post, so maybe I’ll save that for another…?

O x