Posts Tagged ‘siblings’

Balancing Your Other Children’s Needs When One Child has a Serious Illness

Friday, November 7th, 2014

Balancing Your Other Children's Needs When Your Child has a Serious IllnessChildren with chronic illnesses require a lot of attention from moms and dads. That is a fact of life I’ve become very accustomed to as I’ve raised Alayna, my youngest of three, a 20-month-old with various medical conditions, including a rare form of juvenile diabetes. But what I didn’t expect to learn through this journey is the impact on the siblings of a child with a chronic illness.

As an infant, Alayna’s particular medical needs required us to take extreme measures to protect her from germs. Alayna could not be in common public places such as the mall or kids’ play places. We limited visitors and screened people for viruses before coming to our home. My older children were 3 and 5 at the time, and we just could not risk having their playmates over, as they may be carrying a virus that could be harmful to Alayna. This was difficult for my children to understand. I was always feeling torn about how to handle this. I did not want to split our family in different directions, but I also did not want to dismiss the importance of my older children’s need for socialization and community inclusion.

Despite our efforts, at times Alayna would end up sick or in the hospital for monitoring and testing, which would require at least one parent to be away from home for a few days. Depending on the floor of the hospital she was on and the particular season, children may not be permitted to visit. This presented a difficult decision about what to do with our older children, which parent goes, which parent stays. More guilt. Guilt over the thoughts of bouncing them around, guilt of the thought of missing out on a day of their lives.

My 3 year old was a bit young to be affected by all of this, and had a pretty passive personality. My 5 year old did not. She was fully aware. After a hospitalization, I would come home to having her claim she could not breathe. If she had a tiny cut, she would itch it repetitively to make it more visible, to elicit more of a response from us. One time she actually pretended to be drowning in our pool; clear-cut cries for attention. More mommy guilt.

Here are some ways we managed Alayna’s health while trying to keep her siblings needs in balance as well.

1)     We recognized that with Alayna’s medical needs being so intense, they did need to surpass others’ needs at times, and that was okay. Although we felt bad, it was nobody’s fault, and some things just needed to be prioritized. This might have been something acute such as Alayna’s urgent need for a snack taking precedence over my 3-year-old’s want for a snack at a given moment. My children may not have understood exactly what “low blood sugar” meant, but they did pick up on the urgency. They came to understand that it meant that Alayna NEEDED to eat, and they began to appreciate that. It also might mean something more long term, including the need for me to travel to see a specialist and be gone for up to a week. This truly ate at my heart, as sometimes it meant missing a school event. But I had to keep focus that in order for us to be a family and to be together again, I needed to get Alayna well, and that is what I had set out to do. I could not feel guilty about that.

2)     While in the hospital, it became my job to be there and my husband’s job to be home with the older children. He would of course visit or bring the kids to see me at night if possible, but for the most part, he was home getting them back and forth to school, and activities, and doing homework and all other hustle and bustle that came along with a busy household. This is not to say this is the right way to handle the situation, but it was the right way for us. It made me feel better that my other children were not being shuffled around amongst family and friends. It made me feel better that their routine was not disrupted. If they had a school event, at least they had one parent there. It made me feel better that they had a parent with them in case they got sick or hurt. And what feels good to you is what is good for you and your family. I was once called out by a hospital staff about my husband’s whereabouts and his lack of involvement. She was not there at night to see him visit and she did not bother to ask about our home life. She judged without knowing. I had to learn to look past these hurts and keep focused on what was important. Thankfully, technology made being away from home easier, as I was able to FaceTime with the kids when I could not be home.

3)      We always tried to be mindful of our older children’s presence. Even if they are in the other room, children are always listening. So if we needed to vent to each other, or speak about a test result or doctor’s visit, we did so behind closed doors whenever possible to decrease their anxiety. Even if they could not understand exactly what we were saying, they could pick up on tone and emotions that go along with it and are pretty good at putting pieces together. They know when something is “not good.” We did not want to put any added stress on them that could be avoided.

4)     We used simple language to help the children understand what was going on with Alayna. Instead of keeping them completely in the dark for their wild imagination to take over, we offered a simple explanation for their worried little minds. For example, when Alayna needed oxygen early in life, we explained that she couldn’t breathe as well as they could, and needed this special machine to give her extra fresh air. They trusted us, so if we were able to give a simple explanation, they were happy with that.

5)     Birthday invites and my older children’s interest in going out were a challenge. We decided that events that were deemed to be important, such as birthday parties, could not be missed. One parent took the older children, and one parent stayed home with Alayna. That was the simplest way of handling that. When our kids asked to go somewhere and both parents were not available, it was not as clear cut how to handle it. In the beginning, I constantly found myself saying “we cannot do that, it’s not safe for Alayna,” or some variation of that statement. It one day hit me that the kids could begin to resent Alayna. So we tried to divert their eagerness to go out to a different at-home activity, with no mention of Alayna’s needs. If they wanted to go to a play place, I would say, “Hey! I was thinking of setting up a really fun obstacle course in the playroom with tunnels and hula hoops, would you guys like to help set it up?” When it comes down to it, kids just want to have fun, and they were happy to have my attention, and to be doing something we do not do everyday. That’s not to say we never went out, but when it just was not possible or posed too much risk, such as during peak flu season, they were easily diverted in this way.

6)     Taking the older children out individually for a mommy and me/daddy and me date night proved to be a very effective strategy. It did not have to be expensive or extensive. My daughter was happy with getting dressed up and going out for tea and a cupcake with me. My son was happy to ride in daddy’s truck and go to Home Depot with him. Even if it was at home and I did a special art activity with them. So long as the attention was on them and it was an interactive activity they enjoyed, they were pleased and it definitely went a long way.

7)     When my 5-year-old was exaggerating an injury for attention, we addressed the minor cut, or whatever she presented with, as the situation warranted, with maybe an extra hug, and sent her on her way. Probably sounds like “tough love,” but we did not want to feed too much into this negative behavior, as she could really hurt herself. When she did things like this, it would alert us that she needed more attention, and we would plan an individual outing as discussed above.

We love all of our children equally, but unfortunately their needs are not always equal. Most days we handle things just as all other busy families with multiple children do. But when Alayna’s medical needs became urgent, we prioritized it as was necessary and made it up to other children in other ways, or on other days. We had our plan for how to handle outings and hospitalizations, and we stuck to it as best as we could.

Being consistent on how we handled certain things proved to be key. When Alayna needed to be in the hospital, they knew they would be home with daddy, and I think they were comforted in knowing this. I will always carry some of the guilt that would come to any mom in this situation. I allowed myself to have breakdowns in private when the children were not around. But once my pity party was over, I re-focused that energy to spending meaningful time with the children. I also tried to look for the positives in the situation–I know that my older children will develop the strength of being compassionate, and I am happy for that.

Michele Ogniewski is a mother of 3 who lives and writes In Saratoga Springs. She is a part-time social worker and full-time advocate for her daughter’s medical needs.

The Fourth Trimester: A 12-Week Postpartum Series

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Most people are familiar with the three trimesters of pregnancy:

The Fourth Trimester

  • First trimester is from conception to week 12.
  • Second trimester is from week 13 to week 27
  • Third trimester is from week 28 until birth

But did you know that the first 12 weeks out of the womb are often referred to as the “fourth trimester”? This is a time of rapid changes for both you and your baby. Your body changes significantly during this time as, “your reproductive tract returns to its non-pregnant state. In addition, your cardiovascular, respiratory, musculo-skeletal, urologic, gastrointestinal, endocrine, and nervous systems all also return to a nonpregnant state” (Postpartum: 4th Trimester). Your baby is also growing and changing as he/she is adjusting to life outside the womb and his/her body is learning to regulate itself.

The fourth trimester is certainly a special time for a family. It is a time of bonding and developing new connections. However, it can also come with challenges as you navigate new roles and how to care for a new family member.

This weekly series will examine common topics that arise during the first 12 weeks after giving birth. For example, establishing breastfeeding, learning to love and accept your postpartum body, nourishment for a nursing mama, cloth diapering from day one, newborn baby wearing and much more.

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And who better to share about the fourth trimester experience than a mama who is going through it herself? Blog contributor Sarah recently gave birth to her fourth son and is enjoying the trials and tribulations of the fourth trimester experience…for the fourth time! She is greatly looking forward to sharing her journey with you.

 

Pregnancy Week 20: Halfway There

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Pregnancy Week 20It seems amazing that 20 weeks have passed and I am already at the halfway point of this pregnancy. So much has happened: the baby is fully formed, placenta made and functioning, yet so much more is to come. I am starting to get pretty excited, as are my boys. They ask me when the baby is coming, when he will be here, and if they can talk to him through my belly. It’s so sweet to see the beginning of a bond with their baby brother.

I’m feeling pretty well overall, just wishing I could put my mind at rest in the wee early hours of the morning. I wake at 4:30-5 am everyday, whether I wish to or not, with a mind that kicks into high gear the as soon as my eyes open. This is called pregnancy insomnia, something that affects most pregnant women at some time or another. Frequent need to urinate, discomfort from being on your back or side and having to change positions constantly can all lead to this lack of sleep–not to mention a racing mind with all that needs to be done!

For me, my mind is constantly churning away trying to come up with ways to better arrange my boys’ new shared room. Since we live in a small house, the bigger boys will share a room and the baby will get his own for the time being. We co-sleep in the first months after birth, but it is still nice to have a place to change, dress and (hopefully) teach baby to nap in his own bed. This last weekend we addressed the bunk bed issue and rearranged their room to better suit their needs, and the boys love their new shared space.

As I try to get myself back to sleep, I’m finding that picking up the smart phone, reading a book or turning a show on are all ways to help me NOT fall back asleep. In fact, its been hard to keep myself from shopping online at 4 am. That’s no good! Sometimes a snack, a warm glass of milk or just a few minutes spent in meditation or prayer helps to return my racing thoughts to a calm and collected place.

Unfortunately, some mornings my littlest guy wakes up with me at 5 and we end up with an early morning coffee date, watching Thomas the Train and having silly snuggles. Such is life!

Pia Watzig is a stay at home mom of two little boys with a third on the way. She enjoys writing, reading, knitting, cooking and being slightly insane most of the the time.

 

When Big Brother or Sister Goes Off to School

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

When Big Brother or Sister Goes off to SchoolThis summer, my soon-to-be kindergartener went to summer school to get ready for the big K. It was only two hours a day, but I was curious to see how my other kids would react to having her gone. We have all been home together for most of my kids’ lives, so I anticipated a big change.

I did see some big changes, but they weren’t what I expected.

  • Some kids may not notice. My toddler just isn’t old enough to express any changes she noticed in our day, and really, not much changed. We still went to the park, she still took naps, we still ate lunch together.
  • Some kids may ask about them. My three year old definitely missed older sister. She wasn’t upset by the change, but she did ask where Maisie was several times a day. It was so fun to see her run to greet Maisie when the bus came, but I had to be very careful about pick up and not letting little sister get too close to the bus lest she think she could hitch a ride with sister.
  • Some things will be easier without your oldest around. The younger kids don’t realize that they can ask for snacks, drinks, to go places and do other things. They are more used to just coming along for the ride and doing what they’re told. So I found I was more easily able to set them up with an activity and get things started, and then step away to get things done around the house or work on the computer for a bit without being interrupted. Of course, we’re talking about 10 minutes at a time or so, but I’ll take it.
  • Some things are actually much harder without your oldest. I did think maybe the grocery store would be easier with fewer kids, but I was wrong. So wrong. I highly underestimated how much calming, negotiating and entertaining my oldest did on trips to the store. She often convinced the three year old to stay put and entertained her by singing songs or making up stories while I flew through the store as fast as humanly possible. Without the distraction of big sister, the store was much harder.
  • It brings new energy to your house. Having someone come home in the middle of the afternoon makes the day a little different. Sometimes big sister would come home bubbly and full of things to tell me and ideas to play and pretend, and sometimes she would come home completely pooped and drained of energy. I found an afterschool snack helped mitigate the ulcer hour-ness of this time. (We generally don’t snack because with three kids in the house, I’d be playing waiter ALL day long.) It also helped bring a little routine to this time when I didn’t know what to expect from the day at school.

Here’s how you can help a toddler who really misses big brother or sister or is upset by the new change in routine:

  • Include them in the big celebration. When big brother or sister goes back to school shopping, grab some items for little brother or sister, too. Coloring books, crayons, maybe even a “back to school” shirt that they can wear the first day of school to see off their older sibling. Kids hate feeling left out, no matter how young they are.
  • Keep a routine. Routines are so helpful for toddlers and preschoolers. Have a general order in which you do things each day, and including seeing off your older child in that routine. Whether it’s going by the park after pick-up or getting out the crayons after the bus comes, giving your little something to look forward to makes them feel happy rather than sad when big brother or sister leaves.
  • Listen. You don’t have to make everything better. If your little one is old enough to put their feelings into words, listen to them. Tell them that you miss your big kid too, but that you are so glad to have big-kid time alone with them! I know so many of us experience mama-guilt when we have baby number two because we don’t have as much time to devote just to them. This is that time! Find a way for both of you to make the most of it.

Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives and writes in Queensbury, New York.   

Parenting Siblings: Preparing yourself for the arrival of a second or third child.

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Six years ago we celebrated the birth of our first child. His arrival ushered in the start of a new season for my husband and I, but we anticipated that change. There would be sleepless nights, exhausted days, a stretching and a pressing like we’d never experienced, but we expected much of that. We were bracing for nothing short of a radical upheaval in our lives.

Parenting Siblings: Preparing yourself for the arrival of a second or third child.

Fast-forward 18 months later, and we discovered we were expecting baby number two. Having logged a year and a half as parents, we assumed we had this parenting thing down. We’d navigated the waters of first-time parenthood, and we had learned to love with a capacity we didn’t know we possessed. Thus, we didn’t really expect baby number two to be a life-changer.

But then she was born, and the transition impacted me in a way I never anticipated. Suddenly, the demands on my time were doubled and my energy reserves were halved. I no longer had to meet the needs of one child; instead I had to meet the needs of one child with a squalling baby in hand. I was waking at night with our daughter only to be woken with the sunrise by our son. I was exhausted, poured out.

I vividly remember sitting in the rocker shortly after she was born, sobbing. I had expected the transition to be peaceful. Instead, it was stretching me in ways I never imagined.

That was three years ago. We’ve since welcomed baby number three, and I’ve learned a thing or two about making the transition from one child to siblings. Here’s what I wished I’d known then:

Every pregnancy, every birth, every child is unique. Don’t expect your postpartum recovery with number two to be like your recovery with your first. It may be similar, but there’s also a chance it will be drastically different.

Be prepared for the hardships of a newborn all over again. That seems obvious, but I think it’s important to be mentally prepared for your life to be turned upside down, again. Only this time, you’ll have an older child in the mix.

Know that you’re not robbing your firstborn of something, you’re giving them a gift. In the months leading up to your second child’s birth, you may feel guilty about the fact that you will be upsetting the only family dynamic your first child has ever known. That’s a common emotional response. I felt like I was cheating my son in some way, but I also quickly learned that instead of cheating him, I was giving him the gift of a sibling.

Plan some one-on-one time with your firstborn. Whether it’s a special date or simply extra cuddle time and a story when the baby is napping, plan some dedicated time for just you and your first during the day or week as needed.

Embrace baby wearing. If you haven’t yet, now is the time to get a quality baby carrier. They are fantastic when you have one child; they are a lifesaver when you have two or three.

Enlist help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and receive it graciously. If you need a few moments to rest, another set of hands, or help with meals, ask a family member, a neighbor, or a friend to assist you. They will likely consider it a privilege, and you’ll get some much-needed assistance or a quick break to breathe.

Give yourself grace. You didn’t parent one child perfectly–you’re certainly not going to parent multiples perfectly. It’s OK. Give yourself grace when the days are hard, and extend that grace to your children.

Shalene Roberts is a writer, photographer and mom to three. She blogs at Faith & Composition where she muses on gracious homemaking, intentional mothering and inspired living. Her ϋber popular post, When Mothering is Hard and No One Sees, received 500,000 hits. Her heart yearns to inspire mothers to see the beauty in the everyday mess, and the magnificent in the mundane.