“GeeGee’s mum, how do babies get in your tummy?”
On a sizzling 38 degree day in Sydney — I was already sweating. Seven months pregnant with my third child, I sat in front of 17 preschoolers, including my daughter, GeeGee. They were watching me like baby hawks. The question caught me off-guard. I was supposed to be there for a nice little reading of our ‘Baby on the Way’ book, not a lesson in sex-ed, but there was no escape … I fumbled through my first attempt only for that unsatisfactory answer to see the question fired back at me again by a different four-year-old. My eyes shot pleadingly to the teachers who replied back with an uncompromising look of, ‘sink or swim’. I fumbled back into the breach.
When I’d recovered, I had two thoughts. Firstly, I hoped the pre-schoolers parents forgave my awkward, albeit factual, sex-ed lesson; and secondly, that we really have a duty to be upfront and honest with these little people. You can’t shy away from difficult conversations, because the more you do, the more confusing it is for them in the long run. They’re naturally curious and hungry for information — we have to satisfy that curiosity. We’re better off to give them the facts in an age-appropriate way, than let them make up facts for themselves.
With that in mind, here are my upfront and honest realisations and ideas for preparing for a third baby joining the family.
1. Different aged kids have different needs
My kids, aged five and three, had two very different experiences in preparing for the arrival of their baby brother. Our eldest had a greater level of comprehension. She wanted to know exact details around who was going to look after her while I was in hospital, and specifically, how many days I would be away. It was important to regularly reassure and talk to her about what was going to be happening. We even drove by the hospital so she knew where I would be.My two year old’s needs were very different. He was fascinated by what was happening to mum's tummy and the novelty of a baby. He wanted to know all about the changes that were happening to me and around our home. There was lots of talking about my body, the baby, and looking at pictures. So, when baby Harry arrived, I found Oscar had a clear understanding of the changes that were happening at home. He was calm and accepting of his new little brother.
2. Use a picture book to decode your kid’s true feelings
There was a good reason we wrote the book, ‘Baby on the Way’, specifically for this life-changing moment — it helps open conversations around major changes happening in your child’s world. My 5-year-old wouldn't talk much about the arrival of the new baby. I couldn’t figure out what was bothering her. It wasn’t until we read the book together that she could express what was on her mind. She felt insecure about how she’d be taken care of while I was in hospital. Using the book helped to put her worries into words, and then I understood what she needed from me to alleviate her concerns.
3. You can’t solve chaos with chaos
Don’t underestimate how huge a new baby is for your little ones. Their whole world and everything they know about it is changing. They may not be able to tell you about their feelings of overwhelm, but they’re likely to show you. It’s a time that’s full of both excitement and new challenges for a family. There will be moments of bliss and wonder, and others of total chaos. Stop and remind yourself of Maggie Dent’s wise mantra, “Let me be what they need right now — a safe base.” Your little one is trying to navigate their way through their new circumstances, just like you are. If you can create that gap between stimulus and response, you can choose to calm the storm rather than join the storm.
Flicka Williams is the designer and co-founder My Big Moments — kids’ books, backed by research and expert consultation, to help families through the real-life challenges of getting a new sibling, starting school, building resilience, grief and loss, and going to hospital.