Mailbag: What if I'm Pregnant but My Two Year Old Hates Babies?

Mailbag time! This is a variation on a parenting topic I've addressed a lot on the blog. But I know it's something a lot of us struggle to figure out how to handle. So here we go again . . .

- the question -

Hi Kendra,

I'm a new fan of your blog, and I love all of the advice you give. I'm going through a bit of a sticky wicket right now and would love to hear from you about it!

My son is 2 and a half and is probably the most clingy child in human existence. He loves and adores my husband, but he loses it every time I go upstairs or use the bathroom or the shower. (Dad can do whatever he wants, of course.) He's a social child, though, and gets along with our little troop of friends his age (five other kids) that we spend time with, but he's also extremely jealous. If I pick up or hug one of his friends, he cries until I put them down and hug him. Our friends are now having their second babies, and when I hold one of them, he just stands there and sobs uncontrollably, no matter how many times I tell him it's not our baby, it's okay, I still love him, etc..

I'm at my wit's end! I am also expecting our second in June, and I am dreading the transition. We're doing the traditional things to help him now, like reading books, explaining what's going on with mommy's tummy, etc - but if he gets so jealous of kids he's known for two years, how the heck will he respond to someone who will take up so much of mommy's time?

I would so appreciate your advice! Thank you so much!


- the answer -

Hey Christy,

Thanks, and I'm so sorry, this sounds super challenging. And kind of familiar, the day we got the baby stuff out of the closet before Gus was born, I found the two year old crammed into the baby swing shouting, "No! Bobby Mommy's baby!"

A few things come to mind . . .

Your son is a unique individual. Even as a toddler, he's got his own particular temperament and issues. The way he IS isn't your fault. It's just who he is. He's clingy and prone to outbursts. We're all something, though. We all have our issues. In my experience with my kids, you just get what you get, they'll all different. Then we, as the parents, have to figure out how to support our kids' character strengths, and how to help them change where that would be helpful to their own happiness and the peace of our families.

What I would do first is stop all reference to outside influences when dealing with his behavioral issues. Because what's motivating his behavior, whether it's that he misses you or that he doesn't much care for babies or whatever, none of that matters. He's allowed to have all the feelings he wants. He's just not allowed to lose it because of those feelings. So, I wouldn't say "It's not our baby, I still love you, etc." Because even if he is worried about those things, that's not the problem. The problem is his crying. It's a behavior that you want to modify. Once he has gotten his emotions and behavior under his control, you might find that his feelings are actually pretty manageable for him. That's been the case with my kids.

I would start at home with "Cryin' babies go to bed" type stuff. My kids don't get to hang on my leg and cry. It's just not allowed. If their physical needs are met, and they can't get their behavior under their control, they go sit in a crib or pack n play until they can settle down. Even if that's a long time.

I've had a lot of success with this method with my own kids. It takes longer with stubborn kids, but it even worked on Frankie, eventually. I make sure my kids understand that I have the expectation that they would not throw fits in our house. And that if they are crying for no reason, they'll need to go to their bed to compose themselves. Period. No yelling, no bargaining, no threatening. One reminder, then the consequence. Frankie came out after waking up from his nap today in tears, and I just sent him right back down the hall until he could come out happy, and a few minutes later, he did.

Once he has an understanding of what is acceptable behavior at home, I would implement the same expectations in public. If he threw a fit in public, I'd take him to a corner to sit to calm down, or to the car, or I'd just take him home if I thought that would make a bigger impression. And I'd really, really reinforce that it is his behavior that's the problem. He can't throw fits. He must learn to compose himself.

My guess is that learning to control the behavior will take care of the feelings. But if it turns out that once he's not throwing fits anymore, he calmly says to you. "Don't hold that baby. I don't like it when you hold babies," write me back and we'll work on that. Write me back either way. Write me back if you think I'm totally off base on this right now. We'll figure it out.

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Hang in there!

Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.