A father cutting up the food on his child's plate

Dr. Sarah (00:02):

Ever wonder what psychologists moms talk about when we get together, whether we’re consulting one another about a challenging case or one of our own kids, or just leaning on each other when parenting feels hard, because trust me, even when we do this for a living, it’s still hard. Joining me each week in these special Thursday shows are two of my closest friends, both moms, both psychologists, they’re the people I call when I need a sounding board. These are our unfiltered answers to your parenting questions. We’re letting you in on the conversations the three of us usually have behind closed doors. This is Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions.


Hello everybody. Dr. Emily Upshur is here. Welcome back.

Dr. Emily (00:47):

Hi, good to be here.

Dr. Sarah (00:50):

So here is a question that I was sent from a mom and this was her question. She says, I loved the podcast on navigating sibling rivalry and how big siblings really learn attunement and empathy and adaptability because so often the birth order in the family necessitates that they learn to be the big sibling. The more patient one, the more willing to be flexible one, et cetera, and we could teach them the skills to both express themselves and cope with tough interpersonal interactions. My question is, what about the younger sibling? I have a youngest who candidly just gets a lot of things done for him, partially because we baby him, but also partially because we are just a busier family as a family of four now. So doing things for him is easier. It keeps the train moving, but I also don’t know how much that benefits him in the end. Help. My kids are seven and four and a half, so I as a mom of two definitely feel that birth order thing like Emily, what do you think? Do you find that you baby you’re youngest?

Dr. Emily (01:50):

What’s funny? I think that it’s a little bit of a contrast. I think to some extent I baby my youngest, my youngest, and I’m like, oh, this is it. But on the other hand, the other side of that is to this mom’s question, my youngest also has to tolerate a lot more change disruptions in schedules, sleeping in various places being on the go. So I think even though I think this mom is talking about accommodating the younger child, maybe worrying if that’s too much or if it’s just to keep things running. I think the other part of that is that child is having to keep up with the pace of the family and having to be flexible in their own, which I think it’s always a little bit of a push and a pull, the benefits and the disadvantages of these types of things. And I think I just want to refresh and make sure we keep in mind that even when you’re doing a little bit of more of that, which I do totally appreciate happens when you have more children, it’s not all bad either. There are other skills that are learned in that sort of compromise.

Dr. Sarah (03:09):

I mean, it sounds like what the core of this question is, am I damaging or interfering with my child’s opportunities to build resilience and distress tolerance and that do it yourself kind of stuff because they’re the younger sibling and life sometimes necessitates that I just do more for them. And I think you make a really good point, Emily, which is that don’t forget how much resilience building is kind of baked into being the younger sibling. Think about, which I didn’t even really think about, but until you mentioned this. But yeah, with my first, I was more conscious of creating opportunities for him to try this thing by himself 1500 times before I stepped in because I had the time and the energy and no other child needing my attention in that moment. But also I spent a lot of my time as a mom with my first kind of creating the ideal environment for him, whether I was thinking about his resilience or not. So there wasn’t as much baked in distress tolerance. I mean for sure there always is because being a kid in a world is ripe with things that are frustrating and hard to handle and have to wait for and all that stuff. But yeah, my second, she had to, I mean, we were just moving so much faster at that point in our lives when she came along and she just had to keep up. And I think innately she just kind of, that’s the rhythm she adapted to. And it shows in her vibe too.

Dr. Emily (04:56):

Oh, totally. I always joke that my third, my youngest is my third, and I always joke that kid, my first I’d be like, you have to sleep in your crib. And it’s like nap time and is the sound machine on? Did we do the routine? And with my daughter, I would say she was in the rocker in the kitchen taking her nap while the boys were jumping over her and sometimes knocking into her and she’d still just sleep away. So I think there’s definitely some of that resilience building in there. I think also to address this parent though, it’s a good reminder that when you can push those limits and say, all right, fine, I actually have a window of time right now where you can put your shoes on 15 times in a row or try to tie your laces that you pause a little bit and do stretch yourself because you’re right, there’s adaptability and being able to be in any situation and rush off, but that means mom’s throwing your shoes on and running out the door. If there are times when you can slow it down or when it just happens that that happens, lean into those a little bit just sort of to take those opportunities to help strengthen that other side of their muscle that we’re maybe having to accommodate as a part of my family system.

Dr. Sarah (06:17):

That’s sort of functional dependency stuff, getting the jacket zippered and the shoes on, things that basically move us through the schedule of the day. My guess is that’s where a lot of this stuff that’s being done for this youngest is happening. Frankly, that’s just default mode when you have a lot of kids and a lot of things going on is like you need to move faster. But I do think slowing down, the one thing that I think non-first borns kind of get the jilt on a touch, which is the speed of life as child-centric. By that point usually, I mean moments. Sure. And again, that’s all that really matters. It doesn’t have to be all the time for something to be helpful or to have benefit, just a little bit of slowing down to your youngest’s pace, even if that frustrates your older child or your own timeframe when you can. I think sometimes we expect the youngest to keep up with the oldest, and it is helpful to kind of go down to the lowest common denominator in terms of the speed that we’re moving or the level, sometimes practical and sometimes not.

Dr. Emily (07:43):

Or even the level of interest. While you were saying that, I kept thinking, I made my older two go to my youngest’s soccer game and they were like, yawn, yawn, why do I have to do this? And I was like, she has been to many a soccer game of yours. And just having a little bit of that reciprocity is helpful too. It does feel slower to them. It’s definitely not as exciting to watch a little kid’s soccer game, but I do think being, it doesn’t happen a lot to be clear, it does not happen that much that it goes in that order. But being a little bit mindful of that, and if there’s an opportunity, I’m like, oh, you guys are home and your sister has, we’re all going to the game. It’s a little bit of trying to slow down enough in the moment to catch those opportunities and be able to optimize that if you have the opportunity.

Dr. Sarah (08:36):

Yeah, and I love that this mom’s even thinking about that. The reality is I’m sure a lot of parents do feel guilt. I know I had so much guilt when I had my second around what I wasn’t giving her that I was able to give my son and what I wasn’t able to give my son anymore because now I had this other child, I had serious, actually, I had legit postpartum depression when my daughter was born. I didn’t have postpartum depression with my son my first, and I was so surprised and taken off guard that I had postpartum depression with my daughter. And I actually, in kind of processing that depression and actually dealing with it, I was very aware that the guilt of that second time parenthood was really the driver for it in a lot of ways. There were some other things too, like a labor experience that was not what I had thought it was going to be that impacted it.


But I really think the guilt that I felt when having a second was a huge driver in that for me. And so I just want to normalize that it is very, very, very normal and reasonable to feel guilty when you have a second child that you, it’s hard not to compare your second child’s or your third child’s life experience to the earlier siblings. It’s very hard not to do that. And the reality is you are not going to give them the same experience. You can’t. And it’s okay. I always share this. I feel like it was a moment when someone told this to me, and it kind of broke open a little bit of my depression at the time. My friend said to me, your first gets your undivided attention as a parent and your second gets your expertise. I was like, ah, this moment of this aha light bulb moment for me that I was like, oh, it’s okay for my kids to have different me. It’s okay for me to be a different parent with each of my kids and have them get something different from me. And that neither is better or worse. They just both are and they’re different. And that’s okay. That was so helpful for me.

Dr. Emily (10:51):

I mean, I love that. And I think the other thing that I do with my kids is I think there’s a lot of guilt around time and attention for each child. How much is who’s getting what, and I’m very transparent with my triage of who needs what when, right. I’ll explicitly say, listen, I hear you’re calling me, but your sister really needs me right now and I’m prioritizing that right now, and then I will come back to you. But I will be very transparent that I’m doing a little bit of a triage in my mind at that moment. She needs my undivided attention more presciently than my other one. I think that’s tough. And I also validate the toughness of that to my eldest who’s like, I’m always the one who has to wait. But I think being able to be a little bit transparent and talk through your process and know that it’s hard to juggle it all is really helps alleviate some of that guilt that you’re talking about and also that you’re being really candid that that’s what’s happening right now.


And you will make sure to try to circle back to that other child or prioritize their needs at a different time. And that’s the other piece is I’ll very explicitly say, yesterday you needed me really a lot and you got me. And so I think it’s a little bit about sharing that narrative with your family so that you can alleviate yourself from feeling like a bit of that guilt because the truth is that’s life and that sort of relationships and it’s kind of a good thing to learn in the safe containment of your own family.

Dr. Sarah (12:40):

It is. And kids don’t have a filter at all, so they won’t even shy away from reigning guilt down upon you. They aren’t going to say, I really understand that you need to be with my sister right now. I get it. It’s hard to be a mom. It’s hard to be in too many places at once. It’s totally, they’re not going to say that. In fact, they will say explicitly the opposite and be like, you’re the worst. How are you doing this to me? What? You don’t love me as much as her and it’s not fair, and you never, they’re going to totally stoke share with you the rawness of their pain and experience in that moment. And so I think there’s also this part of, as a parent being able to have almost like the filter your child doesn’t have, so that when they throw that stuff at you to be able to have this meta thinking about it of like, this is their lava.


I don’t have to take this in as literal words that are proving my inadequacy as a parent. This is just their hard moment and they’re having a hard time accepting that I have to do this thing, which is actually quite reasonable and legitimate, but they’re not being reasonable and legitimate right now. So separating that out, filtering out that, just saying, huh, some lava is coming at me versus internalizing that. I think that’s part of it is if our kid says, oh my God, you love my sister more than me, or You’re never doing this for me, but you’re always doing this for them, we can take that quite literally and then internalize that as proof we’re doing something wrong or evidence that we should feel guilty. And I think that’s important to just check.

Dr. Emily (14:23):

And I think partly that’s also remembering the times and reflecting to them sort of the times that we do. I say to my oldest, we are able to do this thing right now together because you’re, you can. And so reflecting on a nice moment too, saying like, Hey, we’re not in crisis right now, but look, you and I are together doing this fun thing together because you’re oldest and we can do that. Or you’re young. Being able to just sort dog ear times when you are giving that attention doesn’t have to be over exaggerated, but really just putting a little bit of a pin in when you are doing those things so that it’s not sort of lost in those other times.

Dr. Sarah (15:09):

And I do think as we’re talking about this, another piece, another side to this multifaceted dye, I was going to say another side to the coin, but I was like, this is more than two sides. But anyway, it’s coming up for me, which is like, well, you and I, Emily, we have kids that are collectively what, 13, 11, 6, 6 and four. So we’re talking about slightly older kids as the older siblings hearing this who have had at least four to six years of being an older sibling to sort of learn the ropes of what it’s like to have to tall rate us triaging and dividing our attention. I’m mindful of if the mom who wrote in this question also has kids around that age, so it’s relevant, but let’s say you have a brand new baby and you have an older sibling and you are very developmentally appropriately babying the heck out of that baby and doing all the things that very, very high needs infant requires, and you have an older sibling, maybe they’re three or four years old, but maybe they’re like, I mean, my son was 19 months old when my daughter was born, so he was a baby too, but lots of young toddlers with new siblings.


Would you do the same? Would you have the same dialogue or would you shift it a little bit thinking the stuff we’re talking about may not be exactly the same thing, I would say, if you have an older sibling adjusting to a brand new sibling for the first time?

Dr. Emily (16:38):

I think there’s a lot more nonverbal communication with your body, with your behavior. You might pick up your toddler as you’re dealing with your baby if they’re having a really hard time sharing your attention. I’m having this vivid flashback to trying to nurse a baby and having a toddler or some demand from an older child and it feeling really difficult to juggle. I think there are so many ways that you can have, I guess it’s sort of reassurance, so many ways that you can build that tie between you and the other child, even if it’s just holding their hand, putting a hand on their body, picking them up, and not even being able to address them necessarily, but picking them up. I do think you still doing a little bit of the meta like, oh, it’s really nice to be on this walk and we don’t have the baby here.


It’s nice to be alone with you. A toddler can still understand that there’s a lot of ability to receive information, even if it’s not expressively as on the same part. There’s a difference between expressive and receptive language, but I think they really take that in and they’ll also just take in how you feel with them during those times. If you’re enjoying that time with them, they’ll take that in as well. So I think there’s other ways that you can soothe and address that that’s outside of language, but I wouldn’t deter the meta communication in the language piece per se either.

Dr. Sarah (18:12):

Right. I do think I’d temper it a little bit in terms of especially if you have a young kid who’s brand new to sibling and you have to nurse the baby and that’s preventing you from kind of meeting some other need of your older child. I tend to advise parents not to necessarily say, I have to feed the baby now so I can’t do this with you because it can villainize, it can pull the older child’s kind of attention towards the things that the baby is keeping me from getting versus saying, I can’t do this with you right now, but I’m going to do this with you soon. Just making it more about me and my bandwidth and what I can and can’t do versus because I have to be with this baby or because I have to be with your sister or sibling. Having it more about, I can’t do this right now, but I can do it with you later, or whatever. But the language being centered around me, the parent as the subject rather than the sibling or the new sibling as the subject.

Dr. Emily (19:18):

I mean, I think that nuance of saying, I always say this so many times to parents of telling your kids what you can do versus what you can’t do can be a really subtle change sort of reminding me of what you’re saying instead of saying, I can’t do this X, Y, and Z with you. You can say Tonight, I’m really excited to read you that book later this afternoon. We’re going to go on a walk. I think that that can help balance out just like what you’re talking about, a little sort of compliment that.

Dr. Sarah (19:52):

Yeah, I totally agree. I think that’s a really helpful little and easy, quick shift. I want to go back as we’re ending this episode to circle back to the mom’s question because we kind of went all over in terms of, and I think we covered a lot of really good points because we were talking really about the super complex nuances of having multiple children of different ages and birth orders. But I also think the very specific point about this question that I think we should end on is this idea that basically if I am over accommodating and doing a lot of stuff for my youngest, does that get in the way of their resilience? And I think to just give this mom a 19 minute long spiel and then a one second answer. No, I don’t think that it does that. There’s so much resilience baked into being a younger sibling and being an older sibling, just being siblings. It requires a tremendous amount of distress tolerance to share your life with another child. They’re completely unpredictable. They need a ton of the same things you need at the exact same moment. You need it and they take your stuff.

Dr. Emily (21:11):

I always say I’m famous for saying having, when I have pregnant women who have a toddler, they’re anxious about having another child. I say, it’s both the most generous thing you can do for your your existing child, because it’s giving them a huge gift too. It’s not just we get so caught up and in the guilt and is this going to be terrible? But you’re giving them such a gift. You’re giving them both of them this gift of resilience and tolerance and being able to have more flexibility in a way that we as psychologists see as an advantage.

Dr. Sarah (21:49):

And I feel like I want to end this episode with a shout out to my sister, who is my younger sister, who I absolutely freaking love.

Dr. Emily (21:56):

I love her too.

Dr. Sarah (21:58):

I know. I know you love her. I know we all love her. She designed all of our offices in our practice. She’s the best. But she gave me the gift of being a big sister, and I definitely, there were times when we were little that that was a relationship that I got frustrated with, but really ultimately and frankly not that much. So we had a really good relationship for as long as I can remember. But having a sister has been one of the biggest formative relationships of my life, so don’t worry too much. It’ll all work out the way it’s supposed to. And also, not all siblings love each other too. I think that’s fair to say. I just got real lucky, but I just wouldn’t worry too much about accommodating or not accommodating. Obviously, go back and listen to some of our other episodes on accommodation if you’re super anxious or if your kid has a lot of anxiety because that’s a whole nother issue, but just the general life skills accommodation. Put your worry in another bucket. You got this. Thanks, Emily. I’ll talk to you soon.

Dr. Emily (23:14):

Yup. Bye guys.

Dr. Sarah (23:18):Thank you so much for listening. As you can hear, parenting is not one size fits all. It’s nuanced and it’s complicated. So I really hope that this series where we’re answering your questions really helps you to cut through some of the noise and find out what works best for you and your unique child. If you have a burning parenting question, something you’re struggling to navigate or a topic you really want us to shed light on or share research about, we want to know, go to drsarahbren.com/question to send in anything that you want, Rebecca, Emily, and me to answer in this new series Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions. That’s drsarahbren.com/question. And check back for a brand new securely attached next Tuesday. And until then, don’t be a stranger.

✨We want to hear from you! Go to https://drsarahbren.com/question to send us a question or a topic you want to hear us answer on Securely Attached – Beyond the Sessions! ✨

195. BTS: Is it bad to “baby” the baby?