April 29, 2014 at 1:24 PM ET
No matter how excited you are about the arrival of baby #2, it's natural to be worried about how your firstborn will fare once he's no longer your one-and-only. Good thing you've got nine months to prep your big kid—and yourself—for your growing family! Now is the time to embrace only having one kid and show your firstborn how to be an awesome big sister or brother. Here are 17 things you have to do before having a second child:
Book a Plane Ticket Now
It's fair to say that flying pre-kids is an infinitely superior experience than doing it post-kids. It's equally fair to say that it's easier to do it with one kid than with two. Take advantage of this small sliver of time when it's cheaper (and less of a hassle) for your whole family to visit Grandma (or the Grand Canyon). Plus, you cannot beat special family-of-three memories. Soon enough, the idea of bringing a multi-nap-taking baby to a ride-and-cotton-candy-filled extravaganza will send shivers down your spine. While you're on your super-special family trip, present your kiddo with a simple wooden treasure box. Help him decorate it with paint and stickers, then make it your family mission to discover special knick-knacks that'll fill that box. You're not only creating wonderful keepsakes for your child, you're also putting together memories and a tangible way for him to relive the time again and again—and eventually tell his little sibling about it one day.
Get the Big-Kid-Bed
If your firstborn is old enough (usually around 3 years old) and, um, you need that crib, start making big-kid-bed plans. Start the process several months before the baby arrives and expect some bumps along the way. Build up getting the big bed as an exciting adventure and pick out the new sheets together. If your little guy or girl really, really wants the character-laden sheets (Elmo? Dora? Princesses?), just go for it. You've got a new one on the way: Pin your good taste on the newbie.
Put Together a Big-Kid Toy Area
Babies have a way of (eventually) stuffing their cute, pudgy cheeks full of big-kid toys. Mmmm, Legos! Not only is this a big-time choking hazard for your new baby, it's the quickest way to frustrate your big kid, who will be fed up when the baby gets into his stuff. Before the baby arrives, talk to your firstborn about how you want to work together to keep certain very special toys away from the new baby. Explain that some play things are for sharing, but others are unsafe for babies and really only for big kids. Find an out-of-the-way place—like a high shelf—to put all of the not-for-baby toys. You'll keep your little guy out of harm's way and show your eldest that you care about his feelings, too.
Sift Through Old Baby Clothes Together
You know those giant plastic bins stuffed to the rim with old baby things? When it's time for you to go through it all, do it with your firstborn nearby. Even if your big kid doesn't seem interested, every time you pull out a teeny sweater or mini pair of socks, muse happily about how you remember when your eldest was this small. "I remember when you wore this sweater to meet Santa! My goodness, you looked so handsome!" And if you discover old plain onesies, use this as an opportunity to help your kiddo make something special for the baby: "I'm the Little Sister!" And while you're at it, take out an old t-shirt for your big kid to make for herself too: "I'm a Cool Big Sis!" Enjoy your crafty projects while you can—it's a little harder to do them when you're feeding every few hours and changing 10 diapers a day.
Take a Class
If you've been meaning to sign up for swim lessons or Little League, now's the time to do it. You'll be a bit more house-bound when the baby comes, and it can be great to have a regular activity already planned for your big kid. Consider making it a ritual for Daddy and the firstborn. Bonus: If she loves her class now, you may be able to drop her off at similar classes once the baby arrives.
Have Him Make Something for the Nursery
Share the fun of designing a nursery with your eldest child. Sit him down and ask if he'd be willing to help you make the baby's room extra special by adding his museum-worthy work to the walls. Either have him create a new masterpiece or sift through his collection to come up with the perfect picture. And be sure to proudly point out the work of art to everyone who enters the nursery.
Shop for a "You're a Big Bro/ Big Sis Gift"
You know how you secretly love it when dinner party guests bring you flowers or a bottle of wine as a thanks-for-having-me gesture? Use that same strategy with your kids. After all, it's hard not to appreciate a newcomer who arrives bearing gifts. Pick up something big-kid worthy (maybe even something that's usually reserved for Santa, like a train table or a bike) that'll be ready and waiting for your eldest when the baby comes home. Even if he's older and knows the baby didn't actually buy him a new gadget, he'll still be excited to have something to play with that's just for him.
Read to Him
There are piles and piles (and piles) of books about becoming a big brother or sister, so find one that's right for you and read it regularly to your child. Books like Babies Don't Eat Pizza: A Big Kids' Book About Baby Brothers and Baby Sisters, The New Baby at Your HouseorWe Have a Baby will help prepare your kiddo for the job of big sib and offer a heads up for all the napping, pooping and crying that's about to hit your household. And you'll both relish this quiet snuggle time, when you share stories and answer his questions.
Bust Out the Old Photos
Kids love to reminisce as much as you do, so don't wait till the house is quiet to pore over old photo albums. Settle into the sofa with a good photo book (or five) and invite your big kid to go through the pages with you. Take one that has your baby pictures in it: "I was a teeny tiny baby once too!" Point to pictures of you as kid surrounded by your own brothers and sisters: "You get to be a big sister like me soon!" Show your child the very first pictures of her: "You were so little!" Flip, laugh, talk and enjoy. And if your child loves photos as much as you, consider putting together a photo book that’s all her own that she can keep in her room to look through when the baby is keeping her awake, too.
Invent a Code
If your kid is post-toddler age, work together to drum up a phrase or password that she can use whenever she's feeling left out—or stressed out—when the new baby arrives. Not only will this show her that you take her feelings seriously, it gives your big kid an easy way to let you know she needs a big ol' hug.
Write a Letter
Before baby #2 arrives, steal a quiet moment and write a letter to your firstborn. Let her know how proud you are of all the wonderful things she has accomplished. Tell her how you adore the special things she does every day. Remind her that you love her all the way to the moon and back, and say how excited you are for her to become a big sister. She's going to be so good at it! And, wow, is her younger sibling going to love her to pieces. Now, wipe your tears away and read the note to your child. If she doesn't seem into it, don't worry, she's listening. And, remember, the letter is just as much for you as it is for her. Tuck it in her baby book for you—and her—to reread again and again.
Spend Some Time with the Grandparents
Instead of suddenly springing out-of-the-routine caregivers on your big kid once baby makes four, arrange some special dates with grandparents or babysitters well before the baby arrives. This will help your big guy (or girl) get used to other people tending to his (or her) needs while you care for the baby. Plus, you get some alone time to do something totally crazy... like lay down.
Go on an Adventure
Oh, spontaneity, how Mom and Dad miss you! Yet right at this moment you have more opportunity for last-minute surprises than you will in the near future. Go for it! So, without warning, pile in the car and take your tot on a super-fun, close-to-home escapade. An indoor amusement center? The museum with the dinosaurs? The bounce house place? The local fire station? No matter what choose-your-own-adventure you go with, know that it will turn you into the Coolest Parent Ever for that day.
Find Extra Time
There are not enough hours in the day. That's a proven fact. Also a fact: There are more hours now than there will be in a few months when the baby arrives. (Shocking, we know!) Use your time to volunteer in your child's class or help out with extracurricular activities. Since you may not be able to be as involved for the next year or so, your presence will be felt more than you can imagine.
Be a Hostess
Playdates are the glue that hold many a mom's sanity together. Don't stop now simply because the idea cleaning up for—and after—a multi-kid-explosion in the living room makes you want to cry. (Skip the tidying up for once anyway. You finally have a rock-solid excuse for the mess and a reason for dad to chip in!) In addition to obvious fun-factor for your child, it's actually less work having two friends playing in your home than having to be the on-site entertainment. Plus, offering hosting duties will surely foster some goodwill with fellow moms who may reciprocate by hosting drop-off playdates when the baby arrives. A word to the wise: When scoping out potential playdates, it never hurts to zero in on friends who have baby siblings at home—or on the way.
Allow a Little Regression
Yes, you can crawl into our bed in the middle of the night. Yes, I will put your shoes on. Yes, we can dig out your long-abandoned lovey. Yes, I will allow you to push the clock back a smidge and relish being my baby—my only baby—for a little longer. It's not shocking that soon-to-be big sibs feel conflicted. They wants to grow up and be independent and be a big sister or brother, but may also feel overwhelmed and stressed. Allow the regression, but say things like "It can be fun to pretend your a baby, huh? But, you know, I'll love my big kid, too." At the same time, heap on the praise for big-kid actions. "Wow! Did you button that up all by yourself? I'm so impressed! Give me five!"
Get Your Cuddle On
Soon those arms of yours will be full with a tiny baby that needs to be held, nursed, rocked and burped. Right now, use those arms for hugging and squeezing your big kid. Get as many cuddles in as you can.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.