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Life hacks for expats with kids AND a newborn

Living abroad with family and expecting another child? Here are a few tips to make life easier with a growing family no matter where you are in the world

So you’re abroad on assignment and pregnant or have just had a baby. You figure because you’re already a veteran parent, this will be a breeze, right? Hopefully, yes — but even seasoned parents of older kids can use a little help when a newborn joins the family. Here are a few tips to make life easier with a growing family no matter where you are in the world.

Deputize your older kids

Being a parent’s trusted sidekick with newborn care can boost older kids’ self-esteem and help them bond with their new sibling. Age-appropriate responsibilities such as getting a fresh diaper ready or turning on the nursery monitor can make them feel that they have an important role in the family. (And it really DOES help to have a literal extra pair of hands sometimes!) Talking about what you’re doing with your older child in front of your baby — even singing songs together like ‘This is the way we wash the baby’ or ‘asking’ baby how she likes that onesie — is a fun, healthy way to connect with all your kids.

Do keep in mind that toddlers’ enthusiasm for their new ‘toy’ can result in rough play that could be harmful. Ensure a gentle approach by showing older ones how to safely entertain and interact with the newest member of the family. You can also check your local library or bookstore for picture books that offer guidance on being a good big brother or sister.

Stick to routines…

Parenting more than one child is always a balancing act when it comes to preserving routines versus letting things go for sanity’s sake. Be honest with your older kids that SOME things will necessarily change, but let them know your love for them and interest in hearing their concerns is enduring. Try to keep to your normal daytime, mealtime and bedtime routines as much as possible to give your older child a sense of stability — something that’s especially key if they’re old enough to remember ‘back home’ and already feeling uprooted. In cases where you know that will be difficult, though, create a new “big sister” routine that she will see as a privilege of being older.

…but choose your priorities wisely

If part of your old routine included making every meal from scratch or thoroughly cleaning the house daily, you might need to relax your standards a bit. Tending to everyone’s needs may leave you less time to prepare full-scale family meals every day. It can be worth a bit of extra money to buy pre-cut veggies or meat sometimes if your local market offers that and throw everything into a slow cooker. The occasional ‘breakfast for dinner’ or ‘appetiser night’ meals are usually a big hit with most kids. And remember that you can always strive for a spotless home when your kids are all older, but you can’t get back these precious moments with young children. Try to make sure that you’re giving each of your children some of your undivided, full attention every day — even if that means clutter builds up a bit more.

Lean in on THEIR world

Get down on the floor and interact with your older child as much as possible, giving you lots of eye contact and making them feel more a part of things. Keep your newborn in a front carrier or sling so that your hands are free to play with your toddler. And go outside as often as you can so that your older kids can explore the woods, play at the playground with others and just generally feel ‘free’ instead of cooped up inside too long. Being outside in the stroller in all kinds of weather is good for baby, too, as long as you make sure he’s appropriately dressed for the conditions.

Head off jealousy at the pass

It’s natural for some older children to feel a bit neglected when their parents seem to have less time for them or prioritise their youngest siblings’ immediate needs. Children’s books can help here again to reassure older brothers and sisters that their parents’ love is expansive enough for everyone. Some kids might envy their little siblings because they get to do something they no longer can do with you, like riding in the stroller or being carried everywhere. It’s best to acknowledge that feeling while focusing on the ‘big kid’ things your older ones can do that babies can’t, such as pedaling their own tricycle or drawing.

Enlist outside help

Life with a newborn can seem alternately easy and difficult, depending mostly on how well things go with baby’s sleeping and eating patterns during those first weeks. If you’re a single parent or your partner doesn’t get much time off work to share in the parenting duties, you might benefit from some outside help.

Ask your employer or health insurer to help identify local temporary or ongoing child care options. If you’ve gotten to know a neighbor family with teenagers, consider hiring a ‘mother’s helper’ to entertain your older kids while you tend to your newborn. And check community resources to find any regular playtime, music or movement classes that welcome kids your age along with their parents and younger siblings.

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