We’ve all seen quippy commercials, social posts, or memes about how differently the parenting of your second child goes. Yes, those funny snippets are founded in truth and you will most likely at some point pick your second baby’s pacifier from off the sidewalk and pop it back in his mouth after a quick wipe. But for me, the most challenging differences between parenting one child instead of two were far more emotionally nuanced. Here are some common big struggles and what you can do to manage them.
With my first baby, the schedule ran it all. If something was in conflict with nap time, bedtime, tummy time, or any other “time”, it didn’t happen. It was stressful and we missed out. A lot. With a new baby and a toddler, I found constant adherence to two different schedules simply couldn’t be done. (At least not without destroying my sanity and putting my babes under a pretty rigid regime.) But with a little flexibility, we found a happy medium beneficial to us all. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to develop a schedule - we’ve all seen research on how kids flourish and feel safe with routine - but know that sometimes even your best efforts will need to bend with flexibility. There will be sleep regressions, changes in development, your neighbor’s kitchen remodel and the demolition crew’s jackhammer five minutes into nap time - be ready to roll with it. And use commonsense in doing so when you can. So maybe pass on the gymnastics class smack-dab during lunchtime but a nap on-the-go to the pediatrician’s for an ear infection has to happen. And yes, there will be glorious times when they nap simultaneously or the baby happily wakes on his own with time to eat before you schlep him to preschool pick-up. But viewing these occurrences as fortuitous exceptions rather than constant rules will help you stay in a more flexible and grateful mindset. And I’ve found that flexibility and gratitude have made me a calmer and happier mamma.
Keep Guilt at Bay
Sometimes I feel modern-day parenting is a mitigation of guilt. Was I too firm with the timeout for throwing lunch on the floor, did I rub that little back long enough before he drifted off to sleep, should I have ignored dinner to keep reading that stack of picture books? Bad news, guys, it gets worse with two. For my first child, I was there for her with everything - playing blocks on the floor, picking an outfit in the morning, measuring ingredients for muffins, all of it. My time was her time. But with two very needy little creatures, you just can’t stretch thin enough to cover them both always. And you probably shouldn’t. Kids, even young ones, need a little time to develop independence from their parents and succeeding in doing so can boost their confidence and sense of self. So I parent as best I can in each moment and know there will inevitably be times when I do it wrong or someone doesn’t get the full attention they need in a moment or a colicky baby fit makes me short-tempered with the toddler, or any other of the hundred reasons why we feel guilt as parents. I will make mistakes, and the best I can do is keep trying to get it as right as possible and revisiting those times I fail my kiddos and correct it. But reassuringly, as necessity has allowed my toddler more independence and practice at self-sufficiency, I’ve watched her flourish with confidence and individualism. You should see how proudly she beams when she waltzes into the kitchen wearing an outfit she’s picked out and dressed in all by herself.
There’s that saying that comparison is the thief of joy and I found it so true with the addition of my second child. It’s hard not to fall into drawing comparisons between your kiddos. Milestones, growth charts, personality traits, how well they eat, how long they sleep - it’s all an invitation to compare. But in the grand scheme of things, very little of it matters. Of course, you should bring any major developmental delay or concern to your pediatrician, but know that the difference of a few weeks (maybe even months) here and there simply doesn’t matter as babies and young kiddos develop on their terms. When my second was six months old, I pegged my first as gifted intellectually with delayed gross motor skills and my new baby as a delayed academic with superior athleticism. My pediatrician gently pointed out to me how ridiculous and unnecessarily stressful these determinist comparisons were. Not only did I worry that one child was constantly “falling behind” the other, but I found myself assigning characteristics to my kids. She’s my worrier or he’s my wild one were phrases I used. Yes, some personality traits emerge early, but in comparing their identities against each other, it started to seem as though I assigned them roles that someday they’d feel pressured or destined to fulfill. So hard as it may be at times, I look to celebrate my kiddos and their individuality as much as possible while knowing that they might not be on the same pace or even course, but that they’ll both arrive where they want to be in their own time.
Accept your Confidence
I can think of no other challenge in the world where you’re like, “Relax, I’ve done this once before. I know exactly what I’m doing.” And yet with my second child, I felt so much more confident in my choices as a parent. Of course, there’s still the questioning and researching that goes along with learning as much as you can to be a better parent, but you’ve also whittled down what matters most to you in how you raise your littles. With my first, it was all equally important and I felt judgment (whether real or perceived) that everything needed to be done exactly by the book. (By which book was a whole other sense of insecurity.) But with the arrival of my second baby, I knew what I felt strongly about and what I was ok with letting fall by the wayside. Maybe it’s really important to you that you only breastfeed but naps in the car are good. Maybe breastfeeding isn't for you but a ritualized nap time is non-negotiable. We all have things that matter more to us than others and those topics crystalized for me with my second baby. I had a much better sense of what worked for me and my family, and while it might not be what someone else agreed with, that was ok. The confidence in having done it once before and knowing what worked for us was all I needed to trust myself more.
So go ahead and laugh along with how your perfectly curated monthly photo shoots of baby one look nothing like the carseat snapshot you just took with your phone of baby two when you realized his monthly milestone was last week. Adding a second kiddo is hard, but also so rewarding. Your heart expands with love to give and hold and your kiddos begin a lifelong bond as siblings. I can’t promise it’s always smooth sailing, but you got this.