Remember how I said becoming a parent makes you part of a different club? Within the past few months a large chunk of my other club-members are in late-stage pregnancy, have just delivered, or balancing a newborn and another child. Crazy stuff, don’t drink the water ‘round here. In honor of my fellow mom-friends who are just venturing into the hazy world of becoming parents to multiple children, I offer the following sympathy and advice.
It is going to be different.
Second pregnancies. No matter how much you wanted (or didn’t want) to be pregnant again, you will feel ambivalent about your second pregnancy. It’s hard to get worked up about the newness of pregnancy when you’ve done it before. Especially if you are like me and the ease of the first pregnancy lulls you into the misbegotten belief that the second will progress in the same manner. This should be your first hint that everything you know about parenting will be mostly useless with your second child. In other words, you will be too sick and tired to play Mozart to your fetus while eating homemade hummus and vegetables. Instead the fetus will listen to whatever heinous children’s music your oldest child enjoys, while you try not to puke up the coke and McDonald’s French Fries you accidentally just ate. It just is. You will find yourself dozing with your arms wrapped around the toilet—thinking that someone really should clean the nasty thing—only to be rudely awakened by a small finger poking you in the face. You will think, “I’m not bonding with this baby like I did Little Johnny” and you’ll worry that there is no way you can love another baby as much as you do the one that is now awkwardly petting you on the head, saying “feel better, mommy”.
That you aren’t charting your prenatal progress with the same fervor as you did in the past doesn’t mean you will be ambivalent about the actual baby. Can you love a second child as much as you do your first? Of course you will. Is it the same? Of course it isn’t. Beyond the fact that you’ve actually known your oldest Small Person longer, they are different people and your relationship with each will be different as well.
Give yourself a break.
I was a member of extremely limited TV club until I got pregnant that second time. Then not only was my kid watching TV, but he was watching TV on the couch while I slept (I put my legs in front of him so his leaving would wake me up). I owe Elmo a debt of gratitude that no amount of PBS donations will ever repay. I felt not one iota of guilt about this because one, my body didn’t give me much of a choice and two, he was watching Sesame Street. Yeah, I could teach him his ABCs, but I couldn’t do that AND sleep. Then once the complete ridiculousness of the first trimester passed, I had to just suck it up and deal. I drank caffeine (gasp!) and dragged myself, and him, out of the house. Most of the time I looked like fresh death (and I so didn’t care) but he was outside, having fun with friends. Or I let him do new things (ahem, jumping on the bed) just so I could be horizontal. No matter what method you choose, everyone adapts. Hello, evolution.
You might feel the biological urge to nest and you may/may not motivate yourself long enough to do something nest-worthy. I painted (er, traced and colored) an elaborate mural for what was to become Zach’s Big Boy room. A long story short, the Big Boy room has been re-purposed into a craft/thinking/catch-all room and the boys share the other room. My time would have been better spent napping, but my guilt over Zach losing his place prompted me to make it up to him with a fancy new room. He cared not one bit. Now the toys and trains that Elliot “brought” home from the hospital—that was a winner. Gifts from baby to older Small Person are required—a dowry, if you will.
Once your pregnancy becomes obvious to others (and thus real to you) the obsessive concern about how your oldest child is going to handle a new sibling kicks up a notch. You will also worry about the disappointment your child might feel in his new role as Older Sibling. You feel heartbroken at the thought of disappointing your own Precious Small Person.
To this I say, show me a parent that has never disappointed their toddler, and I’ll show you a brat-astic kid. As parents, we disappoint the Small People all the time—it’s part of our job description. No, you cannot have ice cream for breakfast. No, you cannot lick the car wheel. No, you can’t play with my (phone, laptop, coffee cup, razor, or the dog’s water dish.) All of these amount to Great Life Disappointments to a Small Person. The addition of a sibling may/may not be a Great Life Disappointment. The best thing you can do during your pregnancy is teach the oldest Small Person the value of self-entertainment.
You will spend the last 10 weeks of pregnancy rethinking the intelligence of having two kids. Get used to this feeling—you’ll experience it repeatedly.
The New Reality
Newborn, what? Here you have a new baby in your arms, after a delivery that was most likely nothing like the first one (another phrase you should get used to hearing yourself say) and you’ll be amazed at how tiny they are in comparison to your other Small Person. Newborns—ah, they still have that new-baby smell. You’ll be nervous about your other Small Person’s first introduction and you’ll be full of smiles and hugs for your oldest child when it happens. You’ll take the requisite Older Brother holding New Baby picture and relax back into the comfort of the hospital bed full of self-congratulations for how well they got along. (Or if you are like me, you’ll postpone that meeting by not letting the oldest one come to see you in the hospital. Zach was dealing with my absence really well and I saw no need to remind him that I existed.)
Despite how well the first meeting went, hormones will prompt either Hallmark-, or Lifetime-movie homecoming scenarios. See, there will either be a happy ending, or you’ll get beat up until someone saves you. Either way, there is no way to accurately predict–or control–the outcome. If you’ve learned nothing else from parenting a toddler, you know by now that their actions and reactions do not follow any logically defined path. Assuming you are experiencing the average postpartum hormones (and not the more serious PPD variety) regular reality checks into your expectations are required. There isn’t anything you can do to control the reactions of the older Small Person–that freewill thing is a real downer. You can, however, allow that life will be tumultuous for awhile and what is considered normal will morph into something manageable.
The oldest Small Person will throw tantrums–some of them worthy of little gold statues–and become annoyingly clingy. This is when you learn how to football-carry 30 lbs of screaming, sweaty, dead-weight without waking a just-fallen-asleep baby. I’ve done it. It can be done. YOU can do it, too.
The bottom line here is that no matter how much attention given the average two year old (sibling or not) they want more. Self-absorbed, demanding behavior is their modus operandi. The easiest way to alleviate some of that (and excuse me while I go Stephen Covey/7 Habits on you) is to make deposits into the Small Person’s emotional bank account when possible. Occasionally take oldest Small Person with you when you go on errands—no matter how desperate you are to be alone. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate 4-hour event; taking them to the park on the way to the grocery store will suffice for now, and having a recent, fun-times reminder (“hey, remember when we went to the park without the baby?”) serves as both a reminder and a future bribe.
Oh, and don’t underestimate the “but the baby Small Person isn’t getting enough of my attention” guilt, either. Just as soon as you feel okay about the trauma you are inflicting on the oldest kid, that one comes galloping into your head. Honestly, the baby doesn’t know any better, and all new moms are pretty intense with their first kid. Baby Small Person probably appreciates the break from the pressures of your attention (ever wonder why eldest kids put so much pressure on themselves). Sit back and observe baby Small Person—I’ll bet you notice that the majority of his time is spent focusing on his sibling. Remember all of that Mozart you didn’t listen to with him and you just felt wretched about it? What he got in return was the constant sound of his eldest sibling’s voice. Baby Small Person knows that other kid–and wants badly to be just like him.
I read this somewhere, a long time ago: The first child is born into an adult’s world, the second into a child’s. Even without flashcards and elaborate tummy-time play, baby Small Person is being stimulated just by life. And studiously cataloging that data for future daredevilry. Trust. Me.
The other important thing—possibly the most important thing—is to find friends for you and your kid. Or if it is financially feasible (which at the time for us, it wasn’t), enroll older Small Person in a preschool program. Regardless, get them out of the house. Chances of the rare, two-child-simultaneous-nap increase exponentially with amount of energy oldest Small Person expends in the hours beforehand. Elliot went on his first play date at 5 days old, not because I wanted to get dressed and schlep them both across town, but because the thought of all of us being together within the same walls made me hyperventilate. One Moby wrap (the *best* money I ever spent) and the newborn was perfectly portable. Double-bonus, he was already with me whenever I had to go chase down Zach.
Acceptance and Expectations
There will be someone in your house crying every, single day. The baby and the toddler will both start screaming, and the dog will puke on the floor. At the same moment you will realize that you’ve had to pee for 45 minutes, and that you haven’t showered in two days. You just want to sit down and cry. My advice? Don’t always resist that urge. Nothing made Zach stop a fit quicker than my joining him did. And who doesn’t feel better after a good wailing session? Also, when they were both crying at the same time (and they will be) I sometimes solved Zach’s problem first. Because Zach would remember, and Elliot wouldn’t.
Please, please lower your expectations of yourself. I’m reasonably sure that I fed Zach granola bars and yogurt for dinner more than I care to admit those first three months. I know he ate a lot of food that came to him through a window, if you know what I mean. He watched more TV than I thought acceptable. I read the same book a thousand times. I learned to color with my left hand. I figured out how to nurse a baby while making a sandwich. You’ll adapt.
Work smarter, not harder. If you need to leave the house the next day, pack everything the night before. What takes 10 minutes without kids present will take an hour otherwise. Keep an emergency kit in your car (change of clothes for both, diapers, non-spoiling snack) for the day that they both blow out a diaper at the same time and you run out of goldfish crackers.
What else? Oh, ask for help you need it. There is no shame in asking and the worst that can happen is the first person you ask will say no. If one person says no, ask someone else. Someone will say yes eventually—just be prepared to pay that favor forward at some future date. Oh, and a note to anyone that offers help to a new mom—follow through, or she will remain bitter about it to the end of days. Yes, I’m talking about that time that someone offered to take Zach once a week so I could get some sleep and then promptly forgot about us both. You schmuck.
So there you have it, my solicited (it was, seriously) advice on Life with Two Kids—at least for the first three months. Once Elliot mobilized, all my best intentions sort of went to hell. But once sleep consistently occurs in spurts greater than 2 hours, none of it seems quite so bad anyway. Never fear, soon the newborn will be a toddler and the toddler will be a preschooler and you’ll think—I thought this was going to get easier.