I wrote some time ago comparing the shift from 0-1 children vs. 1-2, but I neglected to cover some of the more practical aspects of this monumental change. I will preface this post by saying that nothing has humbled me quite like having a second child. All of the parenting “successes” I celebrated with mini now feel like happenstance accidents in that I feel I have been fairly consistent in my approach with both and yet have seen different outcomes and different patterns. This suggests to me that nurture is part of it but nature is most of it and that parenting, for me, is more about being the branch that bends versus the mighty oak that breaks in the storm.
All that said, I have received a number of emails and direct messages from moms preparing for their second children and I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the more practical end of the spectrum:
- The first six months are chaos, but it does get easier. Months three and four with baby two were probably the hardest months of parenting I have yet endured. We were moving, battling illnesses, and generally helter-skelter, but even still. The smooshy, heart-swelling haze of having a newborn had lost its luster and I was flat-out exhausted from several months of sleeplessness, still getting into a groove with parenting two children, managing all of my postpartum emotions/physical changes, and navigating a constantly shifting schedule. I have chatted with many of my mom friends with two children and they agree that months three through six are a pretty rough ride and you occasionally wonder whether you will survive. But you do! And at or around six months, things begin to lighten up. The baby is sleeping longer and more consistently. The number of feeds each day drops. You suddenly find an entire day pass with relative quietude — maybe because you are more capable at avoiding common pitfalls (i.e., you’ve developed more sophisticated or effective techniques for preventing accidents or meltdowns or moments where everyone is crying) or maybe because you’ve developed more stamina to endure them. But it gets easier and things begin to click and the number of times you find yourself sitting on the floor with your two babies happily playing begins to spike and you think, “this is what I’d always imagined it would be.” (Then, of course, your toddler chucks a wooden block at your head and the romance disappears BUT — things feel rosier in general.) So remember this when you are drained: it will get easier.
- One on one time with the older sibling is crucial. Mini has been incredibly sweet with micro. She often entertains him, fetches his toys when he drops them, and sprints into the kitchen to let me know that “baby brudder needs you, mama.” She loves to give him too-tight hugs and lay in his crib with him. She is a natural and nothing makes me weepier than watching her with her brother. All that said, we have of course witnessed telltale signs of jealousy. For example, there was a period where mini would frequently have an “accident” when I was busy nursing micro. To this day, she occasionally yanks toys out of his hands or flaps her hand in his direction in a gesture I can only describe as “pretend hitting”–all very loud and obvious calls for our attention. And then there was a period about six months after micro was born where we saw a lot of tantrums, extreme pickiness with food, a spike in accidents, and general crankiness. It took us awhile to realize this was a deferred reaction to her brother’s permanence in our lives, but things calmed down when we started to make a concerted effort to spend (planned) one-on-one time with her every single weekend. This is now an ongoing part of our weekly STP sessions: what will we do with mini the next few weekends, and who will be her companion to what? (There is always a notable, awkward, throat-clearing pause when we deliberate over who will accompany her to a birthday party……) Sometimes this takes the shape of a big excursion, like taking her to see “Paddington Gets in a Jam” or to the Museum of Ice Cream (both big hits with her). Sometimes it’s taking her to story time at Books of Wonder or the library. And sometimes it’s taking her around the corner to pick out a cactus at the plant shop or to pick up groceries. But the point is to give her uninterrupted solo time with one parent or the other. We have seen the most enormous change in her attitude and overall happiness. Gone are the accidents and oh my God, we seem to be through the picky eating stage. I wish we’d started doing this earlier, though I will be honest and say that the first six months are exhausting and overwhelming and logistically challenging (especially when breastfeeding every 1-3 hours) so it was hard for us to work up the energy and organization to plan these outings back then. In short: don’t feel badly if you’re sitting there thinking, “BUT HOW WILL I ADD THAT TO MY VERY FULL PLATE RIGHT NOW?!” Trust me, things do ease up. Planning ahead really helps. I keep a running list of possible activities in my phone and jot down ideas for museums, dates, performances, classes, etc any time they occur to me. And in the earlier days? When such outings are difficult to come by? Just put down the baby as soon as you possibly can so you can spend little stretches of one-on-one time with your eldest. This required a significant amount of discipline from me because I wanted to cradle Hill constantly and when I wasn’t, I wanted a break — time to shower, or glaze over on my phone, or close my eyes for 60 seconds. But stealing a few minutes to do a puzzle or read a book with mini always smoothed over ruffled feathers and made us all feel better.
- A corollary to the above: be strategic about breastfeeding when the older child is present. Before micro was born, I thought I was being very clever by putting together a little backpack full of activities (sticker books, a little puzzle, a special coloring book, etc) that I would “only let mini use while I was nursing Hill.” I had visions of warmly guiding her to the backpack and having her sit right in the bed with me, quietly playing by herself, while I’d peacefully feed my baby and be fed grapes and look like Madonna and — OMG. Ha. It was well-intended but it always felt like micro needed to be fed at the most inconvenient times, i.e., when mini needed to use the toilet or was crying for my attention. And that backpack? She tore through it within the first day or two of our return from the hospital and then the activities were quickly absorbed into the bins of books and toys in her bedroom, never to be reconsolidated in the backpack again. What I learned was that it was generally best if I could have either our nanny or Mr. Magpie preoccupy mini while I was feeding micro in a separate room. For some reason, nursing always curried the most intense outbursts of jealousy from mini (and left me, obviously, rather immobilized to intercede if something happened) and so I learned she really needed attention/distraction during those sessions. When I knew I would be on my own with both, I would try my hardest to squeeze in a feed before I’d be alone, even if it was a little close to the previous feed. Or, if I knew I was coming up on a feed, I would first make sure she’d used the toilet and then try to prepare some sort of activity (even random things, like sorting dried pasta shapes or “organizing the cupboard,” something she still enjoys doing) or give her a little bit of iPad time or attempt to engross her with toys or books or stickers by playing with her on the ground for a few minutes. This made for very busy and somewhat frenetic days of trying to stay a few steps ahead of the routine, but working out ways to preoccupy mini while breastfeeding micro was essential to surviving.
- Just roll with it. Even in spite of my attempts to be strategic, I can’t tell you how many moments I’d look up at the ceiling, take a deep breath, and linger somewhere between crying and laughing hysterically at myself. I specifically remember being on vacation in the Hamptons, trying to dress a freshly-bathed mini while a one-month-old micro was screaming to be fed. I found myself squatting on the ground breastfeeding micro while brushing mini’s hair and pulling her pajamas over her head with one hand, all while she was writhing out of my control. Like, how did we get here?? Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t just let micro cry for a few minutes while finishing up with mini, or permit her to watch the iPad for a tick while feeding micro, or whatever. But there are moments where you need to be all things to all (your) people, and you just have to muscle through and do your best. Roll with it. Maybe that means breastfeeding on the floor of the bathroom while your toddler learns to use the toilet. Maybe that means showering while your toddler colors on the bathroom floor and your baby snoozes in the Boppy next to her. Maybe that means grinning and bearing it while you let your toddler eat her very crumb-y breakfast in your bed next to you while you feed your infant. Etc. A friend of mine told me that when the going gets rough at home (i.e., dog pees on floor, toddler stomps through pee all over house, baby nearly falls out of Boppy — and how is that even possible — all while pot is boiling over and phone is ringing…not that this happened to me or anything), she just thinks, “It’s an even better story to tell my husband when he gets home.” I liked that because it gave me the space to step out of the moment and think about how absolutely laughably crazy things are, and what a champ I was being.
- Just roll with it, part two. One of the hardest bits of adjusting to life with two was realizing that there was no possible way to do everything I used to do PLUS care for my new baby. I never fully accepted this, to be honest, though I would tell myself things like: “it’s OK if the house isn’t clean before bed, Jen” as I’d scurry around tidying the living room, knowing I was missing out on an extra four minutes of sleep. I remember my sister visiting me and putting her hand on my hand and saying: “Jen, you need to let something go.” She suggested I hire a housekeeper or commit to ordering in three nights of the week or JUST GO TO BED AS SOON AS THE BABY IS ASLEEP FOR HIS FIRST LONG STRETCH OF THE NIGHT — something to ease the burden. This was a direct and logical reaction to watching me attempt to make a very complicated father’s day dinner for Mr. Magpie while simultaneously vacuuming and breastfeeding and chasing after mini, all on three hours sleep. I had so many meltdowns on Mr. Magpie’s shoulder saying: “I feel like I’m doing everything, but at 25% of my capacity. I’m doing nothing well.” I wish I had a better solution for this but all I can say is: if you can stomach it and afford it, outsource it for the time being. And if you can’t, remind yourself that you’re doing your best and that things will get easier. In the meantime, be ruthless with anything peripheral in your life (I all but stopped going out / being social and completely forgot about exercising) and celebrate the little victories: laundry away, dinner cooked, both babies bathed. These require exertion and planning and if you get it all done in an evening’s work, pat yourself on the back.
- Have your mom friends on speed dial. I could not have survived (!) without a group of fellow mom friends I respect and love to lean on. Full stop. Thank you especially to my mom, my sister Liz, Steph, Whitney, Allison, my sister in law Meg, Julia, and Jen — I could not have made it without your love, encouragement, common sense, advice and especially your willingness to just listen. All of these women spent countless hours listening to symptoms, rambling observations, middle-of-the-night panics, exhaustion-riddled sob sessions. GRAZIE MILLE.
Fellow moms: what other thoughts/advice do you have for mothers preparing to greet a second child?
Post Scripts: My Favorite Baby Gear at 8 Months.
+Hill’s favorite toys: these Moluks (why do all babies love bowls? these are essentially bowls); V-tech drop and go dump truck (he loves putting the balls in the back and playing with the drawstring); Baby Einstein musical toy; V-tech sit-to-stand learning walker (the sounds/music will haunt my dreams forever…you’ve been warned); plastic measuring spoons; Melissa and Doug ball pit. And of course anything mini is holding.
+We just retired Hill’s swing (he’s too heavy and long and can’t stand being in it for more than a minute or two anyway) and are sad to discover he quickly tires of “his office,” too. Nowadays, he’s happiest when we roll out a quilt and let him play on the floor. He’s dangerously close to crawling already. He will scoot himself backwards across the floor or roll over until he’s all the way out of the room. But, if closely supervised, he’ll be happy playing on the ground for long stretches of time. He still enjoys laying under this and playing with its associated toys, though he rarely stays on it for more than a few minutes — he’s usually rolled off of it or is somehow rolling over with it in his hands (!). Because of these developments, I am very happy to have both a high chair (in our dining room) and a booster seat (in our living room) to stow him for short periods of time (and of course when feeding him!)
+Feeding: Bumkins bibs (fold so they take up no space, plus are machine-washable), pulp feeders (use these at every single meal — he loves grapes, mandarin wedges, berries, apples, pineapple, etc in these), Boon spoons, Olababy spoons (mainly use these as “decoy spoons” to keep his hands busy while I’m feeding him), these exact bowls (similar to Bobo & Boo bowls, which I was eyeing, but these are microwave and dishwasher safe (!!!!) and the absolute perfect size), mini cuisinart. We also have a Vitamix (which I am absolutely obsessed with) but I find the mini cuisinart is better for quickly pureeing small amounts of things whereas you need more volume to get a good puree with the Vitamix. I am envious of parents with those Beaba baby food steamer/pureer contraptions, but another kitchen appliance was not in the cards for us and the Cuisinart works just fine. One of my resolutions for this year was to be more intentional about what I was feeding my children, and a part of that has been pureeing basically everything we eat for micro (or cutting it into super small pieces if appropriate as finger food). The mini cuisinart removes basically any excuse you could come up with, as you can place all the parts in the dishwasher and it’s ready to go the next day. Also, these tiny tupperware are crucial.
+Bathing: Currently using this Boon tub (love love love — does not mold, has a drain at the bottom, and configures for a variety of different sized babies) but anxiously awaiting the day I can put both kids in the bath at the same time. Growing up, my mom had this little ring with legs that had suction cups on the bottom and she’d put the littlest one in there with the rest of us in the bath — do they not make these anymore? Are they considered unsafe? The only thing similar I could find was this, which is intimidatingly clunky and hardware-riddled (but does get good reviews). This is more similar to what my mom used but very anxious about the fact that none of the bigtime brands seem to make something like this and it only has three stars and no reviews…moms: please advise. Beyond that, I still love Mustela for hair and body, these itty bitty wash cloths (the perfect size), these boats and squeeze toys, this rinser, and these hooded towels from Nordstrom (similar to PBK’s but those are way too small!!! you need more fabric to wrap the baby in!).
+Favorite outfits right now: Osh Kosh overalls (denim or corduroy), La Coqueta knit sets, long-sleeved polos, Nanos sweater, Janie and Jack one piece, H&M knit set. Also, still getting a kick out of him in this knit hat and his Patagonia fleece (these booties coordinate!). We pretty rarely put him in shoes, but when we do, he has a pair of brown boots from Gap similar to these that are absolutely darling.
+Items I am eyeing for him: