It’s hard to believe that I have been running The Chicago New Moms Group long enough for many of the moms who were in my initial groups to now be having baby number 2 and even 3 in some cases. Every once in a while, there will be a mom in a group who isn’t so shell-shocked by the experience of being a new mom that she can actually see past it to a time when she may want to do this all over again. Trust me, when it was me, it was several years before I could even envision having another child. The experience of having a subsequent child or children shares very little with the experience of having your first baby. I always think that it is nothing short of a minor miracle the first children survive. So many of us go into parenting with no clue what we are doing (although I would argue that some days with my big kids, I still feel like I have no clue), but the learning curve of the first year is tremendous, and we are able to take much or our experience from our first child and perfect it with subsequent children.
Regardless of what is learned from baby number 1, the fact remains that it is often a very different experience when you go from 1 to 2 or 2 to 3. Most importantly, most of us never realized how easy it was to only have one child. By no means do I mean to minimize the challenges involved with having a first baby. The emotional adjustment is the most intense experience I have ever had. However, once you realize that this is the new normal, you get to know your baby, figure out his or her cues, work out the details of feeding and sleeping, dealing with the day-to-day experience becomes manageable. Sure, it is a bit like Groundhogs Day where you do the same thing over and over again, but with your entire focus on one child, you can feel, well…focused. Enter baby number two and all that focus is now divided. Not only do you have two children who are at two entirely different developmental stages with different needs, but you simultaneously managing the emotions of the now displaced former “prince” or “princess” of your house. If your #1 is a toddler, you now have the roller coaster of toddler emotions to be attempting to survive as well. I often think that the equation “1 + 1 = 1000” is an accurate way to describe how it feels to go from one child to two.
The bottom line is that things are going to feel hectic for the next several months. Really, I feel that moms should get a free pass for everything in the first year after a baby is born whether it is your first or your 5th. It can take that long for the family dynamic to shift and the upheaval to subside, in the meantime, here are a few tips to help with the overall family adjustment:
- No matter how many big brother/sister t-shirts you put #1 in or how many big brother/sister books you read before #2 shows up, your older child is going to react to no longer being the one and only. The best way to describe the experience is to envision how you would feel if your husband came home one day and told you that he was bringing home new wife and not only were you expected to share everything with her (possibly your clothes, your bed and everything you love, along with sharing him, of course) but you were also expected to be happy about it and love her just the same. That is a lot to ask, but this is what we expect of our older children. It is very common for an older child to be mad their mom when a baby arrives. Your child is really missing that one on one time. Now that the baby is here, there is more to do then ever before and even less time to do it all. Setting aside even a few minutes that are devoted to only “Mommy and me” can really help. You may have no more then 10 minutes for this a day, but make it happen. Maybe that means you read a special book or do a special art project. If you have help with the baby and can leave for a bit, take your big kid out for ice cream, just because. Whatever it is, you will want to clearly articulate in any way that your child can understand that this is special time for the two of you without the baby.
- If your older child was a good sleeper before the baby arrived, it is possible that this may change, even briefly. I feel like this is one of the best kept parenting secrets. Even if your child isn’t outwardly having any negative reactions to a little sibling showing up, in many cases, toddlers especially will begin waking in the middle of the night screaming when they haven’t woken in months, even years, before. This often happens with children who are limited in their ability to express their emotions verbally and constructively during the day. Instead, they wake up because their world has been rocked in ways that they never thought possible, and all of the emotions are coming out in their unconscious state. This is clearly a circumstance that you will need to respond to your child about. Go to her, reassure her that everyone is okay, tell her you love her, and encourage her to go back to sleep. As with any sleep disturbance or regression, try not to fall into bad habits of holding/rocking to sleep or giving into requests that you may not give into in other circumstances. Yes, this is a huge adjustment, but your older child still needs consistency from you.
- If you are breastfeeding, have a basket or box that is dedicated to activities for your older child to do while you are nursing. Eventually you will find yourself doing all sorts of activities one-handed while you simultaneously nurse, but until both you and the baby get things figured out, you will be spending much of your time sitting in one spot. If you don’t remember what those newborn feedings are like, let me refresh your memory: They take a long time! Gone are the days of being able to sit mindlessly watching the Real Housewives when you can nurse and zone out. With your toddler or preschooler running around, you will need to multitask much more then you ever thought possible. Make no mistake, your older child will most likely watch more TV or play more on the iPad then he or she did the combined first years of life. Its okay. Remember, this is about survival. However, for the times when you are feeling like there has been enough screen time, it is helpful to be able to turn to that special box of independent activities for a bit of distraction.
- Take a deep breath and just work on making it from one moment to the next. Forgive yourself for your house being a bigger disaster then it was with one child. Outsource or forget about those pesky thank you notes (an email or text message with a photo of the gift sent to the gift giver is a great option for any friends who function in the 21st Century). Order take out or unabashedly recruit a friend to create a meal train for you for a few weeks of friend-made dinners. Your family life will adjust to a new normal over the next several months, but in the meantime, settle in for the bumpy ride.