I still remember this moment. Heidi and I had just come home from the hospital. No sooner had I hobbled upstairs then Aubrey begged to hold her. Clint whipped out the camera. I gently laid Heidi in her lap. The three of us beamed. Heidi snored. It was sheer bliss.
So many of the struggles I had as a new mom simply weren’t present the second time around, thanks to a little more experience and a lot more perspective. Nevertheless, transitioning from one child to two presented its own unique challenges. Because I know several moms who are about to embark on the journey, I figured it was as good a topic as any to write about.
This article was particularly fun to put together because I didn’t rely solely on my own experiences. Instead I polled twelve mothers of two and asked them to candidly share the greatest challenges they faced when baby #2 came along, as well as their best advice. Their responses were surprisingly similar. Here’s the top three challenges they shared:
1. Balancing Your Time
Picture all the responsibilities you currently have with child #1 (laundry, cooking, cleaning, play time, discipline…etc.) Baby #2 comes soft, sweet, and fully loaded with a dump truck worth of new responsibilities to drop on top of your old ones. So how do you meet everybody’s needs and not end up with a home fit for Hoarders: Buried Alive? Here’s some of the advice moms shared:
- Maintain perspective: the transition will soon be over and life will settle back into a routine. To quote one mom, “Focus on the love you have for your children and your family as a whole [instead of all that needs to be done].”
- ASK FOR HELP. This is not a sign of weakness, just humility. The last person who needs to be putting pressure on you is you.
- Try to stay home as long as possible after your baby is born. This will give you more time to adjust.
- Take the time to get back into shape. With all that needs to be done, it’s easy to put yourself on the back burner. But scheduling a little time to exercise can go a long way toward restoring your energy and boosting your spirits.
- Pray in front of your kids when you need patience and strength. (There will be instances when the baby is screaming to be fed just as your toddler spills a quart of craft glue on the floor and bursts into tears. In that moment, this advice is a great alternative to bursting into tears yourself.)
- Get them both napping at the same time. Having a few hours to yourself each day can make all the difference in the world.
2. Helping Your Firstborn Adjust
Imagine if your husband came home one day and said, “Sweetheart, this is Suzie. She’s going to be my second wife. She’ll live with us forever, share all your stuff, and occupy a lot of my attention. Try and make her feel welcome.” When a new baby comes along, your firstborn’s world shifts. How he or she adjusts can depend on a lot of things—age, gender, temperament, personality, and even the temperament of the new baby. The moms I polled expressed their stories so beautifully that I’m going to let them share the myriad of emotions and challenges they faced:
- “The greatest challenge in having a second child was love. I had intense fear and guilt that I would be introducing someone else into our already full lives with a two year old who had stolen my heart.”
- “[When my toddler fell out of her highchair] I chose to keep feeding [my baby] while watching [my husband] comfort her. And I watched as she didn’t turn to me. She has become used to sharing me enough that she didn’t request me this time. It hurt because…she has become use to the fact that I won’t always be there for her. I now have two children to love and tend to.”
- “There were times when [my son] would say, “[The baby] eat again?” every hour and I felt so bad that I had to time out whatever it was we were doing in order to nurse. There were times where I saw his jealousy and he would hold a screwdriver or packing tape over [the baby’s] head. I would talk to other moms of more than one kid and I got some looks. No one admitted to struggling.”
- “I was completely unprepared for baby #2 because baby #1 was so easy. I just assumed that baby #2 would be laid back and follow his brother’s lead. I envisioned being able to set him down while I cooked dinner or attended to potty training my oldest. The first night when I tried to put him down in his crib, he wouldn’t have it and wailed his little heart out. He ended up sleeping in my bed for a couple of weeks before I could wean him into his crib. I spent most of my afternoons holding him because he’d cry the second I set him down. He would cry for hours and hours and I soon felt like I was going to lose my mind.” My advice is to love your baby EXACTLY the way God made him/her. I know that sounds basic and obvious but it’s far too easy to play the comparison game. Whether it’s comparing him to your firstborn or to your friends’ children; when your expectations aren’t met it’s easy to allow the root of discontentment to take place. I have learned to accept my son for who he is instead of comparing him to his brother or to other babies. I love him fiercely and wouldn’t trade him for a hundred ‘easy’ babies.”
Here’s some more advice they shared:
- As much as possible, include your older child in baby’s activities—helping to get a diaper, hold a bottle…etc. Making your child a “helper” is a great way to get things done and still spend quality time with him/her. Toddlers can snap green beans, wipe down the bathroom floor, and tidy right alongside you.
- Be HONEST about the challenges. Seek out other moms for authentic vulnerability and encouragement.
- Teach your firstborn some basic skills: how to wait until mom can come (patience), how to be relatively quiet when baby is sleeping (self-control and loving others), and how to dress himself or get his own snack with permission (independence.)
- Do something quiet with your older child while nursing the baby, such as reading a book or helping make a puzzle.
3. Going to the Grocery Store…or Anywhere at All!
“A [big] challenge was getting out of the house, especially to grocery shop. Making sure you have everything you might possibly need in the diaper bag and both kids with clean diapers before you walk out the door because the last thing you want is a buggy full of groceries and then having to find a convenient place in a grocery store to change a diaper while begging the older child to stay put and not touch anything. Or wearing the baby in a sling when the infant poo comes out of the diaper and you can feel it soaking through your clothes and onto your skin…” Ah, motherhood at its finest :) Here’s some advice:
- Plan ahead. Make a grocery list, preferably in order according to where things are placed in the store so you can get in and GET OUT.
- If possible, leave the kids with your husband. Get a latte on the way to the grocery store and it’ll feel like a vacation.
- Store an emergency kit of extra clothes, diapers, and snacks in the car.
- When people inevitably remark that, “Gee golly, you’ve got your hands full!!” smile and say, “Yes, I’m very blessed!”
Yesterday my two little girls squealed and giggled and played outside together for two hours while I raked leaves. At 3 and 1 ½ they’ve invented a host of games—spinning the baby in the baby swing, chasing through the yard, hiding behind the trees, and of course kicking all Mommy’s leaves out of their piles. When Aubrey runs inside, Heidi cries after her. When Heidi falls down, Aubrey runs to kiss her.
At the beginning of this article, I told you to imagine all the responsibilities you have, and then to picture a dump truck worth of new ones plopping on top. Now picture all the love that you have. Imagine that dump truck filled to the brink with more love, more gratitude, and more delight than you ever thought possible, just waiting to overflow on your family. That’s what it’s like to have a second child. Heidi has taken the love we had in our family and made it all the more complete. In the words of one mom, “Having our second knocked the wind out of me just like getting married or having our first child. It brought me closer to the character of God. It opened my eyes to the possibility and reality that love is an overwhelming force. That when it is shared and open wide it intensifies in hue and grows bolder with the circumstances. When [my baby] was born I loved my first child even more and taught him how to love even more.”
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