Me and my brother (who is older by 27 months).
First there was “So you’re going to have a baby! Advice from seasoned moms.”
And now we have advice on having a second child!
For this post I went to a mostly new group of mom friends, because I wanted to hear stories from moms who had kids roughly the same spacing as we’re expecting. (We’re anticipating 22-23 months; the moms polled have kids that are not-quite-2 to 2.5 years apart). I am so, so grateful for their candid and supportive responses. I learned a ton from reading their advice on having a second child and they have inspired some discussion topics that Adam and I will be mulling over for a long time. I also appreciate their willingness to let me share their responses with you!
Reading these responses made me a lot more scared than when I read the advice I got on having my first baby. There are a lot of reasons for this: people are more honest/forthright when you already have a kid. I have an inkling of what I’m in for. And after waiting longer than we’d hoped to get Bee we were overjoyed at the prospect of sleepless nights and blowouts. We didn’t have the chance to reach the same kind of fever pitch this time.
But all of this is helping me prepare better for our second baby. This time around I’m putting more advanced thinking into making it easy on myself where I can. Last time I insisted on Bee sleeping in her crib, in her own room, from the beginning. This time I’m borrowing Jen’s co-sleeper for the first weeks/months to make night feeding efforts as minimal as possible. I’m working on figuring out godparents, and baptisms, and birth announcements now. Not only will my freezer be better stocked, but it’ll be stocked with dishes of a more practical size (I didn’t think about things like defrosting times last time) and shock: we moved our microwave into our kitchen! (We went through a phase of shunning the microwave, living without one for many years then having a hand-me-down one in our basement. We are no longer too proud.) Over the past month I’ve kept Amazon busy with orders for things like nursing bras, a baby book, extra cloth wipes — if it’s on the to-do list, there’s no reason not to do it now.
So, without further ado: here is advice on having your second child! The responses come from four moms, one with two girls, one with two boys, and two boy/girl splits.
Preparing the older sibling
We talked a lot about “big boys” and babies. We read books about new babies, we told stories about him having a sister, we bought him a baby doll to practice being gentle and loving with, and we made sure that we were teaching him how to do things like get dressed and get shoes/coat on so that when it was just one of us with the two kids he could be more independent.
Our daughter is a planner — she likes to be prepared for new things. So, when it was time to get her ready for the new baby, we got books and read. We also talked up how awesome it was to be a big sister, how I had been a big sister, how much fun it would be to have a little sibling . . . etc! We always referred to the baby as “your little brother” to start getting her in the mindset. Whenever we got baby gifts, she would always help open and then organize the outfits. She also had a little doll she carted around and we would talk about what babies like and how to meet a baby and show it love. We started as early as possible so that she had a lot of time to process but not get too fed up with the whole thing. She started referring to herself as the big sister long before she had any idea what that was.
Did your older child visit you at the hospital?
We had already gotten our son a present “from the baby” which he opened in the hospital room. It gave him something to play with and he associated good things with her from the start (or so we hoped). He was a little spooked at first but really glad to see us and loosened up quickly. I think it was good for him to have fun with us there so that he felt like it was good times as usual. I believe it made it a nice smooth transition for our family, but it was also good that the visit was short. I read somewhere that it should all be upbeat and light no matter what you do, just because, as we all know, the kiddos take all of their cues from us!
My parents brought our son in the evening of the birth. He was a little freaked out, however, and not by the baby. I think it’s a shock for any kid to see mom in a hospital bed (and looking like hell, of course). He talked about it for a long time afterwards, about me in the bed, about how I had to stay there for a few days, about how I got a big owie getting the baby out of my tummy, etc. I don’t think you can make a wrong decision — I doubt Bee will remember the experience in the future anyway. It depends on Bee – will she be very worried to have you away? Do you think it would reassure her to see you in the hospital? I think that’s what it really seemed to be about – reassuring the first child that you’re okay and you’re still his mom. The baby is an afterthought, really.
My plan included my parents picking up our daughter from our daycare so that the schedule stayed as consistent as possible. I knew that she was going to have a great time with her grandparents, but I was worried about her visiting on the first day. I did not want her to come and see her whole family there–with this new kid– and then leave to go home with my parents without us. So I did not see her until the second day. She came and met the baby and then went home with my husband. That way he had a chance to hang out with her and attempt to get a full night’s rest before the baby and I came home the next day. I had smaller gifts (stickers, coloring books, dollar store stuff) ready for our daughter in my overnight bag, in case other people brought presents for the baby. I also packed toddler snacks and such in my overnight bag.
The first month
Ah, the magic first month… I definitely did better this time, and so will you because it’s not your FIRST anymore! I was much more prepared in the meal department this time around. I think I had something like 30 meals in the garage freezer. It was a real lifesaver. I still had some items in the freezer that were gratefully used once I was back at work. The other thing is to just really sleep when the baby does. I was lying down whenever the baby slept, which for the first two weeks was a ton. I was glad, because after that he was up all the dang time.
The first month sucks. Really, really sucks. It is remarkable how much harder it is to heal/recover when you have no down time and no sleep. The hardest thing about the first month for me with two was the touching. There was rarely a time when someone wasn’t touching me or needing me for something. Between breastfeeding, and a toddler who still wanted to sit/cuddle/play with Mom, there just wasn’t a moment. I literally stacked up on Luna bars and pretty much ate mostly that for the first chunk — water and Luna bars. And this is just the kid love part — my husband really picked up the rest of the household stuff during this time, but it is the emotional and physical needs of the kids that were just endless. I didn’t want our oldest to feel shoved aside or replaced, and a new baby just wants mom, so it was a little overwhelming for me (guilt-wise). I was absolutely exhausted BUT so much more calm than my first one. Having already gone through this time period, it was far less stressful this time around. I worried less about the proper latch, less about the poop, or how often they should be sleeping. I already had Googled the life out of those topics the first time around. So in this aspect I felt a little more steady on my feet.
I underestimated the recovery from a c-section with a second kid underfoot. It was easier after my first’s birth. When people ask you what you need, feel free to say that you still have so much stuff with Beatrice and that they don’t have to give you anything, but if they insist, a meal would be nice.
Jen (right) and her sister, who is younger by 23 months.
(And a whole lot cuter.)
How did your older child react at first?
I got lucky. She loved her little sister, but I expected that because she loved taking care of baby dolls and was very intent and serious about it. She was very into helping and just loved having a baby in the house.
At first, because the baby slept so much it seemed like our older child didn’t notice her all that much.
Our daughter was really excited for the baby for the first week or two. He was new and people liked him, so it was fun. Then for about two months she really didn’t want much to do with him. She was nice to him, but she kind of treated him like a house plant. Nice that it is there, but nothing to get excited about. There was a period where she would get pretty frustrated that she could not have access to my lap or Dad’s lap whenever she wanted. That was hard.
I feel like our older child regressed once the baby began to need more attention (maybe around 3-4 months?) He did this by refusing to get dressed, put shoes on, or just slowing us down when we were trying to get out the door. Once we caught on and acted like it didn’t matter to us or that we didn’t notice it, it stopped a lot of that behavior. I think it was just his way of trying to maintain his time in the limelight — which worked until we got smarter. It was at this time that we read an older book called “Siblings without Rivalry” that was helpful in helping him process his emotions about not being the center of attention/having to wait/having to share, etc.
We saw regression most in the potty training area, as that was the development our son was just working on mastering at the time. We were pretty much trained and then we had what seemed like two months of accidents. The regression didn’t start right away — it seemed to take 6-8 weeks to begin, like it took that much time for him to process the change and the ways it was impacting his life. We were so glad we kept sending him to daycare during my leave, and not only so I wouldn’t explode. We wanted him to keep having his “normal” life without baby, to have his teachers, friends, routines, etc. And the teachers were so helpful about helping him through the adjustment as well.
One thing that a friend did for us was to put together a “nursing basket.” It was a collection of toys from her house that her kids had grown out of that she thought would be good self-directed, quiet play items. They were all for our son, but only were to be taken out while I was nursing the baby. He liked it because while I was immobile and basically unable to pay much attention to him other than reading stories or the like, he got the treat of getting the basket out. We would usually put it away right after I was done to keep the “shine” on the toys for longer.
I also did some special things with our son when the baby didn’t need me. We went places together or read stories before bed. Keeping our son’s routines the same were huge.
I read my trusty Brazelton about prepping for siblings, sibling rivalry, etc., and had grand plans. Oh yes, perfect, I’ll have a special date with my older son every week, scheduled, so that we can look forward to it. Yeah right. I think the best most people can do is to be cognizant of time alone with Kid #1. If the baby is napping (and you’re not dying), play with Kid #1. Go to the basement or another room or whatever with the older kid while Adam takes care of the baby. Even if it’s just a few minutes here or there.
When one adult is alone with both the kids all sorts of crazy poop, spit up, and other bodily function craziness is bound to happen (and does). Improvisation skills very important here. (Oh! We have no diaper for #2? Which clothes of #1’s do we have that can function as a diaper until we return home?)
Sickness: When one of them gets sick, they both do. Usually a day or two apart too, so that you could easily be home from daycare with at least one of them for 3-4 days. If you have a bad night of sleep because of sickness, teething, etc. it is harder to catch up with two kids in the picture.
Meals: once #2 is eating solids, food prep for four people with varying needs (this one needs everything cut up, the other one won’t eat the main dish the adults are eating, etc) all of this can be time consuming and frustrating when trying to eat out or visit.
Remember that the second kid is always different (duh). That is both wonderful and challenging. I think that you go in to the second one thinking that you are prepared based on all of the stunts the first one put you through, but then you realize that the second one has a totally different focus and you end up tackling NEW challenges. If the first one didn’t climb out of the crib, the second one will for sure. If the first one hated the PFD, the second one will love it. It is just a great way to keep you guessing and to make sure that you never feel like you have this whole parenting thing down completely.
I didn’t expect…
I didn’t expect how much it would feel like our older child was my husband’s kid, and the baby was mine. Because of the demands of a newborn being so often mom-specific, my husband took over care of our older daughter. This worked out wonderful in practice, but after a few months I realized that I missed my older daughter! I was unprepared for always feeling rushed while nursing the baby because I had needs of my older child to also attend to. I didn’t know how angry I could get with our older child if she did something to hurt the baby. Crazy mama bear hormones don’t discriminate.
[I didn't expect] that I would never accomplish anything in life for the foreseeable future. I’m so type A and always wanting to get something done, and I just can’t. I didn’t realize that I would have a near breakdown trying to keep up with housecleaning, and am so glad we decided to spend the money to have help in that area. I didn’t realize that even a year out I’d still pretty much nap whenever both boys do. I didn’t realize that my husband and I often don’t have a real conversation about our days until 9 p.m., at which point we’re usually too tired to put a lot of effort into it anyway. I didn’t realize that preschoolers go through a whole stage where they get up every night having wet the bed, so there goes your sleep! I didn’t fully comprehend the struggle of two full-time careers and two full-time kids — the sick days, sleepless nights, and doctor visits just double, and there have been a few times where I just wanted to cry out of frustration and stress. I didn’t realize how much longer it would take to drop off or pick up two kids from child care. I didn’t realize that instead of reading and trying to relax while breastfeeding I’d always be trying to keep the baby from falling on the floor while I read books or played with the older one. And of course I really had no idea how I was going to love the second as much as the first, and am amazed each day by our capacity to do just that.
I guess I didn’t realize that while things were different with two kids, nothing really changed. Our social obligations, the chores, our daughter’s schedule all stayed the same even though we added our son to the mix. I remember feeding the baby all night and then having to wake up to go get our daughter ready for daycare those first few months. She didn’t care how rough my night was, she just wanted her mom. So I drank cold press and faked being awake and tried to give my best to whoever needed my attention. I really felt like I didn’t get back to myself for a long time with our son, and that was hard. I bounced back into “my life” much easier and quicker the first time and I guess I had that same expectation with the second one. It just wasn’t the reality for me. I guess the one thing that I really suck at is that balance piece, and I doubt there is a mother in the world who doesn’t feel that. I felt like I had so much less time to do the things I wanted to, and much less time to do any of those things well when our first popped out. But with our second it went to the next level. There were literally things that I didn’t know how to do — I simply didn’t know how to fit them in — there was not time. So the biggest change with the second was that I have to accept that every day I am going to suck at something — some days many things. I am either going to be a less great teacher than I can be, or a much less thoughtful wife than I should. I am going to snap at our daughter or be less patient our son than he deserves. I am going to have a less thoughtful gift for my father’s birthday and I am going to forget to pick up toilet paper at the store. Even at my most planned and thought out — there is just not enough time to do everything I need to do and do it well — and I need to somehow make peace with that. Seven months in I making headway, but I have to be honest that often I take a backseat to all the other things on my plate.
Right before our second was born my husband and I made a pact to just make it through the first 365 days without being too hard on ourselves about what we were doing/not doing well. In the first year, we often laughed/sighed/ cringed and would mark the number of days until she was one year old to express solidarity and knowledge that it would all get better.
It’s hard, but it’s worth it
Around 3-4 months our daughter really took to her little brother and now will go running from whatever she is doing if he is upset. I honestly cannot tell you how many horribly stressful days have been made better by watching them interact. It really is so amazing to see that bond form, and it was one of the reasons we wanted to have a second. It helps to keep that in mind — that as stressful as this can be on the family, giving your child a sibling is an amazing gift.
Lots of things I read were all about oh, have the older child fetch your diapers, or pick out the outfits. I tried this stuff with my son and he couldn’t have cared less. What he DID respond to and get excited about was when he felt that he could do something that directly affected the baby, and made the baby feel good. We tried to show him how to shush or sing to the baby when he was crying, or wave a toy to get his attention and make him laugh. There seemed to be a real tangible connection then, when he could see that something he did helped to relieve the little dude’s distress. I assume it made him feel wanted and needed as a brother, just as we hope to feel as parents. And I think we were also just lucky. Our older son has so far adored his brother, and vice versa.
That is actually the best thing I can say about two kids is that it is hard, but it seems it is most difficult in the first 3-6 months and that it just gets easier and easier, as well as more rewarding as they get older. My favorite thing about having two young kids NOW is how much they play together, how they find each other so interesting (and funny!). It is such a joy watching them navigate sharing a room, sharing toys, sharing us. It is so great that they always have built-in playmates. Sometimes at night they won’t go to sleep right away and instead I can hear them making noises to each other and giggling and I think something like “summer camp” meets “sleepover shenanigans.” Maybe it is just because my sister is six years younger than me, but having two around the same age leads to SO much family fun — dance parties, bike rides, wrestle-mania on the living room floor, or mom and dad’s bed… you get my drift. It has been such a joy watching our son understand what a family is because of his sister.