Once that first baby is born, it is all a completely different landscape. So surely then, it’s easier the second time around? You know the parenting gig. You’ve already made all the significant changes and sacrifices. You know what to expect, right?
And then: you have another baby!
When our second boy came along, I must be honest, I felt completely blindsided.
Yes, the baby part was easier the second time around, but everything else (and I mean absolutely everything else), became chaos.
My toddler, whom I thought I had prepared so well and would cruise into being a big brother, lost the plot. He rejected my husband, who he had a great relationship with, and only wanted me.
He became insecure and started acting out in ways he never had before. He fiercely disliked his little brother. And he sought my attention all the time
My husband found it incredibly difficult that our eldest would not let him help with anything and he felt helpless to me and the new baby. This put a lot of strain on us that we had not had to navigate previously.
Feeling like I was just keeping my own head above water didn’t exactly make me my most understanding towards him.
All I really wanted was to be left alone with my new perfect little baby, to snuggle and bond, and feed and have that new born bliss without all the anxiety and worry you have the first time around.
There were certain things that made it easier, things that we learnt along the way, unexpected gifts that we didn’t know or plan but which gave us a little more space to breathe, and some useful advice from our loved ones.
So if you have another little one coming soon, or even if you are already on the journey with two and are looking for ways of making it easier, these are the things that I found worked the best.
Six hacks for parenting under 5's
1. Create a feeding treasure box
Before my youngest was born my mother put together a treasure box for my eldest. In it she put all sorts of fun things that he could play with independently, a few little treats, some story books, and some sweet messages from her to my big boy.
She wrapped each thing individually and filled it enough to last for the first three weeks or so after new baby’s arrival.
When I sat down to feed and my eldest was at a loose end, he could fetch the box, pick out one of the wrapped goodies, and open it while I was busy with baby.
This treasure box saved my sanity on many occasions. He began to look forward to my feeding times with his baby brother as it signalled something exciting for him too. It also just helped us get into the routine of independent play while I was busy with baby.
It didn’t work every time but it certainly had a high hit rate. The best thing about this idea is it can be created before baby arrives when you have far more capacity and energy and then just be pulled out when needed.
2. Think about your home set up
When you have your baby first time around the environment can be completely focused on the baby and what your baby needs.
Not true the second time around when you add an older sibling into the mix. When my eldest was new born the feeding chair was in his room. I could hold away in there to feed him. It was calm and peaceful.
I soon learnt that this was not going to work with my second baby. Being tucked away in the baby room made feeding a challenge as it separated me more from my toddler and made him more needy during these times.
So, I simply took the feeding chair out of the baby room and popped it (with the changing station I might add) in the lounge next to the play mat.
Ideal? Of course not. But did it work for the whole family? Absolutely. You have to do what works, not what seems to be perfect.
3. Plan a little trip away
For us, this trip was for my husband and my eldest. When our new baby was ten weeks old they joined a dads and kids camping trip for a weekend away. We didn’t plan it for when the baby was ten weeks old. That’s just when that weekend away happened to be scheduled.
And what a gift it turned out to be. It did wonders for repairing my husband and first child’s relationship, bringing them even closer than they had been before the arrival of baby.
It gave me the opportunity to bond with my baby and enjoy spending time with him without feeling guilt or the constant pull of other responsibilities.
It was the perfect little break apart that we all needed at this highly charged, emotional time.
4. Keep your boundaries and routines
I felt awful for my first born. His whole world was rocked when his baby brother arrived. I could see how much it affected him. And so, I started letting things go. Giving in here because I felt sorry for him. Letting him get away with something there because I could see he was upset.
The problem is, his behaviour just became worse and worse. After a few weeks my sister said to me, “Rache, you’ve never let him do that before, why are you letting him do it now? This poor child has no idea where the boundaries are anymore.”
And she was absolutely right. As soon as I reintroduced all our previous boundaries and routines, his behaviour improved considerably and he was calmer and far happier. Boundaries make children feel safe, and at a time when he was most insecure, I had let slip away one of his safety nets.
Pile on the love and compassion by all means, but don’t make the mistake I did by losing the boundaries and routines that help your child feel secure.
5. Ask for help
This one sounds obvious, and as mother we are forever being told to ask for help. But this must be one of the most crucial times to do this.
I thought that I would manage the transition from one to two children well, for no other reason that I knew I was willing to put in the effort needed. What I did not factor in was that I may not have the capacity for all the effort needed at this particularly challenging time.
We are not meant to mother alone, in a vacuum, without support around us.
Ask for help with meals. Ask a friend to take your eldest for bath time. Ask for some time to have an afternoon nap while someone watches the children when you need it.
There is no weakness or failing in this. Understanding that asking for help made me a better mother not a worse one was a painful learning for me. Asking for help before you reach critical point at home on your own will make all the difference to the health and happiness of your whole family.
6. Remember: you are the coach. not the refereeSo often when you have two children, you feel like you are the referee. As they get older especially and you spend what seems to be a significant part of your day managing sibling rivalry, you feel you need a whistle and a couple of yellow cards to get through.
But remembering that you are the coach, and that it is your job to teach them how to engage and interact, changes everything.
Childhood is not the final match. It is the training ground. And the truth is, your children don’t know how to, and have the skills to, get along perfectly all of the time and know how to navigate themselves through conflict when it does arise.
As the parent, it’s about coaching them through how to do this. Modelling, instructions, leading them through so that they can practice it again and again until one day they get it right – this is coaching.
Threatening falls within the remit of the referee and may change their behaviour but won’t teach them anything.
A final thought on siblings
Siblings offer us so much in life. We learn so much through having them. They become our biggest allies, our closest friends, our strongest support in life
But there is no denying that the transition from having one child to two is a major adjustment for everyone in the family.
I look at my two boys now and as challenging as that transition has been, I have no doubt that we have all grown, become closer, and are happier through the experience. It certainly is tough, but it’s also totally worth it!
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