Going from one child to two isn’t the seismic shift in the same way as becoming a parent for the first time, but it can still be overwhelming. As soon as my second child was born, I realized there was not enough of me to go around. My 4-year-old daughter’s pride in becoming a big sis faded after a few months, and she acted out to get attention. Her brother was sometimes left to cry longer than his sister ever had as a baby. I felt torn by their simultaneous physical needs (while I completely neglected my own) and couldn’t shake the nagging guilt that I was cheating them both out of totally focused mothering.
But over time, I learned to manage their competing needs and be kinder to myself when I couldn’t. If you feel spread too thin trying to be the be-all and end-all to two (or more!) little people, try these strategies for saving sanity – yours and theirs.
Prepare your firstborn. Before you deliver, try to give your older sibling-to-be a taste of what’s to come. Little kids can benefit from books and videos on the subject, and older kids will love taking part in decisions from what to name the baby to what color to paint the room. Deborah Tillman, star of “America’s Nanny” on Lifetime TV, suggests kids create a big sibling collage poster, illustrating what he can do (and what the baby can’t) and how he will help.
Don’t judge feelings. Your eldest may have begged for a little sister but wants to take it all back once she arrives. That’s perfectly normal, says Nancy Samalin, a parenting speaker in New York City and author of Loving Each One Best: A Caring and Practical Approach to Raising Siblings. “Allow and encourage your child to be able to express unloving feelings, not just positive ones,” she says. “Make it safe for him to express ambivalence.”
Instill independence. It’s easy to take the path of least resistance when it comes to dressing and bathing your older child. But if you make the effort to teach her how to take care of herself, whether it’s dressing herself when she’s a preschooler or packing her snack as a first-grader, you’ll thank yourself later. “It’s good for her self-esteem and will make your life a lot easier,” says Pressman.
Preserve rituals. As much as you can (and it may not always be possible), try to maintain the most meaningful moments of your day. When Brooklyn mom Jenny Bilenker’s son Asher was born, she held on to evening time with her daughter Tess. “My husband would hang out with Asher in our room and I’d spend extra time reading to my older daughter and talking with her about her day.” And a little goes a long way when it comes to QT. “Ten minutes of 100-percent focus on one kid can go miles,” says Aliza Pressman, cofounder of the Seedlings Group, a team of child development experts and psychologists based in New York City.
Savor the honeymoon. If your firstborn seems cool with your new addition, enjoy it – but accept there may be turbulence ahead. “The baby is a sleeping blob [at first], and often the older child does not express many negative thoughts at the beginning,” says Pressman. “But once the baby’s old enough to take their toys, there can be a delayed effect.”
Let go of guilt. First of all, don’t fret that number two is getting shortchanged by your divided attention. “You need to remember that your second child does not know what it’s like to be an only child, only your first one does,” says Samalin. Also, you’re doing your kids a favor when you aren’t hovering all the time. What may feel like neglect is actually a lesson in resourcefulness. “Being bored is good because it makes you come up with something interesting out of nothing, and it increases your tolerance of frustration,” says Pressman.
Get your older kid on your team. A lot of misbehavior comes from jealousy, so stemming it will not only make your kid feel better, but will make your life easier. “Encourage the protective gene in your older one,” says Samalin. “Ask your big kid what the baby must be thinking or why she thinks he’s crying. Enable her to give toys to the baby and comfort him when possible.”
Forget about fair. You’ll never get to equal with your kids, so stop trying. “Let them know that some things will not seem fair growing up, but as long as it is the right thing to do for the family they are going to have to adjust to it,” says Tillman. “‘It’s not fair’ often comes from a place of insecurity or feeling powerless and fearful. Take a deep breath and think about the emotion your child is expressing.”
Take care of yourself. You have less time and energy now, so outsource what you can afford to (now may be a good time to hire a housecleaner if possible) and do whatever you can to get enough sleep and have a little kid-free time. Seleni editorial director, Kate Rope, makes a beeline to the bathtub on nights when her toddler is down and her husband is closing out the bedtime routine with their older daughter. “It sounds corny, but I pour in some lavender bath salts, fire up some candles and read for just 10 minutes to take myself away from the nonstop parenting of my day.” Rope and her husband also trade off giving each other a few kid-free hours every other weekend.
Let go of perfection. “By your second child, you realize you did ok with your first, even though you weren’t perfect,” says Pressman. You’ll get into a rhythm eventually, but until then (and even after), go easy on yourself.
The Seleni Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the mental and emotional well-being of women and mothers. At their mental health and wellness center in Manhattan, Seleni provides support for issues surrounding pregnancy, the postpartum period, motherhood, infertility, miscarriage, and child loss through individual therapy, educational workshops, practical clinics, support groups, massage, acupuncture, and more. Seleni also offers online support, advice, and information from clinical experts, award-winning health journalists, bloggers, and women who share the everyday struggles of the path to parenthood.
This post originally ran on The Seleni Institute Website