Seeing as I am pregnant with my second, I am trying to collect some real life tips/perspective on what life will be like with two. You know, with one, I can usually easily drop everything to attend to little ouchies, sticky fingers, help with toys, shoes on the wrong way round… I guess that will change..but I am interested to hear how.
How do you go about preparing for the madness of two? I know, I know, two is not even a lot, but..I guess my question would be, if you were here, hanging out on my sofa today, what tips would you give me? Both practically and for perspective…I am bracing myself. But I honestly don’t quite know what to brace myself FOR. I like to be prepared, but although there are thousands of baby books out there, there doesn’t seem to be very much on the transition to two little ones and how to make it work. My older girl will be 2.5 when baby arrives, if that helps.
Hello, Angelika! Please step inside. The couch is comfy and I’ve brewed some coffee just for the occasion. What’s even better, the baby is napping in my room and my preschooler is doing his quiet time thing in his, so you have 100% of my attention. I’m sure Gabriel would love some company, if you’d like to send your 2-year-old to join him.
It’s rather quiet for a house with two littles, isn’t it? Okay, so it’s not always this quiet around here. Life can be madness with two sometimes, especially around breakfast or when I’m making dinner, but I’m getting better about getting things prepared the night before and anticipating breakdowns before they happen. I guess I wanted to assure you that, although it often will be, things are not always crazy in a house with littles. They do sleep sometimes, and if you can play your cards right, you can get them to sleep or rest at the same time.
When I was expecting my second, I was similarly overwhelmed by the thought of being outnumbered 2-to-1. After all, kids can be irrational, needy, and creatively suicidal. Watching two crazy people at once sounded like a challenge I may not be up to yet. But when it comes down to it, it’s not that scary, honest.
At least for me, the transition from 1 to 2, was much easier than the transition from 0 to 1.
With my first, I was unused to waking up to nurse several times a night, unused to putting everything down to grab a toddler a drink, unused to having to teach someone common sense on a basic level (Really, just why does that outlet look like it’s so fun to poke your fingers into?). I was new at juggling naptimes with my grocery shopping schedule and new at finding the next-size up clothes at a bargain price (every. single. month, it seems. Why can’t those doggone kids quit growing?). I was new at teaching, training, and discipline. I was new at diaper changing (and boys can be dangerous, they spray). I was new at diagnosing rashes and understanding tantrums and figuring out which variation of “Duh” meant ‘Dad’, ‘Dog’, or ‘Done’. I was new at sacrificing myself for someone little and irrational, though SO overwhelmingly perfect and adorable at the same time.
But the second time, you’re not new at all this. You’ve got a bit of experience.
You won’t have everything figured out (I certainly don’t), but you’ll have a lot more under your belt. Nursing is a learned skill and sleep disturbances become easier to handle. You’ll learn life hacks like buying larger-than-normal sippy cup and leaving it where they can reach on their own when they want it. Your house will be more baby-proofed by number two and all the dangerous or delicate items are usually stored in an upper cabinet by now. Nap juggling will become second nature and you’ll know just when or where to shop for budget clothes (or, even better, you’ll have a nice stash of hand-me-downs in storage). You will become a diaper-changing ninja and fluent in toddler-speech. Training and discipline will become more routine, this time backed with more confidence since you know what worked the last time.
All kids are different, of course, but that’s part of the fun. You’re also a different, more-experienced Mom now than you were when you first started. It’s just… easier.
So with that encouragement, let me get on to some practical tips:
1) Teach the oldest to be as low-maintenance as possible.
Teach her to put on her own shoes, to go potty on her own (and wash her hands with sanitizer if she can’t reach the sink), and obey quickly when you tell her to get down from the rickety chair she’s standing on. Teach her to eat what she is served and not demand a different course altogether. I know those are parenting goals anyway, but now you have fresh motivation and a deadline to aim for.
2) Assure the older child that they are loved and irreplaceable, but being an oldest comes with new responsibilities.
Play-up how big and grown-up she is becoming. Tell her how proud of her you are. Point out her big-girl milestones and give her lots of hugs and love and attention. Definitely praise more than you correct. But at the same time, explain how you will need her to be your new helper. Give her jobs to do that actually help you, like picking up the dirty clothes, switching the wet laundry to the dryer (if you have a front-loader) and throwing dirty diapers in the trash. Explain how her help is so appreciated and so vital. Explain how she will need to be a good example and teach the baby to obey joyfully and to speak kindly.
If she’s like a normal toddler, she should thrive on this kind of responsibility. If she ever argues with you or drags her feet, insist she does it anyway. She’s a big girl now. Point out all the privileges that ‘big girls’ get to do that babies don’t (like eating popsicles or not taking as many naps), but remind her that with special privileges come special responsibilities. Doing her ‘big girl’ jobs should be non-negotiable.
3) Seriously, have them help you!
With that in mind, look around and figure out what your oldest is really capable of helping with. There may be more she can help you with than you realize. Are you still picking up her toys? Start making her do them. Sit in a chair, put your pregnant, tired feet up and direct her verbally the first dozen times. It will take time and patience in the beginning, but will be such a help later on. By the time baby comes, she’ll know how to complete the task on her own.
Can you switch to plastic glasses and plates instead of glass and start keeping those dishes on a lower level? Teach your daughter to unload the dishwasher for you and put the silverware away. The point is, to find things that actually help you and start re-assigning them to your daughter. Little jobs like this can keep her busy for 20-30 minutes doing something constructive, while simultaneously helping her develop a good work ethic. It’s a win-win!
4) Don’t let culture’s negative sibling stereotypes enter into your home.
In modern culture, it is expected from the beginning that siblings are going to be both an annoyance and competitive addition to the family. They are something to be ‘put up’ with and not enjoyed. This is so damaging!
Children are a gift from the Lord, not just to the parents, but also to the other children in the home. A sibling can be a closer friend than any other, but it must be a relationship closely protected and guarded. Sure, they’re going to have disagreements and toy spats, but they can also make each other laugh, work together to accomplish all sorts of mischief (Gabriel has helped uncap the markers so Matthias can better draw on himself), and help each other up when one is lonely or sad.
Now that I have an-almost 2 year old and 4 year old, they’re old enough to sword fight bad guys together, build forts under the kitchen island together, and pretend bonk-himself-in-the-head so the other one will laugh. Gabriel is also getting good at helping Matthias up when he stumbles and giving out kisses to hurt fingers. This sort of peace and harmony is especially beautiful to a mother, but won’t happen unless you encourage and protect their relationship.
Be careful what your oldest watches on TV or reads in her story books. Negative sibling attitudes are plentiful on that sort of media and will only make your job harder.
5) Show them the baby books and pictures of themselves and show how fast they grow.
I’m sure you have them somewhere. All those pictures of Baby #1 as an infant, one year old, and toddler? Bring them out and walk them through it ahead of time. Explain how the new baby will be helpless and tiny and probably a bit loud and boring to your daughter in the beginning (or not, since I hear girls are more maternal than boys are). Gabriel was entertained my his newborn brother for about 20 minutes before he was ready to go find more interesting things to do.
Still, constantly remind her how fast they grow and how he or she will grow into a big kid like her someday. As an oldest child, I frequently tired of hearing how I had to be ‘a good example’ to my brothers growing up. Now, I totally understand and do the same thing to my son. Try your best to paint this ‘good example’ language in a positive light and not only urge them to it when they’re being bad. Try noticing their good habits ahead of time. “Good job using your fork and not your fingers. You’re teaching Matthias to eat without getting his hands dirty. Good job!”
6) Angelika… Get thee a Moby Wrap!
Or some other equivalent carrier. They’re $15 used ones all over Ebay, so there’s no excuse not to have one. Baby-Wearing has gotten much more popular recently, with many die-hards claiming health and emotional benefits to using them. I’m afraid, I love them because of their more practical side. They give you your hands back! This means you can carry the baby and tie your toddler’s shoes or slice chicken for dinner. They’re wonderful.
Your baby will grow out of the Moby eventually (my boys are chunky and tend to outgrow my endurance around 6 months), but there are sturdier wraps and carriers that can be purchased after that. If you’re a sewer, you can even find online instructions to make your own!
7) When your oldest outgrows her nap…
Oh, dreaded day! You’ll know it when it happens. You’ll spend the entirety of nap time fighting her to sleep and she’s just. not. tired. However, that quiet time in the afternoon is so important for you, especially if you’re not sleeping well at night because of a newborn.
Let me encourage you to switch to a quiet room time for your daughter instead. Be sure her bedroom is safely toddler-proofed and set an alarm clock she can recognize. Give her blocks, dolls, or some other special activity to do that is special, just for quiet time. Play-up how grown up she is and that you’re letting her stay awake that day instead of napping. If she plays quietly, she won’t have to nap. If she’s loud or disobedient (and keeps coming out), then she will lose her quiet time privileges and have to go to bed anyway.
The first few times you may have to keep it short (20 minutes or so) and be sure you’re handy for pushing her back inside multiple times. After a week or so, she’ll get the drill and you can begin lengthening the time a bit at a time. I like to aim for an hour, though I know other mothers who do longer. You’ll learn to get the baby to nap at the same time and that hour of recuperation in the afternoon for you is priceless!
8) Lastly, remember it won’t always be this hard.
Someday you’ll have a 10 year old and a 12 year old. No more diapers and no more irrational outbursts because her spoon is the wrong color. No more ‘crying hour’ in the evenings, right when you’re trying to get dinner made. Instead, they might be doing their own laundry and dishes. Maybe even sweeping the floor after dinner while you put up your feet and watch. Maybe you can pay them a quarter for a foot rub like my husband’s Dad used to hire his kids to do.
Babies have a habit of growing up. So hang in there, mama! You’re going to do just fine.