Going from one child to two isn’t as hard as going from no children to one…
I’m writing this post for the mothers who have one kid and are thinking that another kid might be too much to cope with.
When I had one and was trying to decide if/when we should have another, lots of parents scared the crap out of me. I remember a colleague told me that going from one to two wasn’t like adding one more kid but five. That it was way worse than going from none to one.
I found going from none to one pretty hard so it had me thinking I might not be able to handle the additional bundle of joy. BUT I want to tell you that I didn’t find it that bad, and personally found it a lot better than the transition from none to one.
My first child, Arlo has always been a notorious non-sleeper. That’s the crux of my parenting difficulties. I find it mostly ok, apart from dealing with a kid who doesn’t sleep. If you have read my posts ‘stop telling me about your great sleepers’ or ’10 tips on getting through the day when you are so tired you want to cry’ you will know that sleep deprivation is my parenting nemesis.
When I was thinking about having a second, many people said ‘you have one bad sleeper that means your next will be better’ and ‘you never get two the same’. Don’t listen to people. People lie. The only difference between my two kids is genitalia. That, and my second may very well be a worse sleeper than my first.
But that still didn’t mean it was more than I could cope with. Having two that wake at night, didn’t feel significantly harder to me than when my first didn’t sleep at night.
In reality it is probably harder physically. The first still doesn’t sleep through and the second has me up every hour so I just ping-pong between kids all night but mentally, I cope with it better.
You should never underestimate the impact your mind can have on your body’s ability to cope in these situations.
Reasons why having that second child is easier
- You have already adapted to parenthood – you go out less, you are used to having less sleep and less freedom and more responsibility. You know that challenging phases pass – alarmingly fast. You’ve held a sick kid in your arms and panicked about whether they need to go to hospital. Little shocks you now. It’s not as steep a learning curve as it was first time around.
- Realistic expectations – my expectations were realistic second time around and I can’t stress enough how much realistic expectations help. I kid you not, when Arlo was four weeks old I was crying saying ‘when is he finally going to sleep through the night’. A lot of the time, what we perceive to be parenting problems are merely us putting unrealistic expectations on our kids (often from comparing them to other people’s kids) or on ourselves.
- You have tried and tested strategies for coping – I have more tools in my arsenal now I’ve been parenting a few years. I was utterly clueless the first time around. I hadn’t even changed a nappy. Now I can do that shit in my sleep (pun intended).
- You know who you are as a mother – You know what your hard limits are. For example, with my first I spent a lot of time agonising about whether I should do controlled crying to help my son sleep. I drove myself a little mad trying to decide what the right method was for us. By time I had a second non sleeper, I knew that wasn’t our style. I don’t waste time thinking about that because I know that’s a hard limit for us. Instead, I can invest my energy into strategies that suit us.
- They play together – once they get older, they can play together which means you don’t have to play shop or Playdoh all the time which is ‘winning’.
There of course are numerous factors that influence how hard the transition from one to two can be:
- Age gap – my son was three years two months when my daughter came along. We were able to prepare him well and he understood what was happening. He was able to help with small tasks. He was no longer breastfeeding and was able to be babysat by family.
- Money/child care arrangements – I had carefully planned the time we would have our second baby so that my son would be three. This meant that we would be able to access his free 15 hours of childcare from the Government. He had gone to nursery since he was two. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to send him to nursery while on maternity leave if it had cost us. I didn’t want to pull him out of nursery so close to starting school when he was already adapted to going. Waiting until he was three meant that during term times I had a day and a half each week where I just got to focus on the baby which was amazing. It meant we got to bond and rest without interruption and I knew that someone was focusing on helping keep Arlo stimulated and learning.
- Family work patterns – my partner was able to work his hours condense. He worked four long days each week, only having to work five days a week once a month. This meant that three days a week I had help from him at home. Therefore most weeks I was only alone with the kids four days a week.
- Physical support – if you have family on your doorstep who can help take the older child or watch the kids while you nap, shower etc it can make an enormous difference. Most people love baby cuddles. When I had Lena at home, my sister came up just hours afterwards and held her while we both tried to sleep. She tried to help me get washed etc. It was a godsend. Unfortunately my family lives about 40 minutes away so after the initial early days I was mostly on my own. Papa Ginge is a really hands on dad though and we figured out ways to make it work so that even though I was breastfeeding, I got as much rest as possible. I would nurse the baby and then he would baby wear her to sleep in the baby carrier. I would go put our three-year old to bed so I got some much-needed one on one bonding time with him, this really helped him. Then, I would go to sleep when he did and Papa Ginge would only get me once the baby needed to feed again. At which point I would bed-share with the baby and Papa Ginge would bed-share with our three-year old. It might sound like a complicated bed-hopping arrangement but it really worked for us. You will find what works for you too. On top of this we used to ask family members to baby sit between breastfeeds for a couple of hours on weekend afternoons so we could pop out for a lunch date. It’s so important to have those breaks together when you are in the mire.
- Emotional support – Second time around you usually have found your tribe. For me this is a bunch of educated, informed gentle parents who I’m part of a Facebook group with. I know they won’t judge me, I know they will give me advice I can trust. These are online friends that I have never met but their value to me can’t be underestimated.
- Temperament of you children – I often say we are lucky that Arlo was first and not Lena. Arlo is a sensitive soul who has never once shown any jealousy. It’s not in him. Lena would ‘shiv a bitch’ for touching me. The world is hers and she ain’t sharing. If we ever have a third, I’ve got my work cut out for me. Similarly, if the new baby has colic or just spends a lot of time crying or not letting you put them down then that makes the adjustment rougher. I’ve never had a baby you can put down to sleep in a moses basket or cot but I’ve heard these magic angel sleeping unicorn babies do exist.
The dark side
There are of course the dark sides to having two:
- It’s all good and well saying that the kids entertain each other, which is great but that is definitely countered by how much they fight. When you have a four-year old who is building Lego constructions and a King Kong-esque two-year old who wants to smash them you can become a glorified bouncer. Every time my eldest is gleefully enjoying his toys, my littlest thinks ‘oooh that looks fun’ and goes and snatches it and world war three kicks off. I spend most my days shouting SHARE or NO HITTING (whilst muttering FFS).
- You don’t get to rest at nap-time anymore. Unless you have good sleepers and can coordinate nap time in which case you have major skills and do not need to be reading this blog post. Seriously go have ALL the babies.
- When you are on your own, you are outnumbered. Getting them ready to go out can take forever and you need to think even more carefully about where you take them. If they both get into bother, you can only rescue one at a time. A lesson I learned one day when I took both to the beach and Lena started a fight with a bunch of seagulls and Arlo simultaneously tried to drown himself in the sea. Quick, pick your favourite child.
- Logistics can be a pain in the arse – nursery/school drop offs and pick-ups will always coincide with nap-time time or breastfeeds. It’s just sods law. You will regularly think, if I just had one it would be so much easier.
- Pregnancy when you have a toddler can be brutal. You don’t get to rest. You have to make them meals and wipe their bum when you are in the depths of ‘morning’ sickness. I shudder remembering it.
- The phase when they start crawling/climbing and can get into their elder siblings toys with small parts can be a real pain. With my first I never let him play with toys aged three and above until he was age three but my daughter has been playing with small Lego since age one. It’s just impossible to avoid.
- Obviously, like with one child, the very darkest part of parenting two is when they get sick. And this happens more as they give each other germs. My second kid had 18 colds in her first year – her first in her first week due to all the germs her big brother would bring back from nursery. When they both get sick together and both need you, one inevitably ends up crying whilst you deal with the other and there is nothing more physically and emotionally draining.
Everyone is going to have a different answer to this, based on their own personal circumstances but I bet everyone will agree on one thing – they don’t regret having that extra child. The good times will always outweigh the bad.
And this time, you have an added dimension – seeing your child with ‘their baby’. In those moments when they aren’t trying to kill each other, there is something really special about watching your children together. How they look for each other in the morning, how they get excited to see each other and don’t want to leave one another behind. How they make each other laugh and give each other hugs and kisses it touches your soul like nothing else.
And just like with your first, you will think that was bloody hard but it was worth it. I’m so pleased I made the decision to have a second. I could not imagine our lives without Lena and being a big brother is such a huge part of Arlo’s identity now.
Now my only question is, how do you ever stop wanting to have another?!