That’s what everyone warned me about having a second child from the moment I announced my pregnancy. It is also pretty much the worst advice I have ever been given. Telling me that I cannot even conceive of how difficult it will be to care for two kids does nothing to help me prepare me for that major life change, it just stressed me out. It was also not specific enough to allow me to focus my anxiety. Honestly, it just seemed like a mean thing to say to someone who had clearly already made the decision to have a second child.
Now three weeks in to this new reality, I can think of no better words for those preparing for or considering the jump from one child to two.
It’s common knowledge that new babies are exhausting and overwhelming. For the most part, however, after my son was born, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Of course, there were some tough moments (an evening the three of us spent in our undies in the steamy bathroom during our baby’s first cold comes to mind), but nothing my husband and I could not handle. We went to bed at 9pm and got up around 9am every day, so even if we were up three times in the night, we all still managed to get at least 8 hours of sleep. Breastfeeding came easily to me; in fact, I suffered from an oversupply of milk so always had plenty in the freezer. When friends came to visit I made sure to shower, tidy the house, and bake a special treat to serve them. If someone offered to help – by bringing us food, running errands, babysitting, etc. – I politely declined, explaining that I had this new baby thing under control.
It’s not that I was a natural supermom; I had a secret weapon. My husband had agreed to be a full-time father to our child, so while I was on maternity leave, we could share the trials and tribulations of being new parents. When I went back to work, my husband really stepped up and embraced his new role with gusto.
From the day of our son’s birth and in the two years since, our son has felt more like an adorable accessory than a burden. With a two-to-one adult-to-child ratio, my husband and I have continued going out to dinner, socializing with friends, attending shows and sporting events (our son has been to more than a dozen Nationals baseball games, as well as Wizards, Mystics, Capitols, and college football games), traveling around the world (our son has flown around 50,000 miles), and generally living our pre-child lives. Of course, there have been some modifications: we leave parties earlier, we don’t go out to bars or to the opera together, we have to take turns sleeping or watching movies on planes, etc. Overall, however, adjusting to life with a child was easier than we had expected.
That ease adjusting to life with one child has made the transition to life with two children all the more challenging for us. The one-to-one ratio sounded feasible, until we realized that meant that we were never off duty. No more can one of us respond to emails while the other feeds our son. Now, I nurse our newborn while my husband runs after our toddler, and then we switch. If a poop explosion requires two sets of hands, one kid is left screaming or making a mess.
And we are the lucky ones. We have incredibly easy kids. Our son is enamored with his little sister and is very sweet and gentle with her. So far, he does not seem to resent the attention she has diverted from him. For her part, the baby is incredibly tolerant of her big brother’s noise and harassment; he means well when he kisses, hugs, talks to, and tries to entertain his sister, but he generally succeeds only in terrifying her. As a defensive mechanism against this benevolent pestering, our daughter goes to sleep and sleeps deeply. But as soon as our toddler is out of the house or asleep, our daughter comes to life. So instead of my husband and I spending 9pm-9am in bed, we are up with our daughter until midnight and awakened by our son at 7am, leaving us with just six or seven hours of doubly-interrupted sleep.
I knew that a second child would cut down on the hour or two of daily “me time” my husband and I had each greedily preserved after our son was born, but, at least for now, that time has been all but eliminated entirely. This post has taken me two weeks’ worth of moments stolen from sleep-time to write. I am determined to try to keep up with this blog, if for no other reason than to justify a few minutes of “me time” here and there.
Getting used to life as a family of four has been harder than we imagined, but I still cannot fathom how we are going to cope when I go back to work in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned . . .