My friend Kelley does really hard things like, say, hiking for hours to the top of tall snowy mountains with her skis on her back (meanwhile I’m complaining about having to park in the 2nd row at Target) and then skiing down, and then doing it all over again like twenty times, all before lunch. Sooo, it really said something to me when she texted saying that she’s freaking out about having a toddler and a newborn . I mean, how could a mama who literally climbs mountains be afraid of a little 2:1 action. But then I realized I had a whole phone’s worth of texts from recent mamas of two asking for advice, venting, or both.
One text string really epitomized the struggle. It was the quintessential: my toddler is freaking out and hates the baby, I’m tired and feel like I’m not enough, and oh, yeah, do you know a good vasectomy doctor? If you had to sum up the struggles of a new mama of two, this would do it.
When I made the transition from one to two kids two and a half years ago, I was the first among my primary friend group to have two children. In addition, mine are fifteen months apart, and my husband traveled for periods of time totaling about six months of the first year. I owned the hashtag #twoundertwo and wore it like my badge of honor. I ran the race that year, and learned a lot, and continue to learn so much about how to juggle the needs of two kids, find time for myself and my marriage, and laugh and somehow thrive throughout it all. So, today I’m sharing a few of my tried and true strategies for juggling two.
- Spoiler alert: it’s still all about your toddler: funny thing about toddlers, with rare exception, they make babies look easy. The world will still revolve around your bigger kid for a while, and that makes it a bit easier. When you first became a mama, you went from leisurely mornings reading the NYTimes to…. leisurely mornings reading the New York Times with a swing in the center of the living room or your boob popped out. Now that you’re a mom of a toddler, the only leisure in your mornings is athleisure, and it’s what you sport to the morning playdate/music class/doctors appointment. Now that your baby is here, just insert them into the toddler’s schedule. This is how 2nd children become so chill. They never drive the bus, they’re just along for the ride.
- But really, it’s all about your toddler; ignore your baby, sometimes. In the heirarchy of needs, babies really know how to get our attention – their cries are, I believe, designed to attract their mothers in the wild, and so when they cry, and milk leaks out, and fibers of your being scream “go to them”…try to resist, sometimes. I found that letting my son cry while I tended to my toddler almost always ended up just A-Ok – usually with him putting himself to sleep, or just chilling out after a while. Meanwhile, progress was made on helping toddler with her shoes, getting out of the house, getting dressed, or finishing something. I don’t think I let my older kiddo cry for more than 5 minutes when she was a baby, but my son, he routinely cried while I did my entire getting ready routine. This strategy works and results in a less needs-driven baby.
- Try to match their schedules up, for survival. A lot is going to depend on whether you are home with both kids, but I am a huge proponent of matching the baby’s nap schedule to the toddlers ASAP. Trust me when I tell you, your survival depends on it. If you have one kid napping all day long, your life is going to feel like a game of whack-a-mole – familiar? I put my son on one nap at 4 months – he grabbed cat naps in the car, but see #1 – the toddler had things to do and people to see, and we couldn’t be stuck at home for naps, so I kept him awake, and put them both down every afternoon for 3-4 glorious hours. By the time the woke up, I had just about regained my sanity. Don’t indulge your baby with crib naps or you’ll have a cranky toddler and cranky mama.
- Paper. Plates. I should own stock in Chinet. I for real credit almost my entire existence to paper plates. It is nearly impossible to serve breakfast to two little ones, dress yourself in athleisure, dress your kids, and get out of the house if you have dishes to do, and I for one, like to use my 20 minutes a day of Daniel Tiger to put on deoderant and spray myself into a snowball of dry shampoo, rather than using it to do dishes. Paper plates. Paper bowls. Chuck them. Get out in to the world and come home at lunchtime to a clean(ish) house, not a sink full of dishes. Note: if you are solo parenting, this strategy should also apply to dinner time because aint nobody can face a sink of dishes coated with food that no one even barely ate once they finish doing solo bedtime.
- Put them in the same room: we are huge fans of room sharing. More room for guests/helpers. More room for workout equipment and/or an office. No crazy back and forth at bedtime. No duplicates of stuff. Once you have a sleeper-through-the-nighter – get them in the same room. They will entertain each other in the morning and night, and you’ll get more of your space back.
- Everything belongs to everyone: this is big. In our house, everything, except for our one most precious lovey, belongs to everyone. This cuts way back on the amount of “mine!” battles. You may have to get creative in explaining this to your todder depending on his/her age, but you can handle it. I usually invoke God in these situations- God knew our family would have four, and when you got this gift, it was for all of us!
- Leave both kids with your partner as soon as humanly possible. It is hard to explain how hard it can be with 2:1, so you should give your partner the opportunity to experience it before too long. You will inevitably feel bad doing this, and think he can’t handle it (not to stereotype, but most of my readers are women), but trust me, the sooner you do it the better. For him to give you the support you need, he must understand. When you come home, he will look like he’s seen a ghost. This means it has worked.
- Leave both kids with other trusted caregivers as soon as humanly possible. Funny story, we left our two kids with our dear friends when our son was 4.5 months and our daughter was 20 months. I had a tremendous amount of anxiety about it- mainly about them waking up in the middle of the night. Turns out they were dreams, and with only one roll off the couch and a frantic call about being out of breast milk (she later found it underneath the Ben & Jerry’s like 4 months later), the night went off without a hitch. We got ridiculously drunk and acted like people without children, and our friends were initiated into the feel of having two. They still call us, so I consider it a success. If you never ask, you’ll never know. You’re better parents when you get breaks. You will need 10x the breaks than you did with one. Parents of 3 and 4 kids, I am guessing you need regular breaks like every 2-3 days in order to survive. Also, buy those people chocolate. They deserve it (see cake above).
- Keep it real: there are going to be a LOT of tears in your house for the first year. You’re going to lock eyes with your partner across the table and think “this is our life” with the utmost pride and contentment about as often as you’re going to lock eyes with your partner and mouth the words “what the f did we do to ourselves” during that first year. It gets easier, and harder, and then easier again, I think. I mean, I’m still in it.
- Lean on your tribe. So many milestones in parenting would have been impossible without my tribe. When one kid is hellaciously sick. When you are hellaciously sick. When you need to run to a public restroom in a park with your toddler and you need someone to watch your baby for a moment. When you’re stuck under a nursing baby and just need a friend. When you’re solo parenting and facing an entire Saturday alone. When you’re solo parenting for weeks and you need adult conversation delivered to your living room. Surround yourself with supportive people who make you laugh, build your confidence and can handle your crazy.
I hope some of this resonates or at least gives you a laugh. One book I could not have lived without is Siblings Without Rivalry. I recommend it to all new moms of two along with this Superhero cape which I like to buy for new big siblings. Also, because kids, my mind is a seive- so I might remember more and add to this post later. As always, thanks for reading.