“I think one is enough.”
I hear new and expectant mothers utter these words often when sharing their family plans. My husband and I discussed it too.
Did we want a second child? Is stopping at one selfish? Would we love the second as much as the first? Would our daughter be lonely, spoiled or sad as an “only”, or with a sibling born many years later?
No second child – One and done.
“Just one” appeals on many levels. Financially, our family could do and save more. My husband and I could easily find time for each other and ourselves, with less stress. I could (hypotehically) sit down and decide on a long-term career path to invest myself into, which at 29, I still had not done. Another maternity leave would postpone, perhaps indefinitely, that process.
I “researched” (meaning Googled) the topic during my daughter’s first two years. I found a lot of information to suggest that only children are well-adjusted, socially competent, happy, high achievers. And yet, I still wanted a second.
We ended up with a birth-spacing just shy of three years. I’m now three months in to my “mother of two” experiment, which I can easily say was a great choice. But, it came with challenges I did not expect.
So far, these are the two most important things I can share with any other moms considering or expecting another child:
#1. At first, it’s a guilt-fest.
Juggling the disparate needs of a toddler and a newborn can leave a new mom of two feeling guilty and insufficient. Where I once felt like an excellent mom, I suddenly felt like a basketcase and a disappointment.
By the sheer nature of physics (ie. two places, one time) the new baby gets less attention than your first did, while your energy, patience and attention span for your first decrease.
I never suffered the feelings of resentment or detachment that can come with postpartum, but I did miss my first daughter and our closeness a lot when the new baby came.
I remember standing at my front door, holding my five day-old and sobbing as I watched my eldest walk happily away from the house with my mom. They were on their way to the pool – nothing particularly exciting, but an outing and a break from the new dynamic that my daughter sorely needed.
For whatever reason, not having the energy to go, knowing I was relieved to be alone with the baby, and realizing that getting away from me was probably good for my eldest too, just tore me to bits.
It does get better. Your hormones level out, your newborn grows into an interactive baby and develops a relationship with your first child. Survival tip: be patient, cut yourself slack, know that it’s normal to feel sad, and reach out within your family and community.
#2. It’s easy to expect too much from your eldest.
My eldest was a baby in my mind – a big, beautiful three year-old baby – until the day I brought her sister home from the hospital.
Suddenly, I noticed that she was a kid.
I finally accepted that she could climb the stairs by herself, without me running from the kitchen to monitor her every ascent. I took my mom’s tip that she would climb in and out of the car seat on her own if I let her, and my husband’s that she’d fall asleep with a good, quick bedtime.
All of this turned out to be true. The flip side is, she wasn’t expecting my suddenly loosened approach. While I had been sure to carve out a a bit of uninterrupted mommy time for her every day, I was still pushing her to be more independent a bit harder than I should have. Worst of all, with my lack of sleep and fraught nerves, I let frustration overwhelm me more easily than it should have when she didn’t play along.
She of course, found ways to let me know that I was expecting too much – staying up for hours in the middle of the night, wailing obnoxiously for bottles and regressing in potty training. So, my words of caution here: suddenly expecting your child to rely, unchecked, on their burgeoning autonomy can be unnerving for them, and lead to some unexpected and negative behaviour.
For me, the solution was to pump the breaks and to notice when my eldest daughter was still looking for help and affection. I try to encourage and play as she takes on new responsibilities, give cuddles instead of scolding, and remind her every day that she’ll always be my baby.
Love doesn’t double, it multiplies.
One of my best friends shared this insight with me early on in my second pregnancy, and the phrase has become my mantra. While I may still be learning how to mom, home feels pleasantly full and complete now. My two daughters already clearly delight in interacting with each other.
They communicate in the simple, instinctual language of genuine giggles and smiles. The joy they get from each other is something special that they could have never gotten from me or their dad.
So what’s it really like with a second child?
The to-do list may take me longer to conquer, and the hours of the night sometimes drag. But, I’m excited to watch these two little people grow into big people, and their relationship grow too.
As the old ladies in the line at the grocery store love to tell me as they fawn over my children, they will grow up so fast.