I hate reading “how-to” articles. They always seem so oversimplified, these bulleted or numbered lists of things you can do to fix your garden or your love life or your flabby thighs. And they always seem to come in groups of ten: “Top 10 Ways to Trim That Fat!” or “10 Ways to Reduce Your Debt!” or “10 Simple Steps to Being Clutter-Free!” The obsession with the number 10 isn’t the only thing these kinds of articles have in common: note the themes of reduction and simplicity, the ubiquitous, seductive exclamation points.
These articles appeal to a reader’s desperation, her optimism, her ever-renewing faith that the next efficient solution to her unwieldy problems might just be summed up in 10easy steps. Of course, they never are. And I guess that’s why I hate these articles so much: because I am that desperate reader, and I always get suckered in. I have a yellowing magazine page of “10 Days to Thinner Thighs” thumbtacked to my bulletin board to prove it.
So you might wonder why a person who hates these how-to articles would write one. You bring up a good point. In this case, the subject matter compels me: I am a mother of two children now, and so I can appreciate both the topic and the format. In fact, the topic practically dictates the format: before, when I only had one child, I might have been able to read a whole book on what having two children is like. But now?
In addition to being unable to read even a whole sentence in one sitting (see the mention of two children, above), 10 things at a time is pretty much all my post-partum brain can handle. So let’s get right to it, then: 10 Ways to Ease the Transition from One Child to Two!
Okay, actually, I should revise that: ten things was all my post-partum brain could handle when I only had one kid. Now that I have two, who am I kidding? I can barely remember which gold-digger on Joe Millionaire gave the guy a puzzle picture of herself, let alone ten things I could do to make life easier for me and my family as a new mom for the second time. Let’s make it five things. Trust me, even five is probably pushing it at this point. So, here we go: Five Ways to Ease the Transition from One Child to Two!
By this I mean: make a plan. The theme of my first round with motherhood was surprise: surprise, the epidural’s not working! Surprise, the breastfeeding’s not working! Surprise, the working from home with a newborn isn’t working! So for the next round, I tried to make those past surprises work for me by preparing myself better the second time.
I made sure this time to not try to work from home four days after giving birth. I actually talked to my husband about how difficult it had been for me as a new mother the first time, and even accepted his outlandish suggestion that he play a larger role in the crucial post-partum months after our second baby was born. I talked to a post-partum counselor before the baby came to make sure I had some objective support in place should things turn out to be surprising after all. I talked to my OB about all of these things so that we would be on the same page once the baby came and I might be too chicken to admit I was overwhelmed.
Having a plan in mind and being prepared helped me feel more in control, and it made the first few stressful weeks as a new mom of two that much more bearable.
Get some sleep
The husband mafia might make my husband sleep with the fishes for publicly saying this, but part of the above-mentioned preparedness was planning for ways to get me some adequate sleep, since sleep-deprivation was such a huge stressor for me the first time around. How might that be accomplished, you ask? One simple rule: daddy takes the night shift the first three months. And he did. (In fact, he’s still doing it and our son is nearly five months old, which maybe I shouldn’t mention here since there’s a chance my husband might read this and realize he could have stopped — oh, what am I saying? He’s too sleep-deprived to read!)
Seriously, that was our deal: my husband would take care of the baby at night, getting up to change and feed him, and I would sleep and recover from bringing our son into the world. This was the best deal I ever made: my recovery time was cut in half, I was able to have the energy to deal with our other, more complicated and energetic child, and besides that, every time I’d run into someone in public they’d say, “Wow, you look great! What’s your secret?” Sleep, baby. Pure, uninterrupted sleep.
If you’re breastfeeding, this plan is slightly more difficult to implement, since it means pumping and introducing a bottle early on, which some mothers may or may not want to do. And it’s true that not every partner can be available for the night shifts, so there is a little bit of luck involved. But finding ways to get sleep–whether that means having a mom or mother-in-law stay for a few weeks, hiring a night nurse, or having someone watch your kids during the day–is a good idea. What’s more, in our case the daddy night-time thing has proved to be a bonding experience not only for father and son, but for husband and wife: my husband gets it now, in a way he simply couldn’t before, how exhausting and never-ending parenting is, and I get to appreciate his new-found appreciation. The first time around, I resented how he could snore through the 1, 2, 3, and 5 a.m. feedings and ask me in the morning, “How did she sleep?” This time I feel more like we’re in it together.
Two words: lowered expectations
For an example of what I mean here, see the paragraph above where I started out planning to list ten things and quickly cut it down to five. That’s what I’m talking about.
Here are a few other examples: Instead of insisting that your older kid sleeps in pajamas at night, you acquiesce to her demand to sleep in her school clothes because that’s one less fight you have to have in the morning. Instead of trying to rush the older one through her morning routine to get everyone out the door on time for preschool drop-off, you let her act out Cinderella three more times while you feed the baby and get to school 10 minutes later. You let her take a bath a with her bathing suit on. You plan to be spit-up on. You make your goal for the day to simply get through it.
This isn’t as depressing as it sounds, it’s simply being realistic: life with two, especially in the beginning, can be hectic. Your normal goals, which may have been as lofty as taking a bi-weekly shower, must be adjusted. (Plus, when you expect to be spit-up on, actually getting spit-up on becomes an accomplishment: when it happens you can beam with pride and say “Let me cross that off my to-do list!” instead of futilely wishing someone would invent teflon sweatpants.)
Stop feeling guilty
I mean that, you stop it right now! Seriously, feeling guilty just takes time away from other things you could be doing, like stopping your toddler from feeding your two-month old a whole banana.
So instead of feeling like a horrible mom, feel happy that your preschooler watched The Wizard of Oz three times in a row, because that gave you enough time to pick up around the house and give the baby a bath. Instead of feeling guilty about letting your bigger kid watch TV so you can rest with the little one, try and remind yourself that this is not forever, and that a day of watching videos so you can shower and sit down for a moment is not going to scar your kid for life. (Notice the theme of television and guilt here?)
If it makes you feel better, you can even say things aloud to show your kid you know you’re not at the top of your game and that this hectic time could be the exception rather than the rule: like “Hey, we’re having a lazy day today, reading books and watching shows!” or “It’s fun to have a day off!” or “Today we’re laying low, but how about we come up with some projects we can do tomorrow?”
Also filed under “stop feeling guilty” is “ask for help.” Do you have a friend who can watch your older child? A pal from preschool to arrange a playdate with? A teenager down the hall or around the block who wouldn’t mind hanging out with the kids while you cat-nap? Go for it. Don’t feel guilty about it, just ask for help. You’ll thank me later.
Surrender to the chaos
You will not clean the house every day. You will not clean yourself every day. You will not get everything done that you plan to get done every day. You’ll just be in the moment, aiming to meet the small goals of fed kids and clean hands, and little by little you’ll make it work.
The more you fight this idea of surrendering to smaller, more manageable goals, the harder life is. So surrender. And remember what you learned from motherhood the first time around: nothing lasts longer than three months, not the good stages (“Hey, she’s sleeping through the night!”), not the bad stages (“Oh my God this kid wakes up every hour on the hour!”).
Of course, it’s different for everyone. But for me, letting go of the idea that everything around me has to be perfect in order for me to feel perfect has been crucial.
I have a chaotic life now, but that doesn’t mean that I’m a mess. The pre-kid me would probably be saying, “Yes, you are!” But now, after figuring it out the hard way, I know better.