July 09, 2019
Since I am expecting my second baby, I have been seeking advice on the transition from one child to two.
From all the mothers I have spoken with, the first several weeks are a roller coaster of emotions. Healing from delivery. Caring for a newborn and a toddler. Battling sleep deprivation. Many of my friends clued me into the adjustment period for the first born who is no longer the center of attention. They shared the guilt of dividing their time between two children, feeling like they were failing on all fronts: neglecting their eldest, shortchanging their newborn, forgetting their own health, and ignoring their spouse.
But I also heard that eventually, the transitional period ends and a new normal is developed in which parents feel more in-control and the children have settled into a happy routine.
Preparation will not fully prime me for the big (and joyous!) change that will happen when we become a family of four this fall. But having a game plan based on the advice of others who have experienced this transition certainly can’t hurt. If you are getting ready to expand your family from one child to two, here are some of the things that seasoned mothers, parenting experts and doctors recommend.
Preparing your first child for the arrival of the second gives them time to process it and get excited, while making them feel like they are part of the change instead of subject to it. My toddler understands that Mama has a baby in her belly and that soon he will be a big brother. Killian goes to my doctor’s appointments and ultrasounds with me. He was with us when we learned our baby girl’s gender. He kisses and hugs my belly. We watch weekly videos on the What To Expect When You’re Expecting app.
Killian has moved from a crib to a big boy bedroom and understands that his nursery will soon be occupied by a little sister. He and I went through all his toys, separating out the baby ones. I did not know if he would get agitated about passing along some of his things, but he was helpful – even excited! – to share his old toys with a new sibling.
First-born children who are toddlers or babies may not fully understand that a new baby is on the way, but they know something is changing and you should talk to them about your pregnancy and becoming a family of four. If your first-born is older, make them feel like they are an important part of your pregnancy by sharing with them and asking them for advice. When the baby arrives, have them be your helper. No matter the age difference, encourage the development of a sibling bond and friendship when the new baby arrives.
There will be four people in your family which means four separate relationships to nurture: eldest child, youngest child, spouse and self. You know from your first that having a newborn is all-encompassing. Frequently, parents worry about their older child no longer receiving all the attention. Most kids express their displeasure about this change through frustration or emotional outbursts. Some may act out for attention or backslide in their developmental milestones like potty training.
Understand that it is normal, and it will pass after an adjustment period. Many mothers also feel sad about missing all the special time they previously enjoyed with their first-born. Prioritize one-on-one time with your eldest, even if it is just running an errand or having lunch with just the two of you. Try to keep your usual routines, like story time before nap and cuddles before bed, as consistent as possible. For the newborn, you will not only need to prioritize their health and wellbeing, but you will also desire bonding time.
Juggling the wants and needs of your oldest and youngest is the balancing act all families of four experience but have faith that you can do. Those first few weeks or months of feeling overwhelmed will gradually soften into a calmer consistency.
Less attention is usually paid to the other two relationships: spouse and self. The idea of a date night with a child and a newborn probably seems ludicrous. As your family settles into its new rhythm, ensure your romance is a priority, too. Try your best to carve out some one-on-one time with your partner. Many mothers consistently put themselves last. Let’s face it, taking a shower or having a hot cup of coffee seems like a gift on most days. But selfcare should not be neglected, especially when postpartum.
I often tell myself that I need to put my own oxygen mask on first before I can help others. Do not be afraid to ask for help (I already have my mother booked to stay with us for a couple of weeks after I deliver), share your feelings (the good and the bad), connect with other parents (even if it’s just through text), hire a babysitter (a couple of hours of freedom feels life-changing) or do some yoga (in lieu of the dirty dishes). Mothers reading this may be scoffing: “There’s simply no time for ME time!” Developing and sticking to routines can be a big help in making time for selfcare.
Children thrive on routines. Chances are, you already have a lot of them with your first born. Many of those – like nap, meal and bedtimes – should stay constant to provide a sense of stability for your oldest child. New routines, like your infant’s feeding and sleeping schedule, will also need to be developed and integrated into your family’s daily life.
So often I see mothers who look like they have not washed their hair in days, yet their children look like they walked out of a magazine. Moms are no less important than their children!
From what I’ve been told, the first few months are the hardest because time can feel haphazard and chaotic with a newborn who is feeding and sleeping on-demand. Put an emphasis on getting your infant on a schedule that puts his needs first while working with your elder child’s routines. Have the goal of getting your children on the same nap schedule and eventually on the same mealtime and bedtimes, too. Once you feel comfortable being out and about with your new baby, set a weekly schedule that includes activities like story times and playgroups to ensure you are all getting out of the house and connecting with friends.
Don’t just consider your kids’ schedules; set routines for yourself, too. Plan certain days of the week for chores like laundry, running errands, getting groceries and cleaning house. Knowing that every Monday is when you wash towels, or every Friday is when you order your groceries (get a delivery service!) takes the brainwork out of remembering those mundane tasks as you’re trying to keep two kids alive and happy. Use Amazon Prime to keep your home stocked with essentials like diapers, wipes and toilet paper to prevent late-night runs to the store.
And remember to schedule that all-important selfcare time in too, especially for a daily shower.
When Killian was a newborn, I realized the importance of prioritizing a daily shower. Sometimes it felt like a herculean effort was required to wash my hair but after I did, I felt like I could conquer the world. After breakfast, I would secure my son into a baby chair that I kept in our bathroom so I could keep an eye on him. My showers were always short, but very sweet.
These days, I time my morning shower with Killian’s post-breakfast potty time, giving him the chance to sit for a few minutes while I get a quick rinse-off. If my grand plans of my toddler on the potty and my baby in a chair while I shower simply don’t come to fruition, my backup plan is to take a shower every night before bed when my husband is around to help.
So often I see mothers who look like they have not washed their hair in days, yet their children look like they walked out of a magazine. Moms are no less important than their children! Getting showered and dressed every day is a basic but important part of self-care to bolster a mother’s mental health, which will in turn benefit everyone in the family.
One of the main things that I have heard from my friends about transitioning from one child to two, is the need for more support than ever from their spouse.
Asking for extra help from your spouse should be communicated (they don’t always realize that you need it!), both during your pregnancy and once the new baby arrives. Many mothers also told me that their first born developed a deeper bond with their fathers once the second baby was born, because regular routines that Mommy usually handled – like dinner, bath and bedtime – were taken over by Daddy, giving the mother time to focus on the newborn.
Since I became pregnant, my husband has made father/son nights a regular event, which has given me some extra time to rest. At first, it was hard for me to stay home but the need to put my feet up won out over FOMO. Ryan has been doing more with Killian as I advance in my pregnancy and I know he will continue this when the new baby arrives. He is a huge help to me but it is not just on him to take care of our toddler while I care for our baby girl. Fathers and babies need special bonding time, too, so don’t just always put your spouse in charge of your oldest. Encourage him to have his own precious moments with the new baby, while you get some one-on-one time with your first-born.
I am ecstatic about the arrival of our second child. I know this will be a major transition for my family but well worth any temporary growing pains. I think a sibling is one of the greatest gifts I can give my children, but I am realistic that my son may need some time to warm up to having his little sister around. I am going to attempt to keep all this advice top of mind and will continue to seek guidance from the mothers I know and admire as well as experts like our pediatrician. We will be taking it one day at a time.
And I’ll be sure to share my experience with you all.
How did you manage the transition from one child to two? Share with me and other parents in the comments section, below, or tweet me at @thePhillyVoice and @KathleenEGagnon.