Q: I am expecting my second baby and I am wondering how on earth I will be able to look after him or her while also taking care of my very active toddler??? How do people do it?
A: Many of us remember how hard it was when our first baby was small. Looking after this tiny new person seemed to take all our time, all our energy, all our hands, and all our attention. How do we juggle this with meeting the very high needs of a toddler?
Well, many mothers discover that it’s a whole different experience with baby #2. Not that your new baby will have fewer needs, oh no, it’s more that our expectations are more realistic: we have already adjusted to being needed all the time. The baby’s needs, after all, are relatively simple: mostly just body contact and feeding, which can be accomplished anywhere. A good sling, wrap, or soft carrier can be a life-saver. You can load the baby up and continue enjoying your toddler’s energetic pace, thus meeting both children’s needs at once…at least some of the time.
For many people, holding a baby all day and night the second time around doesn’t seem nearly as onerous as it was with baby number one. In fact, many parents find it easier than keeping up with their toddler’s activity level. After all, sitting around nursing, napping, and cuddling can be a lot less demanding than the kinds of interaction and energy our older child requires. Which makes many of us look back and wonder; why did we think it was so hard the first time around? What, exactly, was so difficult? It’s a weird bonus gift for many of us, that having a second baby gives us a new perspective on the first.
Practical Survival Tips for when Baby #2 Arrives
- Get a Sling, Wrap, or Carrier. This will allow you to carry a sleeping baby almost anywhere that you take your older child. In most cases, it is easier than a stroller.
- Enlist help. Partners, dads, grandmas, aunts, best friends, babysitters…if someone else that your toddler likes, and with whom he feels comfortable, can take him to the park or to a playgroup occasionally, you can have some time to nap or relax with baby.
- Lower your expectations….AGAIN. You probably already did this when you had baby number one, but they can always go even lower. Sweeping and folding laundry are over-rated anyway. So is answering the phone.
- Start the day later, or end it earlier. Depending on what works for your family, dedicate a couple hours every morning or afternoon for quiet time, a time when you can rest while reading books or playing on the floor with your little ones, with a big cup of coffee or tea.
- Find activities you all can enjoy together. Dancing, reading, butterfly yoga, going for walks, library-group story time, singing… There are many things babies and toddlers both enjoy.
- Do less. If your toddler is enrolled in a whole bunch of activities that require transportation, consider committing to less for the first six months after baby arrives. You all might prefer a quieter, slower pace for a while.
- BONUS—Here are a few subtle tips to reduce negative feelings between siblings. Both of these are parental “sleight of hand” manoeuvres that have less to do with action, and more to do with representation. These tips are both about how to phrase or posit things to maximize good feelings from the older toward the younger:
- COLLABORATING: Try to avoid making the older child feel ‘demoted’ when the new baby arrives. Instead, treat the older child like an associate parent by inviting them to join you. Rather than lumping the kids’ needs together, subtly imply that you and the older child are collaborating in looking after baby. For example, “what shall we sing to junior next?” or “which toy do you think junior would like for the car ride?” or “let’s you and I change junior’s diaper, and then we can all go for a walk”. But caution, this is about relationship, not responsibility. If your older child feels connected to you in caring for the sibling, s/he is less likely to feel supplanted or resentful, as this new endeavour becomes a shared bond in which first child & parent are on the same team. But the older child neither needs nor wants a bunch of new chores now. S/he should still be free to be a small child, and should not experience the new baby as a burden. So please have no expectations regarding actual help, it’s more a matter of how to phrase things to promote good feelings. You are still the adult and parent, and both children will still need to be ‘babied’, but you will be positioning their natural age & ability differences to reduce rivalry.
- MATCHMAKING: Give your older child the impression that the baby **adores** him/her. You can point out that the baby’s eyes always follow senior child around the room, or that baby lights up whenever senior walks in, or that baby always seems to settle when senior sings. You can get senior child to place his/her finger inside baby’s palm, saying that baby will grasp to show love (no need to mention that this works on anybody). When baby first smiles, or laughs, or crawls, you can help senior see how s/he helped cause it. You can foster a feeling of genuine warmth between siblings by ‘matchmaking’ like this, helping the older child feel special to baby. But make sure this is one way only. The older child will have lots of ambivalent feelings about the new child, many of which will be far from adoring, and we must make room for all of them. All the adoration you point out should be coming from the baby. Also, please only use this for matchmaking purposes, never for guilt or recrimination. Telling a toddler that they upset their baby sibling is simply too much for them to bear, and will not create any good feelings at all.
- EMPATHY BUILDING: Having a baby around is a handy way to draw your toddler’s attention to other people’s feelings, and laying the groundwork for an awareness of empathy. You can ask senior child, “What do you think baby’s feeling/thinking now?”, or when baby’s upset you can say, “Baby sounds like she needs some cuddles, don’t you think?” You can draw attention to the cause of feelings, “I think that loud noise scared the baby, and now he needs help calming down”, or “Look at how baby is so interested in watching you build that tower!” And best of all, you can use baby as a gateway into the senior child’s feelings, “Baby’s having trouble settling. She’s tired but she doesn’t want to sleep. You feel like that sometimes too, don’t you?”