By Charlotte Watson
As I sat down to write this post, I decided to start with a nostalgic trip through photos of my two children together. My trip through rose-tinted glasses down memory lane where children looked all angelic and sweet was soon interrupted. I was thrown back into reality by my 8-year-old and 6-year-old playing “tag” round my legs which soon escalated into that well known game of “kick your sibling until everyone is crying”.
My transition into parenthood was easy and oh-so-enjoyable. I had one content and easy baby and I thrived on motherhood. We practiced Elimination Communication aka Diaper Free Baby, and even took them backpacking round Asia for six months.
When my firstborn was around eighteen months, all the questions and comments started. “When are you trying for number two?”, “They’ll be wanting a sibling soon” and “You’ll regret it if you leave it too long”. So, in keeping with societal norms, baby number two arrived when our oldest was 2 1/2 years old.
If having one child was my time to thrive, having two children was my time to survive.
What had been idyllic walks to the grocery store with just number one, became this no-win scenario of the toddler insisting on stopping and studying every leaf we passed, or playing some game that only they knew the rules to, involving the cracks on the sidewalk and melting down if I broke one of the unknown rules. Meanwhile the baby would scream if I stopped moving the stroller. I often felt like Frank Costanza shouting “serenity now” at this no-win scenario my children were presenting.
With number one, when their needs came up, I could nearly always have either pre-empted them or could stop what I was doing to meet their needs. I barely remember them crying at all. I felt so accomplished. This was not the case with number two. It seemed like there was always a time when one or both children were crying, which might be a slight dramatic memory, but at the very least there was always someone needing something and not enough of me to go around.
I have blissful memories of binge watching old re-runs of ER whilst breastfeeding number one, having carefully prepared my nursing station, with drinks, snacks, charged phone and remote control. With number two, the toddler would nearly always need to use the potty just as I sat down to breastfeed … the idea of a nursing station, was a distant memory.
I am still in awe of my skills to breastfeed and hold the baby in one arm, whilst wiping a toddler butt and then emptying and cleaning the potty with the other. There are skills that no one knows they need to have, let alone are capable of, until parenting more than one child.
I learned that babies do not need silence to sleep and are totally capable of sleeping through toddler music lessons amongst other high decibel activities.
With number one, I had always been able to prepare and get organized during naptime. I even had the occasional nap with baby. With number two this was a distant memory. I needed to be more organized with less time to be so. And my children also had opposite sleep habits. The oldest, who has always slept like a teenager, would just be waking up mid morning around the time the wake-at-the-crack-of-dawn baby would be getting ready for their morning nap. If I wasn’t totally organized and ready to action us out of the house during this magic window, then my opportunity to see other parents at playgroups would be lost, and I would often not speak with another adult all day.
I learned that I needed to be as prepared as possible, while keeping my expectations as low as possible so I didn’t need to deal with my disappointment among all the other emotions presented to me each day by these little people.
Nothing could prepare me for the day I was on the verge of successfully getting us out, with diaper bag packed with changes of clothes for each of the children, snacks, and all the other paraphernalia that we might need, during the magic window, when the baby in the carrier vomited into my top and bra. I remember taking this three-second pause (any “7 Habits” fans will know that Stephen Covey would have been especially proud of me in that moment), going completely in on myself, as I assessed my choices in that very moment. My three-second pause presented me with two choices. I either needed to stop to get changed, which would involve taking the baby out of the carrier and risk losing my window of opportunity, as no doubt the toddler would take the opportunity to take all their clothes off and refuse to get dressed again. Or I could just leave the apartment with a breastmilk vomit filled bra. I choose the latter.
I think this story might be the pinnacle of giving insight into what my life was like back then. But it does put life’s little dramas into perspective.
I grieved the relationship that I had with my eldest, as I felt that I was now just managing them, as opposed to enjoying them. I grieved not being able to enjoy those newborn days with number two, as I had been able to with number one.
I faced my perfectionism issues head on realizing that I would never be able to stay on top of everything that needed to be done or be the perfect mother. And I had the absolutely heart-breaking conflict of feeling my Mama Bear want to rear up at my toddler when they hurt the baby, yet the toddler was also my baby.
But we learned. We learned to adapt. And as they grew and learned, I also grew in my capacity, in my perspective and in my learning.
I learned how to drop my expectations of myself and became content with being “good enough”.
I learned how to use whatever was in the fridge to make dinner in the slow cooker. Dinner could then be prepped with just the waking-at-the-crack-of-dawn-baby and not while everyone was melting down, “hangry” in the pre-dinner chaos.
I learned that a combination of the stroller with hop-on-board and carrier (which could take either baby or toddler) gave more choices than people, so it was likely everyone got what they wanted.
I learned that my inner voice could be calm and compassionate towards myself, and my fear of judgment by others diminished.
I learned how to get super clear on what needs were and how to articulate for them to get met because there just wasn’t any capacity not to. This also started silencing the voices of insecurity and self doubt that had often crept into that spare capacity in me previously.
I learned to set expectations and have boundaries. “There is only one mummy and two children” is a line that I still use today and often gets a knowing smile from parents of multiple children in ear shot.
I learned what my values are and realized that I need to live by them as it’s too exhausting not to, and life was exhausting enough.
I learned that there were nearly always three sides to every story: the oldest’s versions; the youngest’s version; and then probably the truth. And that I could validate everyone’s feelings and experiences without having to take sides.
And I finally learned why so many seniors take all morning to read a newspaper and drink their coffee …. just because they now can.
There were times when I wondered what those people meant when my oldest was eighteen months and they were encouraging us to have number two. And also, where were they now to be helping out? But then it happened. The moments of calmness got longer. And I got to witness these moments of magic. You witness interactions that make you think that your heart might burst with love.
You watch your oldest share all their favourite stickers with their sibling.
You hear the baby try to say their siblings name as one of their first words.
You find them snuggled together in bed, fast asleep and looking like angels.
You experience the synergy of their excitement at having co-created a birthday card for you and explaining in extraordinary detail how they helped each other.
You watch your oldest mentor their younger sibling through learning a new skill.
You witness them sharing little moments between them with their own unique bond that only they will ever experience.
And although you often wonder if number two lost out in some way by always having to share you, you realize that they were given the gift of learning how to sleep through anything …. even toddler music lessons and the playground, which is quite the future gift for music festivals and Vancouver construction noise!
As well as being a mother to two children, Charlotte Watson is an EFT Practitioner specializing in supporting mothers and birthing parents, who struggle with feeling overwhelmed and to feel good enough, so that they are able to parent with confidence, clarity and ease as themselves. You can find her at www.charlotterwatson.com, on Facebook and Instagram.