Today, I met a mom at my local bookstore who was about to have her second baby; she was an almost mom of two. My son, a kindergartner, started school a few weeks ago, and so it’s just been my 1-year-old daughter and me making our way through our days together. We really went because I was craving a latte, but it’s also a nice place simply to sit, without feeling guilty, as there is a play area for my daughter to play in. When I arrived at the train table, two mothers were already there, their toddlers in tow. My daughter joined their children and the kids quickly began to play together.
It was impossible not to notice that one mom was pregnant, and as I joined in the conversation, I asked when she was due with baby two. The baby is set to arrive in four weeks — right before her daughter turns 2. Her excitement was obvious and contagious, and I quickly said, “Wow, that’s so great! Your kids will be so close.” But I could sense a bit of hesitation and nervousness when she responded with, “Yeah, that’s the idea. We planned it this way, but they will be <em>so</em> close in age.” She asked if I had other children, and I told her that I did and that they are five years apart. We continued our conversation, lighthearted and child-centered, and after a while, my daughter and I packed up to go home. As we were leaving, I wished the pregnant mother well with her new transition. I try not to give unsolicited advice, especially to strangers, and so I didn’t, but here’s what I wish I had known before I became a mom of two:
You can love another child. I’ve heard this fear from many parents, and I was worried, too. The love for my son seemed all-encompassing, but what I’ve learned is that love is exponential. And I’ve learned that while I love my children equally, I also love them very differently. I never understood that love could feel so diverse.
It is normal for your older child to have resentment for the younger sibling. I didn’t realize this, and despite the excitement my son had for the birth of his little sister, after about two weeks, he was ready to send her back. When she was a month old, he smacked her hand because she wouldn’t stop crying. The resentment is normal and eventually, in most cases, it will all even out.
It doesn’t matter how far apart in age your kids are — there will be challenges. I’ve heard many mothers talk about the ideal age gap, but I actually wonder if that exists. For example, my son is five years older than my daughter, and while that seems like it might be easier (and maybe it is!), we started all over again with an infant. My son has been a wonderful sleeper for much of his life, but after the baby was born, he would wake up at night, too. And then we would all be exhausted. That is just one of many challenges we faced.
If you feel guilty, know that you’re not alone. I felt so guilty after my daughter was born. Maybe it was the hormones, but I missed all the one-on-one time I had with my son. I felt guilty because there were so many adjustments, and mostly, I felt like I was failing. New moms of more than one, I hope you don’t feel guilty; you shouldn’t. But if you do, know that you’re not alone.
Take help when it’s offered. I was lucky to have people who would take my son for an hour or so here and there so that I could focus on the baby. My daughter cried all the time, and while I needed a break, my son needed it more. He would have fun with a friend, and I could just bounce the baby for a few hours, or hold her while she slept without feeling like I was neglecting his needs.
Maintain your first child’s schedule. A friend recommended this to me, but I didn’t listen at first and opted to keep my son at home with me and the baby. But he needed the structure of his preschool, so after about two weeks of him being home with us, I enrolled him for the morning option. It gave him just enough time to maintain his own identity, outside of his newfound one as “big brother.”
Your relationship with your partner might go through another transition. With the adjustment to two children, my husband and I found it harder to connect. As we navigated new family dynamics and schedules, we fought more. That first year of being the parents of two kids was rough for us, and from what I’ve heard, this is pretty normal. We really had to try harder to be especially kind to one another. We weathered the storm, and in the end, we do feel stronger for it.
Don’t compare yourself to other mothers. I have friends who are mothers to three, four, and five kids. When I was adjusting to being a mom of two, I felt like I was failing because they seemed to be mothering with such ease. The reality is that they all have rough days.
Try not to forget yourself. If you can, take a break. Go for a walk. Run to Target. Take a bath. Read a book. It’s easy to feel like you can’t get away, but you need to make time for a break, in the ways that you can.
Lastly, enjoy this time. Some of the best moments in my life so far have been in the past year, as I’ve watched my children fall in love with one another. When my children light up when they see each other, it makes all of the adjustments worth it.
This essay also appeared on The Huffington Post.