As soon as I became pregnant with my second son, I mourned the inevitable loss of my what my relationship with my oldest had been. From that first bout of morning sickness, I realized I had compromised what he knew of his world.
Starting off my parenting journey as a single mother taught me a lot. It also afforded me the opportunity to make my first my entire universe...since I had no one else to worry about! I was probably the most hands on parent. I chaperoned every single field trip, decorated for birthday parties with hand-made lego head banners, made organic granola bars and pinterest worthy forts...and then came Charlie.
I spent those long pregnant months preparing my oldest for the change to come. I did the research, read the books, and navigated through a pretty great dialogue of what he could expect. What I had completely forgotten to do, was prepare myself for dividing time.
Now that I’ve been balancing this, well, conflict of wills and energies (for almost two years) I’m ready to share my tips and tricks for balancing the needs of your other child.
1. Make alone time with your other child a priority: Yes, I know, this is much easier said than done and it’s actually the biggest obstacle. However, I really do think this is an invaluable step. To make this happen, you definitely need to barter time with the other people in your life. Ask a partner or a family member to watch your other child (children) and carve out some time. It doesn’t have to be a big production. For us, my husband and I trade off having lunch with Oliver on Saturdays. We let him pick where he wants to go (his palette leaves much to be desired), as a sense of autonomy is important. Once a month, we try to have at least an entire afternoon doing his favorite things. And even though at the end of the day, all I want to do is curl up on the couch with a book and some wine, we let him stay up 20 minutes later and we play tag or board games.
2. Put that baby down: This can be a hard one for some. I noticed that during the earlier months, I was never putting my baby down! I was always holding him, especially if he was awake! I’m not sure if this was just guilt I had placed on myself, but looking back I realize it wasn’t completely necessary. I came to baby wearing late, but when I found it, it gave me the ability to interact with my oldest more. You definitely need two hands to whoop your child in Shoots and Ladders! Now that my second is older, I have found a travel crib to be a real life saver. I like this one because it is very light (making it easy to move it from room to room).
3. Enroll your other child in activities: It’s very easy to lay on the mom guilt for this one, but you aren’t “getting rid” of your child, you are giving them some release! By doing this, you are not only giving them an outlet for their energy and one in which they can discover likes and dislikes, you are giving them time away from the younger sibling. After all, parents are not the only ones who need a baby break!
4. Give them a realistic timeline for expectations: In other words: Spell it out. While most younger kids do not understand the concept of time, it is still beneficial to them to have what’s going on explained to them. Sometimes, telling your child “one second!” can be defeating for them to hear and can frustrate them further. While this next part takes patience, calmly explaining what you’re doing and what you need from them can be super helpful. For example, let’s say your oldest wants to play a game, but you’re wrangling your baby. Say to your oldest “I need to help your brother for about five minutes. Why don’t you look at that awesome lego book while I am helping him. I want you to look for five things you never noticed in it before”.
5. Talk them up: I had started practicing this while I was pregnant. I let my son know that he would always be older and wiser, so we were relying on him to help us shape who his brother could become. This really gave him an incredible sense of confidence that we wanted to “model” his brother after him. Talking them up includes exaggerating their little victories (but this isn’t necessary on a daily basis). When they color you a picture, you act like that thing is a piece of art that would make Picasso question his line of work. When they pick out their own outfit (yet one less thing for you to do!), you compliment them as if they had sewn the thing themself. Honestly, this tip really might be for the parents benefit as well. It makes me feel better to see that look of pride on my child’s face and for that second, I feel like I’ve got this parenting thing down.
6. Apologize: Your kids are used to having to apologize daily for their actions, but how often do you apologize to them? You may be thinking- “I’m the mom, what do I need to apologize for?". Short answer: Nothing. I think children just really like to hear it. It’s sort of a band aid. After all, when one kid takes another kids toy, they are forced to say they are sorry...but then like magic...all is forgiven (could you imagine if this actually worked with adults? ha!). So, on those days when you have to put your youngest first, let your other child know that sometimes you simply can’t juggle it all, but you want to and you are so sorry. Be specific too. Say you are sorry you didn’t get to see them do 7 somersaults in a row or for not getting them that thing they asked for - trust me, this will go a LONG way.
7. Start a book series: This is such an easy bonding tool. As I’m sure you know, reading out loud to your child is essential. However, children’s books can be a little boring at times! By choosing a series together, you have the added enjoyment of actually liking the book yourself! We started with The Berenstain Bears collection and have gone through The Hardy Boys, Geronimo Stilton, and are on the last Harry Potter. By sticking with a series, you can really see your child become invested in the characters. This also really helps with reading comprehension because you can ask your child “What do you think will happen next?” “How is this book different from the last one?” “Do you remember when so and so did this in the third book?”.
For those times when you can’t focus on just one child, interact as a team! This may seem like a no brainer, but having multiple kids is a different beast. You would be surprised how much of a challenge this can be! For us, we’ve got the added obstacle of having a large age gap (6 years and some change). Do you know how hard it is to plan activities to engage them both? Leaving the house can be a real event! I’ve had to create ways to provide entertainment for both, while making as little effort as possible. Below are some low maintenance games I’ve created:
Towers: This is a real no brainer. Using these adorable wooden blocks, my oldest and I have a contest to see who can build the tallest tower before his little brother knocks it down. We keep score and play til twenty (sometimes more). They both LOVE this activity. As an added bonus, my oldest likes to see how many words he can spell before they get knocked over!
- Take cover!: The oldest collects soft objects (stuffed animals, pillows, blankets) and we take turns covering each other with the objects. My youngest LOVES “finding” us. It’s surprising how long this can keep the kids occupied!
Up a notch peek a boo: A combination of hide and seek/peek a boo/marco polo, this is a pretty basic game! While the finder looks for the hider, the hider whispers “Peek a boo.” When the person who is hiding hears the finder coming, the hider jumps out and says “Peek a boo!”. This is especially fun for the younger kids. Again, this is also where wearing your baby comes in handy! You can easily hide with your youngest while the oldest enjoys the hunt and vice versa.
It is important to note, that with most parenting, a support system will just make this whole process much easier. Whether that is taking turns with your partner, relying on grandparents, swapping babysitting with extended families and friends, what have you, lean on others to make accomplishing your parenting goals less of a chore and more of a joy. Asking for help can be hard, but you truly are a better parent for it.
Additionally, there are days where you fail and you fail HARD. Do not beat yourself up. You are keeping these small humans alive. You deserve more than drowning yourself in guilt. It has no business in your world.
...Don’t get me wrong, I’d say 75% of the time I have to tell my oldest “I can’t right now, I’m watching Charlie”. And you know what? There’s no resentment there (despite what I occasionally guilt myself into thinking). They have a beautiful bond. So, don’t villainize yourself if you can’t balance it all (I don’t trust a mom who can!).
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