Going from One Kid to Two: Ellen's Story
Ignorance is bliss, or so they say. When it comes to the business of becoming a new parent, no statement rings truer.
Almost two years ago, first-time mom Ellen B. thought she had adjusted nicely to the long-awaited arrival of son Zachary, now a cheerful, energetic toddler. But ever since she brought baby Hannah home from the hospital five weeks ago, the domestic workload appears to have more than doubled, and the daily routines she once cherished seem lost forever.
"I used to take Zachary to a toddler gymnastics class and I thought we could still go, but they don't allow infants because of liability concerns," she says with a tinge of regret. "You have to plan so much more to get out of the house, just to take a walk or go to the mall. You have to bring so much more stuff than you used to. It's a hassle."
Not that Susan isn't delighted with her daughter, but logistics, coupled with the feeling of being torn in two, leave this new mom feeling super-stressed. With two kids in diapers, she is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a double stroller, on back-order at a local store. In the meantime, it's not easy "going mobile."
"Last week Zachary was sick all week with a stomach bug and he wanted me, but then Hannah would start crying. So it's always, 'Zachary can you wait?' Or 'Hannah, can you wait?' It's hard because he's crying or she's crying."
Linda Braun, executive director of Families First parenting programs in Cambridge, Massachusetts, empathizes with Ellen and other parents making the transition from one to two kids.
"When there's one child, there's a total focus on that child, often to an extreme degree," observes Braun. "So the adults have conflicting feelings: 'I've been giving 100 percent to one child. How am I going to do that with two?'"
The fatigue factor also explains the feelings of inadequacy that plague many new parents of two. With the first child, there is built-in "down time" for parents at night or during naps. With two or more, Braun says, the "empty spaces" that parents have come to rely on in order to recharge -- or do the laundry! -- disappear.
Economics also plays a role for many expanding families. The arrival of the second child often means that day care becomes unaffordable. The result is that one parent, often the mother, opts to stay at home. The experience can be deeply rewarding, but also very isolating, especially if the breadwinner spouse must work extra-long hours.
"My husband Joel works so much he doesn't get to see Hannah as much," says Ellen. "He's not around for a lot of dinners and I resent that. On the other hand, I feel bad for him! He's working so hard and trying to spend time with Zachary and do projects around the house and it's too much."
Going From Two to Three: Susie's Story
Susie A. is the ultimate road warrior. The mother of three boys (Will, age seven, Aaron, age five, and Gabriel, age two and a half), she spends most of her day behind the wheel, driving to, from, and between the three different schools they attend.
"It's really difficult, but instead of making them all go to the same school I carefully selected each school based on what is best for each of them as individuals. My mother says I'm raising three only children!" she jokes.
When Susie looks back at the first year following Gabriel's birth, she remembers feeling "very overwhelmed" and concerned about shortchanging any of her children. A pediatrician offered wonderful reassurance.
"When I said I felt bad that I couldn't give the same attention to my baby that I had given the older one, she said I'd given my babies something the eldest didn't have -- a big brother," Susie recalls. "It's changed the way I look at my kids. In some ways they're more important to each other than I am to them."
Is it tougher going from two to three kids than from one to two? Susie doesn't feel the last transition has been as tough, although being a mother of three is more physically demanding.
"The amount of laundry going from two to three was just incredible," Susie marvels. "Putting three kids to bed is a challenge. We read to all three of them together. On the other hand, when my oldest has homework, the other two have each other to play with while I work with Will."
Linda Braun agrees with Susie that adding a third child is easier than adding a second. The difference may have more to do with parents' mindset than with kids' demands.
"By the time the third child comes along, Mom and Dad are much more relaxed in their parenting," observes Braun. "They know each child is different, they have some perspective about what's important and what's not, so they are better able to enjoy it and roll with it more."
While many parents worry about neglecting their third, Braun believes the child actually benefits from less attention.
"The child is left more to his own devices, which is a good thing, so he or she becomes more adaptive, more easygoing, less demanding," she says. "So third children are very lucky."
Tips to Ease the Transition
Advice from Linda Braun of the Families First parenting programs:
- Don't equate constant involvement with good parenting. "Children need boundaries, limits, values, having their basic needs met. But they also need space to grow, to try out new activities and find their place in the world."
- Go easy on yourself: this is a lot of work! "The old pattern used to be: marry young, have two, then think 'Oh my God, it's over,' and have a third or fourth. But now many moms are starting families over the age of 35, and if you don't have the physical energy, and/or a spouse working a hundred hours a week, it's too much."
- Don't organize every moment of your children's lives. "If you're of the mind that you have to fill every moment for every child with music and pottery or television, they'll never learn to play and entertain themselves. One activity per week for kids under age six is enough. Don't feel guilty when you see little Johnny playing with Legos on the floor alone. It's good for him!"
- Get help. "I tell parents to take their last penny and get help. They don't understand how much life has speeded up. It's always taken a lot of people to raise kids, but the old neighborhoods are gone and now we have parents thinking they should do it on their own. They can't."