Meeting the Needs of Multiple Children

by Amber Strocel on April 1, 2010

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When I was expecting my first child I worried about a lot of things. What kind of mother would I be? What would childbirth be like? Would breastfeeding work?

When I was expecting my second child, most of those questions had been answered. My children are 3 1/2 years apart, so by the time I was pregnant again I had some experience. I had honed a parenting philosophy and spent my time in the trenches. I still worried, of course, but I worried about different things.

This time my worries were about how I would meet the needs of a my preschool-aged daughter Hannah, my newborn and – dare I dream? – myself. Sometimes, when I was big and pregnant and my daughter wouldn’t sleep I panicked. How would I handle this with two little ones? I feared I would never sleep again.

Big sister Hannah meets newborn baby Jacob
My daughter Hannah meets her newborn baby brother Jacob

The good news is that second babies are almost always easier. At least it was that way for me. When baby Jacob arrived I had more perspective, and more experience in infant care. I didn’t sweat the newborn fussiness as much because I knew it would pass. After successfully breastfeeding one child I was able to avoid many of the struggles I’d encountered on my first go-around. I think many second-time parents share my experience.

Of course there were challenges that came with expanding our family from 3 to 4. It turns out I wasn’t up to pulling the night shift with two children. Thankfully, my husband stepped in to take over nighttime duties with my preschooler so that I only had to be up at 4am with one child. While Hannah’s adjustment was reasonably smooth, it still took some time for her to get used to the realities of life with a baby brother. I had to work hard to make time and space for her.

The kidlets
Hannah at 5 years old and Jacob at 19 months

The most vital piece of wisdom that I received when Jacob arrived was that only one of my children would remember this time. While my infant son had a strong need for my presence, he didn’t necessarily have a strong need for my attention. He was happy to nap in a baby carrier while I took my daughter to the playground or did a puzzle with her. Once I had recovered from the birth and established breastfeeding, I incorporated my new baby into the life and routine I’d already established with my daughter. It wasn’t always seamless, but it mostly worked.

Now my daughter is 5 and my son is 19 months. He’s no longer a portable newborn, happy to sleep on me while I watch my daughter’s gymnastics class. Things are adjusting again. But they’re getting better, too, because my children are interacting more. They’re playing together and developing a relationship of their own. As my toddler gets a little older I’m getting little pockets of time to myself . It’s not always easy, but we figure it out as we go. And, really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What about you? How did you find the adjustment from one child to two? Or, are you just contemplating it and feeling some of the panic that I did? Please share!

You can catch up with Amber’s regular adventures on her blog at Strocel.com.

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Amber Strocel (27 Posts)

Amber is a hippie mama to two, a writer, a dreamer, a student, an erstwhile engineer and a lover of chocolate. She lives in suburban Vancouver with her family and one very cranky tabby cat. Keep up with her on her blog at Strocel.com.


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Carolynn April 1, 2010 at 7:04 am

I completely agree about the leap from one to two children. It was amazing for us — but as soon as the 2nd born could crawl, they ended up becoming best buddies & still are today. The thing that has knocked me out so that I’m just recovering 3 years later, is the switch from 2 to 3. #3 was a surprise, coming along just 2 & 4 years after his older brothers.

I still have the urge to encourage moms to wait a few years until the older 2 are out of that needy place before adding a 3rd, based on my own experience with mine. I know that intellectually every family is different, but I can’t help but feeling like I just limped along for a few years, propping my kids up with too much tv, too many convenience dinners, and too much callousness toward my children as I just couldn’t attend to all their needs at once. It still kills me, thinking about it…

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Pat April 1, 2010 at 1:20 pm

What an adorable picture of your babies :)

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TopHat April 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I’m feeling the 2nd child angst. I’m due in the summer and my daughter just turned 2 this week. She’s going through teething her 2 year molars and I’ve been imagining going through this on top of newborn feeding every couple of hours- it’s freaking me out!

And my daughter was EASY PEASY. Once I figured out how to nurse lying down, I got a full night’s rest (though not unbroken by short feeding sessions) except on sick nights or teething nights, which are, luckily, the minority. I can’t imagine a baby easier than she was so I’m expecting the worse from this next one: what if the baby has food sensitivities? breastfeeding struggles? unexplained colic for months? hates cosleeping and babywearing? Oh the unknowns!

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MamanADroit April 2, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I am hoping for a big family (like 5-7!) but sometimes when it seems like I barely have time for one baby, I get worried about how I’ll possibly manage. So it’s nice to hear the perspective of moms who already have more than one kid!

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CHuang April 3, 2010 at 2:00 am

my baby boy is about 3 months old now and his big brother will be 4 in June, so they’re 3 1/2 yrs apart like yours. It relaxed me to read that it does get easier.

I was in a real panic before #2 was born as well. It took my older son about 1-2 months to accept the fact that the baby is here to stay. What killed me the most is to watch him made the adjustments; watch him having a melt down on the floor and I can’t do much to help because I had a baby latched onto my breast. People around me, including my husband tend to think that I should focus on the baby and my older son will learn to cope to do things without me. I however hold a different view, which is somewhat similar to your friend’s advice of how only 1 child will remember this period. I felt that besides breastfeeding, any one can take care of a baby, but for a 3 year old, nobody can replace his mommy.

My advice for those who are expecting #2 and is feeling nervous about it: let those who will be helping you know that you wish to focus on the older child. If you don’t have much support on the daily basis like I, drop the chores, get on the floor and play with your older child while your newborn takes his/her (often 20 minutes only) naps at least once a day. That 20 minutes can stretch a long way. Dirty dishes can wait, but a child who needs to know that his/her mommy is still here for him can’t. Sometimes, just a minute of getting down to their level and actually look at them in the eyes would help tremendously. They know you care and love them, but they just need that reminder every so often. Don’t we all do?

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SADAMOM June 17, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Totally with you CHuang! My girls are 2 1/2 years apart and it has been heart-wrenching to watch my oldest make the adjustment. Both of them are mommy’s girls and extremely demanding. I’ve found that I can deal with being completely exhausted this time around, but the emotional load of having 2 babies and wanting to give 100% to each one of them has really gotten to me.

Things are starting to get a little better and I know they will continue to do so as my little one gets older and big sister realizes that this baby that stealing the spotlight right now will not only be her playmate but her best friend. I have that the simplest things like telling my oldest “I love you so much” as I look into her beautiful eyes or jumping on the trampoline with her for 5 minutes, mean the world to her now that mommy has another one to take care of.

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Giselle April 3, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I found one to be harder than two and now am finding that three is even easier than it was with just one. With my kids, because they are so close in age (26 months and 23 months apart), they became playmates really soon. My kids entertain themselves most of the day by playing together. It’s like a playgroup at home with all three of them, especially the older two (ages 5 & 3). For sure it’s easier to meet their needs when it’s only one child in the household, but that’s if all their needs are meant to be met by only you. But, when there are more kids in the household, I find that their needs are also met by their own siblings. It’s really an amazing thing to watch and seeing how much positive having a sibling adds to their life….it’s worth the craziness that can be a day with three small kids. :)

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Johanne April 6, 2010 at 7:19 am

I hear ya TopHat – DD was pretty much all of the above for the questions you raised, and it wasn’t easy I’ll admit. I know stats are on my side for an easier time around this time (I’m also expecting for the end of summer/early fall), but I’m terrified of a repeat in temperament, and what the heck will I do with two intense children at once??!? (DD is still intense, although at 22 mo it’s a different type of intense) However, knowing that’s I’ve been through it before (and, *gasp*, survived) is somewhat reassuring as well.

Thank you Amber for that great post! It comes in timely, and I think I will bookmark it and keep it handy. I especially like the part where you talk about presence versus attention. I think that’s very true: newborn needs us to meet their need, and to be near us, but they don’t yet need us to have elaborate play and attending extensive programs with them – they are happy coming along to our older child’s activities, and immersing in our lives that way. :)

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Patricia October 29, 2010 at 6:34 pm

I’m due in the spring and my daughter will be 2 tomorrow, this was a really nice article to read. I really like the piece about how only one will remember this time. I can still give the baby what he needs, being in the carrier and close to me, nursing while taking my very active toddler to her activities. I guess I just worry because so many of her activities are still so Mommy intensive and is it really possible to allow my daughter to continue her interests with a newborn in tow?

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Amy July 27, 2013 at 1:11 am

Your experience sounds like a great one & I do agree with being more confident in Breastfeeding & I was super confident in sleep training & also not over reacting to little illnesses. I will say that the one thing I’ve not been able to figure out is sharing attention. My second came out extremely colicky demanding all of my attention which threw my poor daughter (and myself) for a loop… And she still to this day demands quite a bit of attention. Any advice from other mamas out there would be greatly appreciated when both children need your attention. ..

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