“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Forget two cities, this quote is an accurate description of what it’s like having two children under the age of two…
Before giving birth to number two I remember feeling melancholy about losing the connection with my first born. I couldn’t understand how I’d possibly have enough love left for someone else. But, as a good friend told me, you don’t share your love you get more. As cliched as this sounds it’s true and there are some days when I feel my heart will burst and there is nothing better than watching my eldest shower his little brother with affection while the baby reserves his best laughs for his big brother’s antics. Watching them together is a joy but that’s not to say there aren’t times when I feel physically sick with exhaustion and cry at the thought of making it through the 12 hours until my husband returns from work and I’m not the only one responsible for keeping everyone alive and well.
Here are some of my tips for raising a baby alongside a toddler:
1. Ask for help
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to enlist strangers to hold one of my boys while I see to the other. The first time, the baby needed feeding while we were at a garden centre so I’d picked him up to calm him until I could find somewhere to sit but the hangry toddler needed putting in a high chair with his dinner and the pram was now filled with coats so I couldn’t put the baby down. I was getting a stressed out sweat on but thankfully garden centre cafes are populated by the retired and other mums so plenty of willing arms to cradle a baby. Even a screaming one.
2. Rest when you can
Having a baby is exhausting. Toddlers are exhausting. It stands to reason both together is going to be exhausting. There is no respite unless you get the holy grail of simultaneous nap times but that has happened literally twice for me in six months so don’t count on this. In reality you’re likely to exist on very little sleep and have to be on it from whenever the toddler wakes. Take any offers of help or play dates and if one is napping and the other happy playing or having a cuddle do some serious sitting.
3. Sort out childcare
As I got pregnant while on maternity leave I didn’t bother with a nursery for the eldest and instead my lovely mum looked after him but this is not a long-term arrangement, especially as she lives more than an hour away. After seven weeks of looking after both boys five days a week with ad-hoc support from my mum it became apparent this wasn’t sustainable for my well-being. Thankfully I have a fantastic childminder living next door who could take the eldest one day a week. I was finally able to enjoy baby snuggles on the sofa while dozing or watching something other than CBeebies. He now goes twice a week which gives me precious one on one time with the youngest and a bit of respite if it’s been a difficult night.
4. Get organised
I never put off doing anything that needs doing if I have the time to do it. I prep dinner while the boys eat breakfast, get the bath and bedtime stuff sorted while one has an afternoon nap and make sure the change bag is stocked before I go to bed. I also keep a stash of wipes and nappies in every room of the house. Multitasking is second nature and if you keep on top of the prep work it makes it a lot easier to cope.
5. Take the shortcuts
Buy ready prepped veg, meat that can just be whacked in the oven and chopped fruit. Get a cleaner. Bulk buy dry shampoo. Order groceries online. Leggings with a vest is a good day uniform that can double as nightwear when you’re too exhausted to change. Always have bread in the freezer and beans in the cupboard.
6. Accept that someone will have to wait
I’m not sure why evolution hasn’t made women with eight arms and 100 sets of eyes. Until that happens it’s not possible to be everything to everyone. One child will invariably have to wait, probably while crying, if you need to kiss a bumped head, change a nappy, give a snack, make some milk, try and put one down for a nap… It’s okay.
7. Involve the eldest
The toddler doesn’t feel left out because he has the very important job of being mummy’s chief helper and having been hands on from day one he delights in telling everyone we meet about ‘his’ baby. He’s already been promoted from Caretaker of Nappies to Head of Baby Entertainment. It’s only a matter of time before he’s bathing his brother and bringing me my never-ending supply of coffee.
Six months in to having two children I can no longer say I have two under two. I’ve made it out the other side. That said I’m under no illusion that the challenges will stop coming. Especially once the baby starts to move…