By Shawna Gamache
More chaos, more fun and more diapers. You’ve probably heard about all of that. But what does it actually feel like to add another person to your family?
When you are pregnant with your second, you worry that you won’t have enough love for two kids, much less enough energy. Everyone assures you that this won’t be a problem. That love is not finite and you will grow to meet the needs of all of your children. My grandmother, a mother of seven, assured me I would always find a way to make it work. As I nervously awaited the arrival of my second, I wasn’t so sure.
I eventually found that I had plenty to give to both of my sweet girls. Now that they are almost 3 and 5, I am so grateful they have each other and we have both of them. But the first year was a time of great transition and growth for us all.
The first moments
Just hours before Ruby was born, I rocked my precious 23-month-old baby Quinn to sleep. Despite being nine months along and beyond exhausted, I remember just watching her face, smoothing down her hair, singing to her. Happily. I lllooovvved her. She was my life. I didn’t even notice I was in early labor – or maybe I chose to ignore it.
Three hours later, Ruby was born. (Yes, really three. It was that fast!) I held her tiny body to my chest, looked into her eyes, and studied her sweet little face. “Yes,” I thought. “It’s you.” That same instant recognition, overwhelming delight and effortless love I felt when Quinn was born.
The feeling got more complicated a few hours later, when Quinn came to meet her baby sister. Here was my tiny baby Ruby, who I loved so much already, and here was my baby Quinn, who I loved as much as ever, but wait, when did she get so big?? Suddenly, my first baby wasn’t a baby anymore.
Adjusting to life with two
It was honestly a little challenging for my heart to sort out. It took at least a few weeks for my emotions to stop swirling. And it was hard and sad at times. Sometimes when Quinn left for a few hours with a grandparent or her daddy so I could have time with baby, I would cry. I missed her so much. Sometimes I missed her even when she was with me, because I had to be so focused on Ruby – who I also loved madly and who – as a newborn – needed me much, much more.
Luckily, their immediate and steadfast love for each other more than made up for any limitations I faced. I will always remember Quinn’s excitement in her first moments with her sister. Likewise, that tiny baby beamed right back at her toddler sister. They were transfixed, and they still are.
I remember a night in the first month when I was cuddling Quinn at bedtime while my husband tried unsuccessfully to get the baby down. I had already cuddled and nursed Ruby so I knew she was OK and I felt the need to spend a little alone time with Quinn, too. She had only just turned two and had been through some big changes. But Quinn heard her sister crying. “Mommy,” she said. “Baby Ruby needs you. I’ll be OK.”
That’s not to say my daughters were always angels. That they never resented each other, never tried to hurt each other. There was jealousy and pain on a daily basis. But those feelings never stuck as strong as the love. Not even close.
My job was to keep them both safe while keeping resentment from building. To recast negative situations and steer them toward a feeling that they were in it together. But they taught me so much too, about quick forgiveness, about moving on and letting go. When Quinn hurt Ruby it was very hard for me to model Ruby’s own quick smile, beaming through newly-dried tears. That’s not to say I let them get away with hurting each other. But after a few minutes of discipline, we all moved on quickly to positive situations and moments they could enjoy together.
Accepting reality and enjoying the ride
At some point during that first year, it became effortless to care for both of my daughters at the same time. Eventually I learned how to hold them both at once (literally and figuratively!!) It just happened, day by day and bit by bit. Most of the time, it was a happy adventure, as long as I rose above the chaos and accepted that things would rarely go as I planned or wanted them.
In the early months, I needed to constantly remind myself that things would only feel crazy if I let them. That my kiddos were totally fine with most of the wacky situations we found ourselves in, and I could be too with a little self-talk. Yes, I was nursing on a neighbor’s front lawn while the toddler cried at my feet, but it didn’t have to feel awful. I would rather have made it home, but I could still enjoy the sunshine, talk calmly to the toddler, enjoy the baby’s loving gaze.
There were so many moments I just had to learn to accept for what they were. That the baby needed a stinky diaper changed in the middle of a crowded story time and the toddler wasn’t budging without a fight. That somebody would be looking at me strangely almost any time I was out in public. That people in grocery lines would wish me gone. But my own attitude towards each unexpected moment would greatly affect the way it was perceived by others, especially my kids. It’s a cliché, but I really did have to take a lot of deep breaths and find my inner peace. I did. Not every time. But most of the time. And that was enough.
Love and marriage with two
Having two kids is definitely harder on your marriage. I certainly didn’t love my husband any less than I did in our first blissful week together in 1999. I remember what it used to be like when he was my life. When we spent the whole day together. Absolutely, effortlessly together. Our decade of childless adventures is still a powerful thread between us, but daily reality shifts considerably when you rarely get time alone, when you are completely drained by the time you get those moments, when both of your hearts and arms are often otherwise occupied. You find yourselves fighting more just because of the constant chaos, and are both beyond drained at the end of the day.
With one baby and two parents, you can occasionally give each other a break. But that happens much less often with two. Maybe your spouse can’t handle more than one child for very long, and maybe you don’t want to pass off the opportunity for some rare one-on-one with your precious baby or your fun-loving toddler. So a break is when you each have one kid. And you don’t have each other.
But the other side of that coin is the solid conviction that you are a family. We found that if we could just hold sight of each other, cling to a few date nights, and really appreciate all the good moments we all share together, that we’ll make it through the challenges.
After the first year (or less), when everyone is more settled and used to each other, it’s much easier to steal moments to yourself or with your spouse. My children can more easily play together or independently, and the need for constant parental supervision and involvement has shifted drastically. My spouse and other relatives were able to watch two at once. Looking at friends with just one child, I found that their life actually starts to look harder than mine.
It’s fun to cuddle on the couch with your sweetie while your kiddos perform a “ballet” for you. Even if one of you needs to jump up in a minute to stir the soup and the other still needs to work four more hours after dinner. We’ve learned to savor these moments together. You learn from your kids to be quick to forgive. You grow up.
Accepting your limitations
Love might grow with two, but patience sure doesn’t. No one tells you this before you have two. But believe me, you will be amazed at how quickly your fuse blows. I can honestly say that I never lost my patience with Quinn before Ruby was born. Sure, I had moments of frustration. But I never yelled. I never lost control. Not that I was always perfect, but I was able to use parenting strategies and stick to my plans on how to deal with certain behaviors, even if I felt frustrated or angry.
Now I lose my temper all the time. I usually catch myself within a few seconds and redirect myself, but I get angry at my children in a way I never could have imagined before: red hot fury like a wild animal. At first, you think your hackles are raised because your toddler’s shenanigans are now an actual threat to your precious newborn, like a mama lion protecting her baby cub. But as time goes by you realize that you just don’t have any more patience than you did before, and that you need a lot more of it when you have two.
These days I tell myself it’s a good thing my kids sometimes see mama so angry, as long as they also see mama address her anger and own up to it. I hear about some parents who put themselves into timeout and I think that’s brilliant, but I can’t ever seem to think of it when I’m seeing red. You just become so much more reactionary when you have two. All of your plans and goals and priorities can no longer drive your every moment. You are constantly dealing with two very different, very busy and very rule-pushing little people.
But when I look at them both in a good moment, like when they gleefully act out Goldilocks and the Three Bears entirely with Legos, or when I see them go lick for lick with a popsicle and you didn’t even have to tell them to share, my heart is fuller than I could have ever dreamed. Being with two really is second nature now, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything– well, until August, when my family will grow by one more…
About the Author
Shawna Gamache is a former newspaper reporter and co-founder of the local blog Moms Alive. She is mama to Ruby, 3, and Quinn, 5, and is expecting a third daughter later this summer. No, she was not trying for a boy. In her quiet moments, Shawna loves writing, knitting and avoiding eye contact with her laundry pile.