What to Expect When You're Expecting Your Second Child
Kelsey McCarthy Parent Connection Mentoring Mom
FEBRUARY 05, 2020
Congratulations! Growing your family is inevitably an exciting and stressful time for everyone. As parents of a second child, you will get to experience the joy of introducing a new person into the family and watching your children get to know each other. It is magical.
Well, truth be told, little moments of it are magical and in between those moments is a great deal of hard transition for you as parents and your older child.
Here are some tips and thoughts about a few aspects of the transition you should anticipate.
The Impact on the Secondary Parent
A wise friend once told me that the impact of baby #2 is greater on the secondary parent (the one who is less often solely responsible for child care). In my family, this was my husband. This transition began for us during my pregnancy when I was tired, uncomfortable, or simply unable to do certain physical tasks. My husband would step in to lift our active two-and-a-half-year-old, go on the amusement park ride, etc. In the weeks and months after baby #2 arrived, my husband assumed even more of the first child duties, as I was breastfeeding and often holding a sleeping baby in between feedings. In our family, the transition was so abrupt that my husband ended up injuring his back from lifting my older daughter so frequently.
In the transition from 1 to 2, the secondary parent gets a bit of a taste of what it's like to be the first line of response. The up side is that they have a greater level of understanding for the primary parent. The down side is that the emotional strain often felt by the primary parent is now felt by both of you, diminishing your collective bandwidth. Therefore, try to take care of yourselves and each other as much as possible, physically and mentally, during this transition.
"The Handoff" Becomes "Divide and Conquer"
With one baby or child, "the handoff" is a wonderful thing. Enjoy it while you can! One of you gets a phone call; the other parent plays with baby. Someone isn't feeling well; the other parent takes baby for a walk. These days are great, but they are now numbered.
As you welcome baby #2, you'll learn the ins and outs of "dividing and conquering." Instead of the handoff, you'll learn to relish times when you can take "just" one child with you on a quick errand or keep the baby home while the older child attends a lesson with your partner. In the weeks after your second child arrives, make sure each parent takes the older child out for some special time. And don't overdo the divide and conquering, else you will end up feeling like a coworker with your partner, rather than a new family of four. The occasional errand or outing with your whole family will not only allow you time to bond, but will also give you the confidence that you can indeed make it back to the house in one piece after toting around all of your baby's stuff as well as a toddler potty and extra clothes for everyone.
Addressing the Needs of Your First Child
Finally, be sure to address the needs of your older child. This change is major. No matter the child's age or temperament, it is important to remember that your family unit is their entire world, and with the arrival of #2, their world is seriously changing.
Honestly, I feel like the impact that the new baby had on my relationship with my older child was the hardest part, and the one I least expected. Here's the best way I can explain it: You know the protective instinct you have when another child approaches your child on the playground and you're afraid they're going to be too rough? That protective instinct is this primal part of being a parent. Where it gets confusing is when you have your second, suddenly you feel that instinct to protect your baby from your older child. For the first time, your older child will travel to the other side of the "mama bear" firewall. It is incredibly weird, and can cause a shift in your feelings or actions towards your first child. The more aware you are of this as it's happening, the more you can do to abate the impact on your older child.
Do everything you can to continue nurturing your bond with your older child, focusing on quality time over doing "stuff" with them. Mostly, they want attention from you and reassurance that they are important. Even 10 minutes of story and snuggle time goes a long way to remind your firstborn that they are a priority.
I heard from many friends that it was helpful to keep the older child's daily care routine going. While I originally pictured myself home with both children during my maternity leave, I'm so glad I listened to advice and continued to send my older daughter to the child care she loved. Your children will have significantly different needs, which will be especially hard to meet if you're also experiencing the emotional and physical recovery from birth. Keep big brother or sister going in their routine, and take time to give them extra love when you are able.
Good luck! The messy transition will, in time, give way to your new family of four.