(The photograph above is a little throwback action of both of my boys.)
I have to laugh at myself, because before I had kids my personality was a little different..more Type-A. But having kids has a way of altering the personality traits that you have had engrained in you since birth, mainly out of the need for survival and to maintain some illusion of sanity. See, before I had kids, whenever a project was before me at school or work, I dove head first into it, wrapping it around myself in knots and focusing on nothing else until it had reached its full conclusion (and to my satisfaction.) When I had my first son, J, and began my journey as a stay-at-home mom, I committed myself to doing everything I could to enrich his life during his waking hours. I felt if I was staying home to be his mom, I better make it count. Just like when I had a major project before me in college, he had my undivided attention. But it isn’t realistic to have your second child after the first one surpasses their 18th birthday..and I did have dreams of having a bigger family…so how exactly was I going to make this work?
Flash to my pregnancy with our second child. I already started to question how I could pour myself into two human beings in equal measure (and still pray there was something left over for myself.) My second son wasn’t even born yet before I started to see how things were going to be different. The fatigue, the first and third trimester of “morning” sickness, the limited mobility toward the end, I wasn’t able to spend hours entangled in activities with my toddler with the same amount of energy or focus.
Of course, having a newborn is the most demanding period of time as a mother. I like to consider it as a hazing, if you can make it through that you’re well on your way. We asked my mother-in-law if she would take J with her for the delivery and the first two days just so me and the littlest fox could weather through those rough, sleepless nights recovering from birth and bond with one another. J had a blast the first day and a half but had his fill of being away from us. The moment had come for him to come home and us to begin our life as a family of four. My anxiety was on high, I still had not figured out how I would balance the two in separate but equal measures.
Spoiler alert, five months later and I still have not figured it out. I was just confiding in my husband the other day how I wrestle with guilt every single day, feeling like I have to take from one to give to the other (time wise.) That personality trait laid dormant inside when I could satisfy it and give all of myself to one child, but now with two it seemed to wither inside and feed my insatiable mommy guilt. My littlest fox suffered from colic for a good 3 months and I would have to say that was the toughest for me emotionally, struggling with dividing myself without it ending in a symphony of synchronized crying (myself included.) And even though that extremely difficult season is behind us, it still feels just as difficult. J wants to play trains on end, read books in my lap, insist that I feed him his lunch instead of him feeding himself, reading just one more..two more..three more “night-night books” while my littlest fox is absolutely losing it because he is ready to be nursed and go to sleep himself.
You have to find humor in the littlest things or else you will just be overwhelmed by the littlest things. Like when my toddler brings in three nighttime stories and I think to myself, “hah, we will see how far we get through these..” and we make it through 1 book okay, but then it starts to go south from the little fox having enough and I start to skip pages and paraphrase horribly to wrap it all up and get out as quick as possible. But then as I lie in bed having nursed the littlest fox to sleep, I feel guilty. One of my favorite parts of our day is us cuddled up in bed together, the baby sitting in my lap and the toddler with his arm around mine as we read stories that I enjoy just as much as he does. I feel like I’m stealing this time away from my eldest, but there isn’t really a choice. When my baby cries hysterically because he just wants me to hold him but I have to sit him down to take my eldest to the bathroom (who of course exclaims, “I not go” the second I put him on the potty.) I hear the baby crying and I feel guilty. But then again, there isn’t really a choice.
If I am being completely and utterly honest with you, I have a confession to make. There was a period of time, toward the end of the colic phase for my youngest, when I sat crying as my baby’s cries seemed to amplify like a crescendo and my toddler began to yell, that I asked myself, “Did I make a mistake?” Not that I was questioning if my second child was a mistake, but did I make a mistake in thinking that I could do this, I could totally rock it as a mother to two children under the age of three? I sat there with that question echoing in my mind like the last note of a song. But then I realized, this isn’t my timing, this is God’s timing. He wouldn’t have brought the miracle of life into my life unless He was sure that I was ready. When you have more than one child, throughout the day you constantly have to decide who gets your attention or assistance at that very moment, and you almost feel like a doctor assessing which patient’s wounds are more dire. Thankfully lives aren’t exactly on the line in our line of “work.” But, it is in moments like those where that insatiable guilt seems to feed and flourish. I beg you to remind yourself, you are doing the very best you can. There are moments where tears are going to be shed by one or all, in situations where you don’t really have a choice and you have to attend to the other child’s needs.
One thing that I highly suggest is to make the most out of the time that you have with each of them individually. When your youngest is taking a nap that isn’t synchronized with the eldest’s nap (if they still nap,) ask them, “What do you want to do?” Those activities that just aren’t as baby-friendly. Savor them together and make the most of the little time that you two have where it is just as before, before you had two children. If I feel guilty as though I have not had enough time to really be present with J, when my husband is home I ask for him to spend time with the baby while I go into another room and give J my undivided attention. We are frequent Disney goers, so if it has been one of those weeks then I have my husband wear the littlest fox so I can go on all the rides with J in my lap. On the other side of the coin, the first year of a baby’s life flies by. Too much changes in such a brief moment in time. I confided in my husband, I feel like I am missing out on this critical time because I don’t get to just focus on our baby like I did when J was a baby. When my eldest is doing phenomenal with independent play, I allow myself (guilt-free) to cuddle, tickle, roll around with my baby as if it was just him and I. Those days where I desperately need to just have to focus on myself just for one hour, for both of them to nap so I can quiet my mind and take time for myself and it just doesn’t happen. Embrace it as just a little more extra time with whoever it is is protesting sleep. I know you needed that time for yourself (trust me I know..) but this time is fleeting and now is the time to catch up on cuddles, interrupted reading, and extended time playing with just them.
A beautiful truth that I want you to keep in mind is: although our children are not getting all of us to themselves entirely, what they are getting is a sibling who fills that gap that is created. They are getting a playmate who is just as enthusiastic about trains, Sesame street, cardboard boxes turned into makeshift spaceships, as they are. They are getting a dear confidant when they enter situations where they feel we, the parents, would just not understand. They are getting a best friend forever. It may not be as easy to see when your youngest is not even mobile yet, but the time is soon. When my youngest, beaming with curiosity, eagerly watches his older brother play with trains I daydream of them standing side-by-side at their train table and playing together, both sounding out enthusiastic, high-pitched “choo-choos.” The time is soon when they will see each other as playmates and be completely unaware of what it is to see that gap we used to fill entirely. Give yourself grace, you are doing the best you can and that is all that you can do. We will overcome the mommy guilt of dividing ourselves between our children when we see the amazing gift of companionship that they have between each other.
(Below: My youngest can’t even sit up yet and they are already able to bond over activities “shared” together. My eldest is obsessed with anything space related, so here is the two of them enjoying a “moon base.” These are the beautiful, simple, priceless moments I live for.)
How do you make it work and overcome the guilt?