In May 2019, we welcomed our second child, a baby girl named Aila, into the world. At the time our son, Max, was just 20 months old. I’ll be honest, Baby #2 was an early surprise. Had things gone to plan we would had waited a tad bit longer to avoid the whole “2 under 2” phase. Now that a lot of my friends are now on their second pregnancies, I get asked a lot about how my husband and I have dealt with the transition of one kids to two, how my son has adjusted with having a new baby around, and how we managed 2 under 2. This was our experience.
My first thought when I found out I was pregnant again was Max. He had only turned 1 two weeks before I found out. How was he going to handle this? How could I get him to understand what was happening? When will I need to start getting his new room ready? I've heard the horror stories of older siblings lashing out at parents or the new baby, or just getting totally shoved to the side. Clearly, we were not just going to brush him to the side and forget about him, but I'll be honest, Max was a bit of a Mama's Boy (and still is) so I was really worried about him having to now share me with someone else.
I read somewhere that the transition from 1 to 2 kids is more like 1 to 100. I could not agree more with this statement. A lot of what we learned after having our second baby came out of pure survival and trial and error, but there are a few key things we took away from our adventure into the two-kid world that helped our first born transition well into becoming a big brother.
Book for the older sibling. Before Aila was even born, it looked like the best way to start preparing an older sibling for a new baby was to read them books about becoming Big Brothers/Sisters. I was skeptical about this. Like I said, Max was barely over a year old, I really didn't think he was going to understand enough from a book about what was going on, especially after my failed attempts to explain to him that he cannot jump on Mommy’s belly because there is a baby in there. But, I got him this book, and we read it every night. It wasn’t until after Aila was born and I had him start helping with baby things (which he loved to do!) that I realized that the book did have an impact on him. Especially when we continued to read it and he would point to the baby and the brother in the book and say “Aila! Max!” – he had made the connection from the book to what was going on in real life.
Routine. We made the decision to keep Max in daycare full time after the baby arrived. Not only so I could have time alone with the baby and not have to worry about entertaining a toddler, but to keep his routine as consistent as we could. His world was already changing so much at home, that we felt it was important for him to still have his own thing to go to everyday where things remained relatively the same.
Obviously in some situations daycare is not an option, understandably, but I think if you keep routines consistent regardless of what they are, it can make things significantly easier. Toddlers thrive off of routines. Knowing what to expect helps them to remain calm and help them feel more in control. So, whether that is getting up and getting ready to go to school, or getting up, getting ready and getting right into an activity before an 11am naptime, sticking to a routine as best as you can is super important.
Involvement. We tried to involve Max in anything we could when Aila arrived. From the first day she was home he was already helping to hold her bottles, would be the first one to grab her dropped pacifier and pop it back in her mouth and would happily run dirty diapers to the garbage for us. Sometimes I would have him help me pick out her clothes or pat her back to burp her. Anything he could safely do for her I would have him do. I really feel like this gave him a sense of responsibility towards her and it didn’t isolate him or give him a reason to feel like she was taking time with his parents away from him. We were all in this together.
Being on the same page as parents. Whether you are co-parenting with your current spouse, ex, or other member of your village, talk about the kind of parents you want to be to your kids; what character trains and values you want to instill in your kids and how you want them to treat others. Me and my husband are on the same page 95% of the time when it comes to parenting. There is no good cop bad cop in our scenario. We know that we want our kids to be compassionate, empathetic, kind human beings with the ability to check themselves when they need to. Being consistent with parenting, like with routines, helps our toddler feel safe and secure. Disagreeing on parenting goals can send conflicting messages to toddlers and this will a) make them feel insecure, and b) likely result in tantrums, extreme boundary pushing, and just straight up chaos. Things that are not needed when a new baby is around!
One-on-One time. This one has been a game changer for us. Every day I will set aside at least 15 minutes for Max and I to spend time together. This can be playing, cooking, cleaning, whatever. It just needs to be a set period of time where he has me all to himself, no distractions (no phones, Mommy!). Usually it will either be when his sister naps, or after she goes to bed. Sometimes if we’re lucky we can get some time alone before school too before his sister and daddy get up. I started implementing this at the suggestion of his teacher at pre-school when I mentioned that I had noticed he had been acting up a lot around the time his sister was 6 months old. His “acting up” was just a cry for attention and I realized that I hadn’t been giving him that individual attention. I had taken for granted how well he seemed to have been adjusting and was subconsciously expecting more from him than I should have – he’s only 2 for goodness sakes! Once I started setting aside that time and giving him “Max and Mommy time”, things totally shifted. He seemed calmer and happier. Obviously it can’t happen every single day. And some days maybe it’s only 10 minutes, others just a little cuddle in the morning before he gets out of bed, but that one-on-one attention I think reminds him of his importance to us. It’s also become a special thing that he looks forward to and he’ll often say to me “Aila goes to sleep, Max-Mommy-time” if he’s having a bad day or if his sister is being fussy. That tells me that that time is something he truly values.
I won’t lie, the transition from 1 to 2 is hard AF. Even if all of the tips I mention above work out, you still have to deal with doing two dinner and two bedtime routines solo while your significant other is working late; giving one a bath while the other is peeing all over the floor; putting PJ’s on one while the other has her tiny fist pulling your hair with the strength of a tiny UFC fighter. Obviously things aren’t perfect, we still deal with separation anxiety and tantrums (look our for another post on how we deal with those joyous events!), but what I can proudly say is that Max does adore his little sister. He may lash out, but never directs his anger at her, and that’s all I’ve wanted. I won’t kid myself into thinking it will always be this way, but us Moms have to take these small wins where we can, am I right?