Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On Being a Mother of Two

I have been wanting to write a post about what being a mother of two has been like for me for months now. I started a draft back when E.J. was just a few months old, but, you know, I was a mother of two small children and we had other things going on and I never finished it. I picked it back up when E.J. was six months, but still couldn't get it done. Then I wanted to have it written by the time he was a year, yet here we are...he's almost 14 months.

But now I'm finally doing it, and I'm glad it took me so long. I've been doing this mothering-two-kids thing for over a year now, and I feel I have a little better perspective on it with some distance from the newborn grind. Of course, I'm sure that in a year or two I'll re-read this post and realize how I was still much more in the thick of it than I currently realize and my perspective will be even better improved, but this is where we are today.

In some respects, going from one kid to two is easier than going from no kids to your first. When you first make the jump to parenthood, your entire life changes. It's a huge adjustment to have to always put someone else's needs at the top of your priority list. By the time you bring in the second baby, things still change, but your life is already pretty kid-focused so your day-to-day life is less noticeably different.

However, becoming a mother of two is not as simple as just doing the whole "new baby" thing all over again. It changes the dynamic and brings a whole slew of new challenges.

Parenting Different Children

Being a mother of two means learning how to parent all over again. As I said, it's not as simple as just doing the same parenting dance all over again. Because, yes, you've had a newborn before, so in theory you know what you're doing—but you've never had this newborn before.

In my experience, the only truly useful piece of wisdom that carried over from one child to the next for me was that each phase is fleeting. Starting over again is easier in that you know that nothing is forever: the baby will eventually stop crying, the baby will eventually sleep, the baby will eat/sit/crawl/walk/dance a jig, the seemingly endless days will end, and the world will keep turning. I found that knowledge very comforting, because sometimes in the beginning you get lost in that new-baby haze and it feels that the present moment is all that will be for the rest of time. It's good to be able to pull yourself out of that fog and get some perspective, and an older child running around provides constant perspective that this too shall pass.

However, at least in my case, each child was and is extremely different and I have had to learn how to parent each according to their needs. E.J. just doesn't need the same mother that Ellie did. Ellie, for example, was always very demanding of my attention. As a newborn, she required my constant closeness and, often, my movement to help her sleep. I would bounce her on an exercise ball until my back ached and my arms trembled because if I dared put her down, she would wake and cry and we'd start all over. As she got older and started to play, she liked to sit in one place on the floor and study her toys, and she expected me to be there with her. She would often spend hours handing me toys to play with alongside her, or books to read to her. Even when she started to play "independently," she wanted me to be in the room with her. All this is still the case; she almost never plays in her room alone by choice.

E.J., on the other hand, is a very independent child. From the get-go, he never wanted to be rocked to sleep; he wanted to be put down so he could do it himself. Now, when he plays, he moves all over the room, inspecting things on his own and then moving on to the next. If I'm there, he'll check in with me from time to time, but he's not really concerned about my presence either way. (If I try to sit on the floor to play with him, he might climb on me a little bit then leave me in his dust.) And he is far too on the move for book-reading yet. He would much rather climb the walls and empty the toy boxes than sit still and play or read.

Each child's personality requires different things from me, and even at only 14 months into it I'm learning that it is important for me to figure out what each child needs and how best to tailor my parenting to be the best mother for each of them, as individuals. I'm sure this will be an ever-evolving process.

Environmental Differences

In addition to their personality differences, I am constantly amazed at how different their environments will be from each other. When Ellie was a baby, she had my constant focus. I talked to her nonstop throughout the day, narrating our activities and speaking softly. She heard near-constant language, but it was usually just me doing the talking. With E.J., I am more scattered, because I have more demands on my attention. I have probably done less speaking to him directly than I did for Ellie, but he has heard conversation day in and day out since the beginning. To be honest, he has heard some yelling, too. With Ellie, we limited TV pretty strictly until she was probably 18 months to two years old. But for E.J., Ellie has been watching TV so it has been on more around him. With E.J., we go places every day (like running errands or storytimes), whereas Ellie and I mostly stayed at home or just took walks. Two kids, even with the same home and parents, have very different environments in which to begin their lives. I recognize that could ultimately play a part in their development, too. I just try to make their home a safe and happy place for them and try not to dwell on the environmental differences, because I would hate to let myself get caught up in a "who had it better" spiral.

Sometimes, Somebody Just Has to Cry

Overall, by far the hardest thing for me has been finding ways to divide myself. In the beginning, when I was first at home alone with both kids, there was always this really tricky 10 minutes or so when we would get home from our morning outing. I needed to get Ellie started on lunch so she could eat while I took E.J. in for his nap, but by that point, poor E.J. was also hungry and tired and just ready to be cuddled and nursed and put to bed. So, he cried. A lot. But there was nothing I could do, because Ellie really needed to eat so she could get ready for her nap. So every day, for those 10 minutes, I would rush around like crazy to get Ellie situated with lunch while E.J. cried. And I would feel terrible. And then it would finally be his turn for my attention, and I would take him into his room, and think about Ellie sitting and eating lunch by herself and I would feel terrible (I let her watch TV, so she didn't mind, but still).

We don't have that specific 10-minute issue anymore, but the underlying message is still there: sometimes somebody just has to cry. You cannot be everything to both kids simultaneously. Sometimes you have to prioritize. You divide yourself as equally as you can but very often, somebody has to get the short end of the stick. For me, this brings a lot of guilt a lot of the time.

In fact, I just felt it last week on Ellie's first day of school. I was so excited to share it all with her. She wanted me to eat breakfast with her but I had to get E.J. up and ready for his doctor appointment. Then, I wanted to spend the rest of the day focused on Ellie's big milestone but E.J. needed bloodwork and he was overtired and I drove all over the city trying to take care of what he needed and still be at Ellie's school on time to pick her up...and, and, and. I ended the day exhausted, and proud of Ellie, but with the feeling that I hadn't really been fully present for her. I couldn't be fully present for her, because E.J. needed me, too. That's a tough pill to swallow.

I know in the end they will be fine. I am a firstborn, and presumably my mom went through the same thing with me when my sister was born. And I am fine. However, it's hard to accept that you cannot always be 100% with each kid.

More Than Enough

There is one way that you can be 100% with both at all times though, and that is in love. It is a common concern of mothers expecting their second babies that they will not be able to love another child as much as their first; that there is not enough room in their heart for that much love. I certainly felt that way. In fact, for a while Eric and I were debating having Ellie be our only child, or at least putting off the idea of a second baby indefinitely. As we were discussing this, I found out I was pregnant with E.J. I'm so glad that God made that decision for us before we had a chance to do it ourselves, but I had a hard time forming as much of a connection to my second pregnancy as I had with my first. I let my fears of childbirth overwhelm my thoughts. I worried about being able to bond as well with a son as I had with my daughter. And, I just worried if my heart could really love another baby as much as I loved Ellie.

The answer is YES: my heart can absolutely love another baby just as much as I love Ellie! So many women have this fear and it is such a silly one because OF COURSE you can love another baby as much as your first. When the second arrives, it seems obvious. Our family would not be complete without E.J. I love both my children with my whole heart. I cherish the bond I have with each of my babies, both different from the other but equally strong.

And, there is nothing like watching the bond that they are forming with each other. They adore each other. They miss each other when the other is gone. Ellie takes such great care of E.J. She is so kind and considerate and loving to him, and he just lights up when I even mention her name. Watching them together is something truly special.

I think that motherhood is a rewarding yet challenging road in general, and mothering more than one kid brings its own particular tough spots. But man, those little people are my world and I am so blessed to be their mama. Even on those really difficult days, the days filled with guilt or the days when I feel the most depleted, I collapse into bed at night and can't help but looking at pictures of my babies on my phone before I fall asleep. Even when I feel completely used up, I always end up realizing that I have more to give and I can't wait for another day of being their mother.

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