No one can deny it, the entry into motherhood is a rocky one. After all, when you’ve never before had a growing, wailing human to care for round-the-clock, a newborn baby may as well be a question mark instead of a sweet-cheeked cherub.
The good news here is that there is no transition as jarring as going from zero children to one. Everything from pregnancy to birth to adjusting at home seems to go smoother for every family member the second time around. But the arrival of a second baby is not without its complications. Suddenly, nap time seems impossible. Getting out of the house may feel like a herculean task. Balancing one baby’s needs with another’s can be an unfair equation — which is to say nothing of the utter chaos that kicks in when every small child in the house erupts into tears.
In my limited experience of a mom to a 5 and 1-year-old, I have learned that the secret to getting out of survival mode lies within my oldest. If I can keep her curiosity activated and encourage responsibility and independence, we have a shot at a balanced, mostly peaceful, and straightforward day. How do I do it? Well, I’m certainly not perfect, but I have a handful of simple and practical tactics I rely on.
1. Create an activity basket
Stock a basket with activities that will keep your little one quietly engaged. Look to stickers, coloring books, paper dolls, or puzzles — anything that will capture your child’s attention and give you the time you need to tend to your baby. The trick here is to keep the contents of this basket an exciting surprise so that your kiddo looks forward with anticipation to unpacking it. The basket is not a consolation prize for losing time with you; instead, it’s a special invitation for a moment of discovery and solo play. Keep things fresh by regularly rotating the items inside.
2. Make use of Montessori
Raise your hand if you’ve ever balanced a baby while simultaneously slipping into your shoes and wrangling your toddler into his or her jacket. Well, I have news for you: this balancing act is about as fun as it is unnecessary. Instead, bring in some simple practices borrowed from the Montessori method to give your older child some autonomy while getting dressed. First, this season of life calls for simplicity in any place you can find it. So set aside any clothing your little one cannot slip into unassisted. If he or she cannot tie shoes, go for slip-ons or velcro. And teach your kiddo the life-changing Montessori coat flip to remove yourself from the getting-dressed-for-outdoors equation.
3. Make a visual schedule
Our children thrive on structure, routine, and predictability. Help your little one anticipate the day — and keep it running smoothly — by creating a graphic-based schedule. First, with your child’s help, list every activity that he or she partakes in throughout the week and write each on its own index card. Without getting too granule, be sure to include everyday actions such as eating breakfast and going to school, alongside more exciting treats like going to the park or library. Google image search a graphic to represent each action, et voila — the makings of a daily calendar even non-readers can comprehend. You can use a pocket chart, or add magnets and tack them to your fridge. Whatever the case, make a practice of helping your child assemble his or her schedule the night before. Then stand back and watch as the days ahead run smoother than you thought possible.
4. Keep snacks accessible
It must be an unwritten rule that children are suddenly starving the moment you’re unable to get to the kitchen. Avoid a toddler meltdown by keeping a cache of healthy snacks accessible to your little one. That way, when you’re held hostage on the couch by a breastfeeding baby, your toddler can retrieve a snack and bring it back to enjoy by your side. World War III successfully side-stepped — for now at least.
5. Bring in a good gadget
Gone are the days of micromanaging your child’s mornings. Surviving in a house with multiple children means coaxing your oldest into taking on more responsibility. Want to get out of the house on time? Then your kiddo needs to step up to the plate. Bring in an icon-based watch, like the Octopus by Joy, that buzzes with visual reminders that prompt children to brush teeth, wash hands for lunch, prep for a bath, and more.
6. Lower your expectations
When I need a few moments to rock the baby to sleep, the last thing I need is my 5-year-old at my side. She’s impulsive, impatient, and can’t yet distinguish between a whisper and a lion’s roar. If all my best mom hacks fail and I can’t engage her in some creative and quiet play, I do what I can… I turn on the TV. Parenting, I’ve discovered, is a practice in lowering your expectations. Parenting two or more children is doubly so.