And then there were two….
Transitioning from one to two (or more) kids
It wasn’t too long ago that I was pregnant with my second child, seriously sleep deprived and terrified my somewhat tenuous grip on control was about to be destroyed (again). Everything I read back then either felt overly doomsday (it’s all going to fall apart) or toxically positive (you’ll be FINE!).
What I was really looking for was a practical, honest but also hopeful account of what I was in for. And so several years later and through the transition I was so terrified of, I wrote one myself. I hope that it offers relief, compassion and a reminder of all the skills and gifts you already have that will see you through this life-changing transition.
First of all, let’s normalise all the feels. Feeling grief over the end of the relationship with your first child as you know it? Totally normal. Feeling guilt that things are going to change? Makes sense! Having anxiety about both the practical and relational implications of a second child? Of course! Feeling frustrated at those around you as you battle overwhelm, pregnancy fatigue or the juggle of everyday life? Yep, felt that one too.
As I always say, making space for and acknowledging what you’re actually feeling (even if you think it’s silly), rather than pushing it down is vital to take care of your own mental health in the lead up to the transition. If the transition into parenthood was rough, it’s going to be natural that your body and mind remember the overwhelm, fear or confusion that you felt so make sure that you have a mental health care team or plan around you both in the lead up to and after the second baby arrives.
You will absolutely make it through this transition, because you’ve gained SO many skills and perspectives since you did it last time (multi-tasking, infant care, prioritisation, empathy, asking for help, self soothing etc.). You may not be able to see how much you’ve grown, but I can. And it’s worthwhile remembering that every day and month that goes by is preparing you to meet and love this new little being when they arrive earthside.
At the same time, it will inevitably come with some challenges which are to be expected in ANY transition. It may be harder to bond with your second simply because you don’t have the same amount of time you had with your first. Remember you’ve known your first child way longer – so give yourself time and grace as you find connection with your second (and normalise the fact that the bond will likely look different and that’s OK!). On a physical level, recovery can be harder when you’re chasing another little person around or picking up two babies, not just one. Time for your own self care may seem harder to come by and you may notice you’re frustrated more easily or in overwhelm more often. Just like starting a new job where you feel clumsy and out of your depth, it can take time for you as a family to make space around this new little being and their needs and rhythm. Acknowledging both sides of the coin – all the joy, love and excitement that will come as well as preparing in advance how to cope with the challenges will make the transition easier on everyone. And did I mention that it’s super cool to ASK FOR HELP?
All that being said here are some very practical ways to prepare for baby number two or three that I offer to all of my clients on the cusp of becoming parents again. I hope they are as helpful for you as they have been for them.
- PLAY is your one way ticket to helping the older sibling work through their feelings and re-regulate after baby’s arrival (as well as in the lead up!). Oftentimes they will mask their feelings for a period after baby and appear to be coping really well, but a couple of months in the wheels will fall off and they may need a bit of extra assistance to process in the language they know best – PLAY. Check out some resources on attachment play for some ideas of what works best in this context.
- Create a self care or mental health care plan for yourself for after baby arrives including people you can call, resources you can call on, or things that you find regulating and supportive in times of stress, overwhelm or fatigue. Ensure that you are accessing supports that are compassionate and understanding, rather than shaming or belittling. You will be (and always are) doing the best you can.
- Try to keep routines (daycare or kinder) consistent for your older child, but also be willing to be flexible if they are struggling to meet the expectations and demands upon them. Where possible, have a trusted carer or two that you are able to call if you need some help with them and give them lots of autonomy over little things so they have a sense of agency and control.
- Relax your expectations – if your first child watches more TV, or you eat more take away, your baby’s nappy doesn’t get changed every hour, or you and your partner don’t keep up with regular date nights for a bit, that’s OK! It won’t be this way forever.
- Find things that meet everyone’s needs like a bath with all of you, lying on the grass, shared nap time, having a floor picnic, playing with sensory toys. Try and avoid orienting too much to the demands of your children without also thinking about your own needs as that can lead to resentment and burnout.
If you want more support in the lead up to or after your baby’s arrival, please don’t hesitate to reach out to arrange a session. I’d love to help your family welcome your precious new member that will bring so much joy and love to your household for all the years to come.