With the exception of one (very) long weekend as a foster parent, I’ve never parented a toddler and a newborn at the same time. But that very long weekend did give me a (relatively) brief glimpse into how utterly crazy and exhausting it would be. We put so much emphasis, as a society, on preparing for the first baby. But that second baby? That’s when shit gets real.
So I asked all the experienced parents of our Offspring Facebook parenting group: How can parents prepare for (and survive) the arrival of their second child? And they came through with some solid advice.
Get the toddler ready in advance
Even if your toddler is too young to grasp what a pregnancy is or what a baby is or how their life is about to change, there are some things you can do to prepare them.
Talking about the baby throughout the pregnancy—and reading lots of big brother/big sister books—is a good start. If one parent is going to be caring for the newborn more, such as a breastfeeding mum, the other parent should start to take over more of the toddler parenting tasks during the pregnancy so there is no abrupt change in, say, their bedtime routine the moment you return from the hospital with an infant interloper in tow.
In the months before her second child was born, Offspring Facebook group member Lauren said it was helpful to lean in to getting her toddler interested in activities he could do largely on his own for bursts of time.
“If you think a toddler is too young,” Lauren says, “Djeco makes some great progressive puzzles that teach them the mechanics—my two-and-a-half-year-old now does 24-48 piece [puzzles].”
Enlist your toddler’s help
Little kids desperately want to be big helpers. Even if they don’t seem particularly interested in (or fond of) the new baby, they love the positive attention they receive for helping you. They can go fetch a new diaper or a swaddle blanket or a pacifier. They can help during diaper changes by handing you wipes, or they can help put on the baby’s socks. These little tasks might take longer with your toddler’s “help,” but it’s worth it if they take pride in the job.
And as much as possible—especially if the toddler is like, “Eh, don’t care too much about this new family member”—call them over to share in the good moments with the baby. When the baby is smiling or, as they get a little older, in a playful mood, that’s the time to try to bring their toddler sibling in on the fun.
Lower. Those. Expectations.
Get ready: There’s going to be a lot of crying. The baby, the toddler (… and you). When both kids are crying, tend to the toddler first whenever possible, lest you throw them into a jealous rage and make it all so much worse.
And all that extra screen time? Is fine, as Kelly in our Facebook group reminds us:
Don’t be too hard on yourself! My older son is getting more screen time than I’d like right now but we watch learning videos and honestly, it is fine. Beating myself up over that was causing me added anxiety. It was my husband who finally said I needed to be a bit gentler with myself in terms of what I expected to get done in a day with both little ones. Once I let go of those expectations, it’s been much easier.
A few more ideas
Members of our group shared a few other tidbits of advice for getting through those early, exhausting months:
“Have a breastfeeding box at the ready full of things you and your toddler can do together whilst feeding. Ideas to go in there: favourite books, bubbles for you to blow and the toddler to pop, a doll or teddy for them to feed, etc.” (Elaine)
“Separate safe areas! I had a playpen for my one-year-old and a travel cot for my baby. When I needed to go to the toilet I could put them both in safe places they couldn’t escape from.” (Kirsty)
“If you can, continue to send your toddler to daycare while you’re on maternity leave. You want/need that time alone with baby and your toddler needs that structure. Of course, this may not be possible given COVID-19, but when/if that is an option, do it.” (Stefanie)
“Be intentional at addressing the younger child like you would the older one. ‘[Younger child], I will be right back; I need to help [older child] with xyz thing,’ so the older child is not just hearing you tell them all the time they need to wait for something until you finish helping baby.” (Ashley)
Wear the baby. It frees up your hands to manage the toddler. Double strollers are good, too, but seriously—wear the baby. On walks, around the house, whenever. (Everyone in the group)
Oh, and one last bit of wisdom comes from group member Mez, who says, “Eat whenever someone else is eating.” It’s the newer, better version of, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.”