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Love Enough for Two

Whether you are just thinking about having a second child, are now expecting your second child or have recently had your second child, you've probably worried about your ability to meet the needs of two children. When I listen to parents talk about having had their second baby, they always talk about how much more challenging it is to meet everyone's needs now that there are two children. Even parents who now have three or more children say that the biggest change was going from one child to two.

Many parents say they remember worrying about whether they could ever love the second baby as much as they loved their first child. Then, when the second baby was born, they loved the new baby so much they worried that they were betraying their first child. Though they soon realized that they had love enough for two, they also realized that when the parent/child ratio of two to one became two to two there was less time for everyone. Meeting the many needs of both a baby and a young child is challenging no matter how much you love them.

While most parents feel more competent about caring for their second baby, meeting the needs of two is totally new. Those first days and weeks of caring for two can feel overwhelming. "Sleep when your baby sleeps" works well with one baby, but with two children, mom has another child to care for when the baby is sleeping. Everything is different with two. While you quickly learn that trying to feed the baby, cook dinner and build Lego's, all at once, is too stressful, it takes some time to figure out how and when to do the all things that need to be done. Many fathers say that when the second baby came they became much more involved in childcare, cooking and cleaning.

The most stressful part of caring for two is when only one parent is there and both children need you at the same time. When they are very close in age they may both need the same thing at the same time. When there is a big age difference, they may need very different things at the same time. Every age difference has its challenges.

Even if the second baby was planned and great effort was made to prepare the first child for a sibling, the first born will feel some loss when the new baby comes into the family When the new baby comes, life is never the same again. The following quote is the best description I've ever heard of what it feels like for the first born.

"Imagine how you would feel if your husband (or wife) told you that it was so great having a wife (or husband) he (or she) was going to get another wife (or husband) and you will now be sharing him (or her)!" Just because the parents are in love with the new baby doesn't mean the child should be expected to feel the same right away. The younger the first child is when the new baby arrives, the more time the child will need to bond with this new member of the family.

Children under three usually have the hardest time sharing their parents with the new baby. Many young children tell their parents they want them to send the baby back. Under-threes are still very focused on their parents and still need a lot of attention. When very young children can't get what they need, right when they need it, they get very frustrated and some may express that frustration by trying to hurt the baby. While parents must protect the baby and make it clear that hurting the baby will not be allowed, they must also recognize the behavior as an expression of the child's need for more attention. Punishing the child or withdrawing love and attention will only make the child resent the baby more. It is important to let the child know we understand how hard it is to wait when the baby needs attention and then give the child some love and attention as soon as possible.

The most important thing parents can do to make life smoother with the second baby is to take great care to make sure the first child's needs are still being well met. When children are feeling loved and their needs are being met, they have no reason to resent the baby or to behave in ways that annoy and exhaust their parents. The challenge then is to figure out ways to love and care for babies that allow parents to continue to meet the needs of the other children.

Wearing the baby in a sling is a great way to meet the needs of the baby and the older child. When the baby is in the sling, the baby's need for touch and movement is being met and you have both hands free to do more with the older child. Seeing the baby being carried may trigger a very young sibling's need to be carried, especially if they were not carried a lot as a baby. Many young children ask to be treated like a baby when the new baby comes. Allowing and meeting those temporary needs helps them move forward much more quickly than telling them they are "too big" to have those needs.

"Mini-dates" meet the older child's need for one-on-one time and attention. Whether the older child is two or ten there will be things you can do with that age child that you can't do with a baby. Because babies need to be with mom most of the time, the older child usually goes with the other parent to do "big kid" things. While that is good for their relationship with the other parent and strengthens their bond, mom and the older child need one-on-one time together too. Most babies do fine spending an hour without mom and for the older child that special hour with mom helps keep their bond strong.

Fostering close relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles and good friends helps parents meet the needs of their children. Parents who have only each other to care for their children get very little time for themselves and even less time alone as a couple. Whenever family members are available and willing to spend time with the children, parents get an opportunity to have their own needs met. When parents have their own needs met they are better able to meet their children's needs.

Hiring a "parent helper" is one of the best things parents can do for themselves and their children. A parent-helper is a young person, usually between the ages of ten and fourteen, that a parent pays to come and just play with their children while they cook dinner, clean the house, do a project or spend one on one time with one of their children.

Having a parent helper is a win-win-win solution. The young person gets to earn money before they are old enough to officially baby-sit. The children get to be with someone whose attention is fully on them. The parents get to do things they wouldn't get to do if they were home alone with the children.

The more resources parents have the better they are able to recognize, accept and appreciate each child's unique temperament and personality. Siblings can be (and often are) very different from each other. Just because they have the same parents doesn't mean they need the same kind of parenting. The more we can recognize that they each have their own needs and their own gifts, the better we can meet their needs and appreciate their gifts. Each child needs something different from us. Each child has something different to teach us. The more time we spend with our children, the better we know them. The better we know them, the better we can love them.

Pam Leo is the author of Connection Parenting: Parenting through Connection instead of Coercion, through Love instead of Fear (Wyatt-Mackenzie 2005) and is the Connection Parenting instructor for the Academy for Coaching Parents, International. Pam has been writing the Empowered Parents column for the Parent & Family paper in Maine for the last ten years. For more information, articles and reprint permissions, visit Connection Parenting.

© 1989 by Pam Leo and Connection Parenting™ Reprinted with permission of the author.