There is nothing like that phase – the newborn phase of cuddles, feeding, burping, a thousand nappy changes, and figuring out if they are crying because they need cuddles, feeding, burping, and/ or a nappy change. Now add a very energetic toddler into the equation and you can very quickly feel a tornado building, circling back and forth to try and meet the needs of both your kids. For me, this was probably the part I felt most unprepared for as we entered the new phase as a family of four.
There will probably be two types of people reading this – parents who have been through the phase and sympathise/ laugh, and the others who are not at this phase wondering how hard it could be.
Preparing for birth a second time, there seems to be expectation that you will just be able to manage more easily. And yes, some things are easier because you've been through the birth and newborn phase before, but there are so many firsts, even the second time around. Like how do you manage breastfeeding the newborn as well as your toddler's meal times, or potty training? There will be lucky days where everyday events like these line up well, but many more that don't.
I remember how I felt the first time it was just me and the two boys. Alone. At home. All day. How was I going to manage? I was lucky enough to have hubby home for over a month after Cooper was born, and I was definitely getting used to it.
I had spoken to a few family members and friends about strategies they had used when they were adjusting. Thank goodness I did. But nothing prepares you enough until you go through it. Like, how to make the best decisions on when to soothe and when to let them cry out when your toddler is trying to get your attention, or how to discipline your toddler when you have your hands tied, feeding baby - especially with broken sleep. Not to mention the serious mum guilt (it’s definitely a thing) remembering what it was like when you could give your first born all the attention they were used to getting, and now trying to divide that attention between your kids. It can sometimes make you feel inadequate. Add in all those hormones trying to balance themselves out in the post-natal period, and you can quickly jump to conclusions and make harsh judgements your own abilities.
By the end of that first day, I was frazzled. Hubby came home to the house turned upside down. The laundry with clothes half hung on the line, and half still wet in the basket. I had made half an attempt at cooking dinner. And by attempt, I mean I cut up half an onion, which I had started doing some time after morning tea. Now, making it through to three months feels like a HUGE milestone, and I’ve found so many of my own ways to manage that it is hard to even think about how crappy those first few weeks felt.
All you can do is remember that you are doing your best, and trying to compare to others or, worse, a more “together” version of yourself is not helpful. It is different, and it is supposed to be that way. This is something I have to keep telling myself all the time. Other people get through it, so there has to be a way but it is ok to admit that it is a challenge and that you need help. Juggling a newborn and toddler can be a challenge, let alone thinking of how to keep all the other things in check, like having an organised house, doing the groceries, and planning what you and the whole family will be eating.
Now that we are all adjusting to the new normal with social distancing, I am grateful that I have extra hands and support at home again. A blessing in this crazy time of a pandemic. But for those who are still going through this transition, or preparing themselves for baby number two, here are some things that have helped me get by so far with food habits, and well, just life so far:
Accept that this is a change, and lower your expectations. Knowing what a toddler should be eating is hard enough, let alone getting it into them. Aim for one task per day only (maybe even zero) It is a phase after all, and no matter what, it will always shift.
Try to be creative and enjoy the challenge – we've been trying to have more backyard picnics and changing the scene to manage emotions. Toddler tantrums don’t have to be a big scary thing. Kids are kids and they don't want to annoy or irritate you, and I personally saw a big difference when I changed how I was viewing it. So many people tell you about the terrible twos, and threes, and honestly, I was just preparing myself in the wrong way. Instead, doing things like asking to help with putting nappies in the bin and giving praise for being a great big brother is helping Archie adapt so well.
Be prepared where you can, especially with food – The only thing worse than a “hangry” toddler, is a “hangry” mother. I've found it really helpful to prepare lunchboxes, snacks and water bottles the night before to make it easy when I only have one hand free. This also means I remember to eat, because there were definitely days at the start where I was not getting the amount that I needed in. My baby carrier has become an essential everyday item, even more so than the first! Witching hour at the end of the day makes it hard to juggle, and I find wearing baby has been a huge help, even more so this time around. Sometimes though, when it is melt-down city, and we aren't prepared enough, we get to survival mode and basic is best as long as we eat something. Whether it is a slice of bread with a spoonful of salmon (out of a can of course, because who has time for anything fancier), and throw in a whole cucumber and, boom, we've got a “balanced" meal.
Convenience, convenience, convenience! Whether it is frozen veggies or a healthy frozen meal, or ordering groceries for pick up or delivery. All I can say is thank goodness for Amazon at this point in time!
Finally, understand that guilt is normal when you want the best for your kids, but don’t let that block your view of the bigger picture. They will grow up, they will be able to play together one day, and it will get easier. That is always easier said when you are on the other side of it, but just know that you will get there.