My first post in this two-part series focused on the pros and cons of having two kids under two. In this post, I’ll share the practical tips and perspectives that I have learned along the way.
Here we go!
Experiment with naptime and see what you can get away with.
-If at ALL possible, try to schedule their days so that you get at least a little bit of naptime overlap. For the first 5 months of her life, Riley could only stay awake for about 2 hours at a time. Zoe typically naps for about 1.5-2 hours. I realized early on that I could usually get at least a little overlap if I did some calculating, then pushed Zoe a little bit later or put her to sleep a little early based on when I expected Riley to be asleep. For a while, I got about an hour of overlap most days, which was glorious (especially since I used that time to work on grants, grading, etc). That being said…
-Remember that routines don’t last long with this phase of life. Case in point: right now, my girls are on completely opposing schedules. Thankfully, I had anticipated that this might happen and had increased my childcare hours to compensate for the missed “naptime” work time, so I’m not stressed if their naps don’t line up (just exhausted! Ha!)
-As possible, utilize on-the-go napping. For the first 4.5 months, Riley napped beautifully on the go. I usually gave her one nap on the go in the Ergo or stroller in the morning while I did an activity with Zoe, one great nap at home, and then one cat nap (often in the stroller or Ergo again) while we roamed the neighborhood or played outside. It seemed to work fine for that phase where she could “tune out” easily. Now, however, she seems to be needing two good naps at home. This brings me to my next point.
Set your house up for success.
-Riley seems to be needing more at-home nap time, which makes it harder to go to the park, enriching classes, museums, and zoo as much as Zoe and I used to. In response, I have made our house and yard a bit more “fun” than they used to be. Two examples:
1) We can’t always go to the park, so I brought the park to Zoe! We have a sandbox, slides, little car, small playhouse, t-ball set, toddler basketball goal, and a water table. It sounds like a lot, but our yard is relatively large and all of these items were hand-me-downs, gifts, curbside freebies, or consignment store deals. We also have fun with bubbles, “painting with water” on the sidewalk, collecting pine cones, watching cars/trucks go by, waving to airplanes, sidewalk chalk, kicking a ball around, chasing lizards, and throwing berries to the squirrels—all this while Riley sleeps feet away inside (I usually prop the screen door open, but a monitor would also work).
2) I also beefed up our craft closet. Crafts are great because you can strap the toddler into his/her high chair to do them…i.e., they are restrained! This is a great activity to pull out for the toddler when you need to feed the baby or rock the baby to sleep. I usually plan a few crafts a week (Pinterest is a great resource, but so are parenting books or my imagination) and I have enough “general” craft supplies that we can be creative (paints, crayons, Dot-dots, stickers, different types of paper, foam sheets, etc).
-Create a place for your baby in every room of the house. You never know when you will need to put the baby down to hastily attend to a toddler. Don’t complicate things by having to scramble for a safe spot for the baby! Rugs, blanket, Exersaucer, swing, vibrating chair, foam mats—screw your decorating scheme and make it look like a toddler and a baby threw up all over your house (chances are good that they literally will anyway).
-As possible, have friends come to your house for playtime. I am so thankful for the friends who have visited us over the last 5.5 months. It is way easier for us to host a playdate than to travel to visitors or a meeting spot, and it is easier to meet Riley’s sleep needs when friends visit us here. We still leave our house most mornings, but since it takes two hours to get everybody fed, dressed, and out the door, any morning where we can cut the “out the door” part is greatly appreciated.
Additionally, friends with older kids are such an asset. You can chat with them while holding your baby and their older kids can play with your toddler! PRICELESS!
Set priorities, and don’t be afraid to take shortcuts to make them happen.
-One of my priorities is that my family eats healthfully. To get there with two kids, I have had to use some shortcuts…and I’m totally okay with it.
I used to never used to buy steam-in-the-microwave potatoes, pre-chopped onions, pre-cut squash, frozen brown rice, and other prepared foods like these until I had two kids under two and realized: I’m the person they make this stuff for. Prepared food and cooking shortcuts can make the difference between “PB&J with a side of resentment for dinner” and “a healthy, balanced dinner.” This season is ridiculously intense. If you can remotely afford it, buy the stuff that makes it easiest for you.
Similarly, don’t stress if your meals are basic and often repeated. This stage of life isn’t forever; everyone will survive if you serve the same 10-15 meals over and over again. If it can be cooked in that tiny window before everyone melts down and it’s healthy, you’ve found a winner and should probably make it next week too.
Finally, have a take-out option ready for those nights when it is just. not. happening. I am not a take-out gal, but there are times when the options are me dissolving into a puddle of tears before feeding everyone popcorn, and ordering takeout. In those situations, to be in line with my priority, I pick take-out.
-Another priority? Personal hygiene. To accomplish this, Zoe hops in the shower with her dad in the morning and I bathe Riley in the kitchen sink while Zoe eats breakfast nearby. Are they missing out on the joy of fun bath time? Possibly, but they get clean in a way that works with our schedules. Similarly, I shower at night once the kids are in bed. Is that my preference? Does going to bed with a wet head produce a great hairstyle? Nope, but it gets me clean while everyone else stays safe. The end result matters most in this case.
Be realistic. Reduce your expectations.
-That sounds depressing, but if you expect to be able to have the same life that you had with one child, you’ll be disappointed. It’s going to be different. You won’t be able to accomplish as much as you’re used to or be as comfortable with your day-to-day life as you’re used to, at least for a while. BUT…you have a whole new person in your family and they’ll be with you forever. That is cool! Try to savor it.
It has helped me to think of this as a new job. You never feel comfortable or competent at the beginning of a new job, but eventually, you get in the swing of things and start to feel more capable. Now, the difference between that scenario and this one is that you can’t quit, and you’re not paid, and there are horrible working conditions and no worker’s comp for your injuries…actually, this sounds awful, and if I am completely honest: sometimes it IS awful. But when you begin to accept the crazy and unpredictable mess that is your daily life instead of resisting and complaining about it, you will feel peace and will be able to find joy and purpose knowing that you have the privilege of transforming babies into humans who will contribute to the world in amazing ways. It’s an incredible gift. This blog post has a great perspective that has really helped me.
Also, there are hilarious moments. Allow yourself to enjoy them.
-If someone offers help and it would actually be helpful, take it. That’s something I’m really working on…that if someone says “I’d love to come to your house and watch one of the girls so you can get some one-on-one time,” or “can I hold Riley so you can chase Zoe?” or “do you want me to watch the girls so you can go to the grocery store?” or “I made extra soup. Want some?” and it would actually be helpful, and I trust them to help me well…to say yes. My default is “no thank you, I’m self-sufficient,” but honestly, it often serves my family better if I can swallow my pride, drop my sense of control, and accept the help. This leads me to my next point.
-Find a good sitter that you trust. Regularly use him/her for date nights, time alone with one of your kids, time alone in your house (this is what my work time is for me!) or time alone out of your house. There may be people out there who can live the two-under-two life 24/7 without sinking into a deep depression or wanting to kill someone, but I am not one of them. Having a few hours a week where I am not responsible for the care and well-being of two completely dependent children has been absolutely critical to my sanity. A giant thank you to all those who have watched my children. You are the reason I can be a good parent the rest of the time.
-You might have been a no-TV mom with one kid, but you’re about to meet your best friend: TV. I use TV 15-20 minutes a day with Zoe, usually around 11:30 pm. During that time, I feed Riley a bottle while checking my email, and prepare our lunches. Without that 20 minutes, I give Riley stomach issues from chasing Zoe around the house while yanking a bottle in and out of her mouth, may go until 5 pm without connecting with the outside world, and eat pretzel Goldfish for lunch (if I even eat lunch). It helps.
-Both kids don’t have to be happy at all times. This was a hard mindset for me to accept at first, but sometimes, you’re doing your best and both kids are crying anyway. In those moments, take a deep breath, identify the most important priority, and meet it. Sometimes, the baby needs her bottle and the toddler will just have to have a meltdown in the corner. Sometimes, the toddler needs some love and the baby will need to cry for a few minutes in her crib. Sometimes, you need some exercise and your kids will have to cry in the stroller for a few minutes so you can stretch your legs and shake off the stir-craziness.
Take care of yourself.
-One of my biggest paradigm shifts ever happened when Riley was 4 months old, and I realized: I don’t just have to meet TWO people’s needs during the course of the day. I need to meet THREE people’s needs. In other words, my needs count too. I typically work a 13-15 hour day with these children. Sometimes they nap together; often they do not (and nap time is often work time anyway). It is unrealistic to expect that I will have no needs during that time frame, or to expect that I can meet all of my needs during that 2-3 hour window after they go to sleep when I am exhausted and resetting the house for the next day.
Thus, I realized that I HAVE to make certain things happen for myself: showering, exercising, eating, and occasional socialization. Without these things, I end up feeling like a caged animal. And caged animals lash out.
-Make the things you enjoy most happen, even if it’s for 10 minutes at a time. I sometimes put on workout DVDs and do the workout until someone melts down. Even if I got 7 minutes in, it felt nice. I order two books a month from Amazon (because going to the library to search for a book myself is not happening,) and I read them when I cook, wash bottles, feed bottles, and brush my teeth. I listen to podcasts and sermons while playing with Riley. I occasionally talk on FaceTime or the phone until someone begins to act out. I have written this blog post in short increments over 1.5 week, and although I would like to have sat down and typed it out in one relaxing writing session, that’s not my life stage right now.
-Accept your feelings without judgment. At the beginning, I was too busy keeping everyone alive to acknowledge my feelings. Then when I acknowledged them, some of them scared me. Why wasn’t I grateful for every second of my time with my kids? A conversation with a mom of triplets in which she told me that babysitting my kids for two hours had been (insert significant look) “a LOT” reminded me that oh, maybe because I am freaking EXHAUSTED, and this is HARD, and it’s okay to feel that way. If you’re reading this blog and find yourself identifying with this point, let me just give you a gentle reminder that your feelings are okay, and that they don’t make you a bad mom.
-Free yourself—as much as possible—to enjoy the good stuff.
My house has not been deep cleaned in a month. And I don’t care.
As the poem goes, “The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.”
I didn’t take a maternity leave with Riley, and in between our move, work, and getting used to two kids, I don’t feel like I was able to savor those first few months with her as much as I wish I had. But regret is a memorable teacher.
I have made some changes, and in 2015, I am going to lie down on the floor and play more, cuddle more, take Zoe out for cookies more, and allow myself to ENJOY these kids. Because this time, even in all its craziness, is really, really sweet.
Moms who have been there—if you have any additional tips to add, I’d love to read them!