Thayer Allyson Gowdy
When Margaret DeJager gave birth to her daughter, Madeline, she hardly imagined that she would be expecting again any time soon. The first-time mom from Kinnelon, New Jersey, had endured months of fertility treatments. But DeJager was still adjusting to life with an infant when -- surprise! -- she naturally conceived Baby No. 2. Madeline was just 5 months old.
DeJager is part of a growing number of women parenting two under 2. Laura Dean, M.D., an ob-gyn in Stillwater, Minnesota, says she has noticed the trend in her practice. "More than half of our patients plan pregnancies close together," she notes.
"You get the diapers, the potty training, the sleep training all done at one time, and then you have built-in playmates," explains Linda Kerr, a mom in Vienna, Virginia, whose kids are 16 months apart. Other women say that close sibling spacing minimizes the time away from their career or paying for child care. Some parents try quickly for another child to manage fertility concerns. And of course, there are those surprise babies. Is two under 2 a possibility for you? Here's how you can balance your mommy duties.Juggling Their Naps
The Challenge: The good news is that both kids take naps; the bad news is, their snoozes rarely happen at the same time. "I was always putting one child down when the other one was getting up," recalls Megan Franks, whose daughter, Lexie, and son, Ethan, are 16 months apart. Translation: There's zero time for you to recharge. You may also feel a bit on edge from tiptoeing around your house all day, shushing your awake kiddo.
The Fix: Try to sync naptimes, which you can attempt when your youngest reaches 6 to 9 months. Be prepared to go through some trial and error, says Nicole Johnson, an infant sleep coach and founder of BabySleepSite.com. Assuming that your infant and toddler are both already on sleep schedules -- just different ones -- Johnson has found that it?s usually better to shift the baby's schedule closer to the toddler's. "One option is to move all of the baby's naps forward in 15-minute increments every day, or every other day, until one of the baby's naps coincides with the toddler's naptime," she says.
"It took a few weeks to figure out the best method to get my kids to nap at the same time," notes Lyndsay Szymanski, of Brainerd, Minnesota, mom of Madeline and Zofia, who are 12 months apart. "We ended up putting the younger one down first, because she needed a longer nap. Then I would have about a half hour to spend with my older one before her nap began. As long as my younger one was already asleep, my older one laid down to sleep as well."Responding to Both
The Challenge: Cheri Flake's firstborn, Owen, was 20 months old when she brought his baby sister, Violet, home from the hospital. "The first day that I was alone with the two of them they both woke up at the exact same time," says the Decatur, Georgia, mom. "I stood in the hallway, with all of these tears welling up, looking from right to left, thinking, 'Where do I go?'"
The Fix: Approach the question practically. This isn't about choosing one child over another. "I typically prioritize based on who has a mental need, and who has a physical one," says Jenny Bradford, of Richardson, Texas, whose children, Asher and Finn, are 16 months apart. "If the toddler is crying because he can't get the ball into the basket, and the baby is crying because she is hungry, the baby wins for that moment. But if the toddler is crying because he just fell down and needs help, and the baby is crying because she wants to be held, then the toddler wins that time."
Breastfeeding can further complicate the situation. If your tot's like most, he will decide he really needs you when you're in the middle of a nursing session with No. 2. After having six children in quick succession, Julie Cole has mastered the art of occupying a toddler while nursing a baby. "Have a few special toys that only come out when you need to breastfeed," says the Hamilton, Ontario, mom. Childproofing is also a must. "If your toddler wanders into another room while you're breastfeeding, you won't have to worry as much," Cole adds.
Since that initial day home from the hospital, when both of her children cried simultaneously, Flake has come up with her own solution: "Wear your baby to keep your hands free for your toddler," she says. "I have a carrier stashed on every floor of my house and in my car."Managing Mealtime
The Challenge: The differing food needs of a toddler and a baby will make you feel like a short-order cook.
The Fix: Compromise! "For my older child, I made his baby food instead of buying it," says Franks. "But then when my daughter was born, there just was no way I could swing that and I stocked up on store-bought baby food. I rationalized that my time was better spent bonding with my children than futzing with a blender."
Rhett Ambrite of Charleston, South Carolina, says she taught her son how to feed himself finger foods a little earlier than she would have if she didn?t have another baby on the way. Once the baby arrived, Ambrite would prepare finger food, such as a plate of cubed chicken, pasta wheels, and vegetables, ahead of time so she could just pull it out of the fridge and warm it for her 18-month-old.Leaving the House
The Challenge: "Packing up to get out the door for the playground is an hour-long effort," says Sarah Thompson, of Somis, California, whose son and daughter are 21 months apart. "I need two sets of diapers, an extra outfit for both, snacks for the toddler, carrier for the baby, nursing cover, and water for me." More challenges arise when you arrive and your toddler runs off and you have to keep up with Baby.
The Fix: "We tried to keep a second set of everything (like diapers, wipes, and juice boxes) in the back of the station wagon, so we wouldn't have to pack up every time," says mom Carrie Le Chevallier, of Garner, North Carolina, whose adopted children, Lola and Diego, are only three months apart.
Going with a friend or joining a mom group helps too. Park and play-place outings will be infinitely easier if you can turn to someone and ask, "Will you hold the baby for a minute?" Thompson joined a Friday morning park group with other moms. After that, she and another mother would "tag team" the toddlers; one of them then could sit down to nurse or change a diaper. "I also learned how to nurse the baby in the carrier, so I could walk around," she says.
Hiring a local teen is yet another option. You don't have to feel like a diva for paying a helper to patrol the playground with you for a few hours. It's the safe thing to do, as anyone who has ever tried to coax her toddler down from the monkey bars while watching her baby knows.Spreading Your Love
The Challenge: The first kid can accidentally harm the little one. "A big issue was getting our oldest, Oliver, to understand that his brother Owen was not a new toy," recalls Sarah Bloom, of Houston, Texas.
The Fix: Never leave your kiddos alone, and remember that your older child is still young, so be firm but loving when you explain to him what's not acceptable. Shari Giti, Psy.D, a child and family therapist in Hermosa Beach, California, suggests that parents nix any feelings of jealousy by giving the older child a special role to play in the new family. "For example, I taught my 2-year-old to bring me a diaper when I needed one and gave her the job of 'greeter' every time her baby sister woke up from a nap," Dr. Giti says. "Instead of acting out, she focused on the tasks at hand and proudly told visitors about her new place as the big sister."
Originally published in the February 2014 issue of American Baby magazine.
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