Thayer Allison Gowdy
When Margaret DeJager finally gave birth to her daughter, Madeline, after months of fertility treatments, the mom from Kinnelon, New Jersey, hardly imagined she'd be expecting again anytime soon. But DeJager was still adjusting to life with her 5-month-old when (surprise!) she naturally conceived baby #2.
DeJager's not alone: Laura Dean, M.D., an ob-gyn in Stillwater, Minnesota, has noticed a growing trend of women parenting two under 2. "More than half of our patients plan pregnancies close together," she says. "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. Others say that close sibling spacing minimizes the time away from their career or paying for child care. Is two kids under 2 a possibility for you? Here's how you can balance your mommy duties.
Juggling their naps
"I always seemed to be putting one child down when the other one was getting up," recalls Megan Franks, whose daughter and son are 16 months apart. Translation: There's zero time for you to recharge.
The fix Try to sync naptimes, which you can attempt when your younger child reaches about 6 months. "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," notes Nicole Johnson, an infant sleep coach and founder of BabySleepSite.com.
"We ended up putting the younger one down first, because she needed a longer nap," says Brainerd, Minnesota, mom Lyndsay Szymanski, whose girls are 12 months apart. "Then I would have about a half hour to spend with my older one before her nap began."
Responding to both
Cheri Flake's firstborn, Owen, was 20 months old when she brought his baby sister, Violet, home. "The first day that I was alone with them they woke up at the same time," says the Decatur, Georgia, mom. "I stood in the hallway, with tears welling up, looking from right to left, thinking, 'Where do I go?'"
The fix "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. 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."
After having six children in quick succession, Hamilton, Ontario, mom 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." Flake has come up with another 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."
The differing food needs will make you feel like a short-order cook.
The fix Compromise! "For my older child, I made baby food instead of buying it," Franks says. "But when my daughter was born, there just was no way I could swing that, so 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 taught her son to feed himself finger foods as soon as she could. Once the baby arrived, the Charleston, South Carolina, mom prepared plates ahead of time so she could pull them out of the fridge and warm them for her 18-month-old.
Leaving the house
"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.
The fix "We kept a second set of everything, like diapers, wipes, and juice boxes, in the back of the station wagon," says 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. 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. After that, she and another mother would tag team the toddlers, allowing one of them to sit down to nurse or change a diaper.
Spreading your love
"A big issue was getting our older son, Oliver, to understand that his brother, Owen, wasn't a toy," recalls Sarah Bloom, of Houston, Texas.
The fix Shari Giti, Psy.D., a child and family therapist in Hermosa Beach, California, suggests that parents nix feelings of jealousy by giving the older child a special role to play. "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 sister woke up from a nap," Dr. Giti says. "Instead of acting out, she focused on the tasks and proudly told visitors about her new job as the big sister."
Originally published in American Baby magazine in February 2014. Updated in October 2014.
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