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Becoming a Two-Kid Family

No matter how many people you speak to or how many books you read, you'll never be fully prepared for that bumpy transition from hip, easygoing mom of one to haggard, edgy mom of two. For some people, the hardest part of having a second child is giving yourself over to parenthood, says Edward Christophersen, PhD, a psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, and professor of pediatrics at Kansas City School of Medicine. When you have just one child, you can still preserve a lot of your pre-baby lifestyle, he says. Going out to dinner or on vacation isn't that hard. Then along comes baby number two and, boom, any sense of self or freedom you've managed to hold on to is gone.

But perhaps the biggest surprise in the beginning is how your time alone disappears. With one, you could still count on some downtime during the day while he was napping, quietly playing, or out with Grandma. Those stolen moments become harder to snag with two. Even if your older one still naps, it's hard to synchronize sleep schedules in the beginning. And with two kids, you have more to do and less time to do it. You may find that you are constantly bouncing between two conversations, adding to your to-do list, making dinner, and unloading the dishwasher, all with a little one hanging on your hip. For those first few months, it may feel close to impossible to complete any chore or carve out personal time because it seems that someone always needs something.

The best advice for dealing with those inevitable frustrations? Take a deep breath and know that this, too, shall pass. And if and when you find five minutes of solitude, let the dirty dishes in the sink soak so that you can relax.

Everyone talks about how difficult it is for your firstborn to suddenly have to share your attention. But it's also an adjustment for you. Gone are the days when you could cuddle with your one and only whenever you wanted and concentrate all your mental and physical energy on him. Now you'll have to learn how to divide your focus, energy, and love. That might mean snuggling with your newborn while your big kid isn't looking or reading to your older one while you feed the baby (it's not as hard as it sounds!). Experts also recommend spending special time with your firstborn away from the infant and outside of the house if possible.

Along the same lines, you and your partner might feel stressed because you have less time with each other, or he might feel like you have enough hugs and kisses for the kids but not for him. Keep in mind as your family grows that you will both need help from the other. They key, says Christine D'Amico, a life-transition coach and author of The Pregnant Woman's Companion (Attitude Press, 2002), is communicating. A lot of new mothers tend to feel frustrated and wish their spouses would understand they need to help. Truth be told, they don't know unless you let them. And even if they don't feel they can meet those needs, it may lead to another discussion that could be equally important.

Despite any difficulties you might experience during those first few months, you will surely see the beauty of having another baby. It might hit you when you watch your two children together: Now that your oldest has a sibling, you are no longer at his beck and call, feeling pressure to play whenever he pleads.

You will also be overjoyed by the sweet interactions between your children. The more the new baby responds to her big brother or sister, the more engaged the two will be with one another. Siblings will sometimes develop their own language and games that you're not even a part of.

Another upside of adding to your family: You're an expert now, and you can kiss all that constant questioning good-bye. You've already taken one child through infancy and know what's coming with sleep, feeding, and setting limits. If you're nursing for the second time, you'll probably find that it's easier getting the baby to latch on correctly.

In addition to being less anxious, you may also appreciate your second's babyhood more. With your first child, you so often can't wait until he hits major milestones -- when is he gong to crawl, walk, talk, you constantly wonder. But now that you know how quickly time passes, you're more likely to savor the stage your child is in rather than anticipate the next big thing.

Since you're now so crunched for time, you really need to streamline your life. When you have one child, you can still live without systems for doing laundry and household chores, paying bills, and cooking dinner. But with two, a laissez-faire approach can be harder to get away with. Start small: Try stocking up on diapers so you don't have to keep constant tabs. Buy birthday presents in bulk so you don't have to run out and get one each time an invitation arrives in the mail. Plan to do laundry the same day each week, even if the hamper is overflowing and you have to do half a dozen loads at a time.

When it comes to your kids, you'll also find that setting and sticking to routines is key. As soon as you can, get your new baby on a regular nap and bedtime schedule; everyone will be in a better mood. Eventually, both kids will go to bed around the same time and eat regular meals together, which will make your life a lot easier.

Here are some other things you can do to smooth the transition:

  • Take getting to know your baby one day at a time. Chances are he won't be a clone of his older sibling, so be open-minded and realize that every child has a different temperament.
  • Babyproof your marriage. Plan a weekly date night so you and your spouse can spend time together away from the house and children. Or, stay home and stop what you're doing as soon as the kids are asleep so you can catch up.
  • Create a routine to break up the day. If you have a morning activity one day, spend the afternoon at home or vice versa. With a set schedule, you and your kids know what to expect and have something to look forward to each day.
  • Get dressed. While it's tempting to walk around in sweats all day, real clothes will make you feel like a real person -- in control and at ease.