Is Less Attention Hurting My Second Child?

One mom worries that her second child is developing more slowly because she can't dote on him, like she did her first baby.

Q. I have a 4-year-old and an 18-month-old. I've begun to feel guilty that I don't spend as much time down on the floor playing with my little guy as I did with my daughter. She knew her alphabet at 2, her colors, everything. My son knows none of this. Plus, every time I'm alone with him, he clings to me like he can't get enough of me. I'm only one person and I can only do so much, but I don't feel it's enough.

A. Welcome to the there's-not-enough-of-me-to-go-around club, where every mom (and dad) is a member. Seriously, we all walk in your shoes and share the same undeserved guilt. For some relief, keep these thoughts in mind.

First, experts agree that every kid learns differently, and boys advance more slowly than girls in the verbal department. Your son's inability to sing the ABC song may have nothing to do with how much time you've spent with him -- and at 18 months, he's certainly not academically behind; he has more than enough time to learn his letters and colors.

Next, remember that independent play is a good thing for your son to learn, but there can be too much of a good thing. So when he abandons his trucks and reaches for you, try to forget about the vacuuming and sit on the floor to play with him. This kind of prioritizing has made a huge difference for me.

Also, when you're hanging out with both kids, try to get your daughter involved with your son. Encourage her to be a big sister and teach him his ABC's or label crayon colors as he scribbles. My daughter loves playing teacher to my 2-year-old.

Finally, make it a priority to spend a little more time alone with your son. Hire a neighborhood teenager to look after your daughter for a few weekend hours, or better yet, suggest that your husband spend some time alone with her. And stop worrying! Once your older child is in kindergarten, you'll have even more time to hang out with your toddler.

Julie Mazer is a mother of three who lives in Short Hills, New Jersey.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, February 2005.