2 Under 2: Tips From Parents Who've Been There

Dealing with one kid in diapers is tough enough, but add in an infant and it can be complete chaos. Learn what it's really like to raise two kids under 2 years old.

sibling feeding
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Navigating life with two kids under age 2 is tricky. That's not to say it isn't amazing, too. Despite all of the hectic situations you'll encounter, there's still lots to cheer about when you've got two under 2.

For example, siblings who are closer in age often have more in common, which can bring them together from the start. Plus, they often share a nap, feeding, and social schedule. And at the end of it all, the tough stuff is over faster and all at once.

But when you're trying to avert a massive tantrum while calming a colicky newborn who won't let you put them down, what you really need is practical advice for getting through it. So read on for tips from parents who've been there on how to get through those early years of parenting two kids under 2.

Attend to the Greatest Need First

"My 15-month-old had a diaper blowout just as the baby was howling. I didn't know which problem to solve first. I was almost in tears myself!" —Andrea Canning, New York City

How to deal

Keep this mantra in mind: There's only so much I can do, so just handle the greater need first, recommends Joanna Cormier of Quincy, Massachusetts. That's the right approach, say the experts.

Try to prepare for those "everyone needs me" moments by setting up baby-changing stations around the house and keeping healthy snacks handy so you can quickly soothe a hungry toddler.

And if one kid has to wail for a minute while you tend to the other, remember, "This is where kids learn life lessons like how to share and wait their turn," says psychotherapist Yael Sank, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., an individual and couples therapist in New York City.

Manage the Jealousy

"Nursing my firstborn was great, but with Ava, it was like, 'When can I be done?' because I always had a 23-month-old pulling at me." —Lisa Brewer, Presque Isle, Maine

How to deal

Even a toddler who likes their new sibling is apt to get jealous. Remember, 18 months is the start of a tough stage. A child is experiencing the emergence of will, but they don't have the words to tell you what they want, says Parents advisor Jenn Mann, Psy.D., author of SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years.

Throw a new baby into the mix, and of course, they will act out. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes parents make is not allowing their firstborn to have negative feelings toward their new sibling. Instead, try the following tricks:

  • Validate their feelings (and yours!).
  • Encourage them to be involved with the new baby.
  • Keep plenty of distractions around.

"If your toddler tries to hit the baby or says, 'I don't like her,' the worst thing you can do is say, 'Yes, you do. Be nice,'" Dr. Mann explains. Instead, validate their feelings by saying, "I know it's hard to share me," and then sit down together to cuddle.

"One-on-one time is the best inoculation against acting out," says Dr. Mann. Another way to guard against jealousy is to encourage your child to be involved with the baby.

Of course, none of this helps much mid-feeding, so you might have to grin and bear your toddler attempting to get your attention. Your best bet is to try to distract them by keeping a basket of special toys and books that only come out when you're feeding the baby.

Let Go of the Guilt

"I sometimes feel bad for our 6-month-old because we're so focused on our older son, who is very active and grabs our attention." —Caryn Winkler, Arlington, Virginia

How to deal

Shame and guilt are common among new parents. A study exploring the topic found that shame and guilt were linked to stress, anxiety, and postpartum depression. In addition, it can hurt your relationships with your children.

Not enjoying every minute of parenting, uncertainty, work worries, and unrealistic expectations commonly play into parent guilt. And combating it is easier said than done. But, sometimes, remembering these feelings are common and normal can help.

It's impossible to be the same parent to your second that you were to your first, but that's probably for the better, says Jennifer Bingham Hull, author of Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life. With your first, chances are you were constantly fretting over them; children don't need that kind of laser-like focus, she adds.

On the other hand, perhaps you're worried that the newborn has rocked your older child's world. The good news is that they might not notice much if they're under 16 or 17 months. Young toddlers are in a great place—they're happy with themselves, not yet pushing the boundaries of their independence, and kind of clueless about how a new baby might affect them.

Life probably won't be so rosy if your firstborn is 18 months or older. But you can do things to help them adjust to a new sibling. Dr. Mann says no matter how young they are, prepare your toddler for the newborn's arrival—and revisit the topic in the months following it.

By talking about it, you reassure them that everything is OK. For example, read books about having a new sibling, buy them a doll to play with, and explain how things will be different—but also emphasize what will be the same, says Dr. Mann. You may also consider enrolling your older child in a big-kids-only activity.

Take Care of Yourself

"I'm 'on' all day, carrying my girls around, changing diapers, racing to run errands only to race home for naptime. By the end of the day, I feel like I've been hit by a truck!" —Michele de Bourbon, New York City

How to deal

First, remind yourself that you're doing the best you can. Then, remember that if you try to do it all alone, you're headed for burnout. Self-care isn't selfish; it's critical for keeping yourself healthy and being a good parent.

Some tips for prioritizing yourself include:

  • Engage in a hobby you enjoy.
  • Spend time with friends.
  • Make kid-free time part of your routine.
  • Establish a support network of babysitters, family members, and friends you can call on when needed.

Hire a sitter or lean on friends, even for an hour. If that's impossible, carve out downtime during the day.

Be Prepared for Outings With 2 Under 2

"Before I leave the house, I have to nurse Kip, change him, and get him in the car seat—and if I'm too slow, my toddler grabs my keys and runs wild. Then comes the hard part: carrying everything and everyone to the car!" —Lisa Farrell, Chicago

How to deal

A few things can help make outings with two under 2 a bit easier:

  • Leave extra time to get where you're going.
  • If you drive, ditch the diaper bag and keep your car stocked with anything you need, from diapers to snacks.
  • If you walk or take public transportation, try a backpack-style diaper bag that's easier to carry and always keep it stocked.
  • Think about how you'll get around whether that's a baby carrier, a double stroller, holding hands, or some combination of options.

Also, consider where you're going, says Hull. "With a toddler spilling orange juice while you try to nurse the baby, that coffee shop you used to frequent with just one may not be a good fit," she says.

So seek out places meant for young kids and the noise and mess that goes with them, from storytime at the library to the local park. And don't feel ashamed if you suddenly become a homebody. There's nothing wrong with staying in your backyard and having another parent and their kids over when you need to socialize.

Communicate With Your Partner

"Both my husband and I had a full-time job, yet arranging child care, food shopping, and planning dinners still fell to me!" —Cara Gately, Darien, Connecticut

How to deal

Even if your partner is trying their best, there may be days that you think your relationship is imploding. "Suddenly, there's more to do and less time to do it in," says Sank. And in many a parent's eyes, the other parent could always be more involved.

So talk with your partner about how you're feeling and come up with ways to make things better. Also, seek out other parents with young kids. Dr. Berman says friendships are key because they allow you to have "aha" moments that let you know you're not alone.

Finally, remember to make time for just you and your partner.

Key Takeaways

Parenting two under 2 is no picnic! But there are some ways to keep your cool and maintain perspective while navigating these tricky months. Knowing and accepting that you can't meet everyone's needs at once all the time can help you adjust your expectations, which can also help you manage the ever-looming parent guilt. Remember to care for yourself and maintain open communication with your partner, and you'll be well on your way to getting through parenting two young children.

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  1. Shame and guilt in the postnatal period: a systematic reviewJ Reprod Infant Psychol. 2021.

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