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The challenge of the second baby

August 3, 2009

I recently had a conversation some dear, dear friends of mine who are considering adding to their brood (and by “brood,” I mean one splendidly adorable 19-month old son). 

In our discussion, they asked me what I thought was the most difficult part about adding a second child to the mix. 

I first muttered something that I have heard quite a few parents-of-more-than-one-kid utter before: “Two kids doesn’t make parenting twice as hard–it makes it four times as hard.”

And that’s true, by the way.

But I also let my friends know that because I had mentally prepared for the quadruple difficulty of adding another child to our family, it made the transition from one to two children seem not so traumatic as it might have seemed for others. 

You see, I sort of “psyched myself out” before each kid, to the point where I was imaginging that parenting a newborn (or a newborn +  a toddler) would be somewhere along the lines of having Satan feast on my liver seven times a day.  And when it turned out that caring for a newborn was really only like having Satan feast on my liver three times a day (and experiencing an overwhelming, gut-devouring love for  another human being, I might add), it made my mothering journies seem not as nightmarish as I had expected them to be.

In this respect, the sheer difficulty of caring for a new baby and a toddler was not the most challenging part of adding a second child to the mix.  At least for me.  Instead, the most challenging aspect of my journey into parenting two was my discovery about just how radically different my two children were–and are.

It should be noted that I entered motherhood-for-the-second-time with much excitement about the differences that I was soon to discover between my children.  “Ooooooh, one may be extroverted and one may be shy!”  Or, “oooooooh, one may prefer Indian food and the other may prefer Mexican!”  Or, “oooooooh, one may be an artist and the other may be an engineer!”

You know.  “Differences.”

And then A was born.  Even at birth, I noted striking personality differences between M and A.  There was less of an intensity in A’s face and vocalizations, more of a pathetic sweetness to him.

“Ahhhh yes,” I thought, “he’s different.  How wonderful!  How worthy of celebration!  Hooray for my boys’ uniqueness!” 

And the differences between the two boys didn’t stop there.

We soon “discovered” that A liked baths (M detested them and took showers with us until he was nearly ten months old), he loved snuggling in his sling (M still doesn’t like to feel restrained in any way), and he would actually allow me to put him down in his bouncy chair long enough for me to take a shower every evening before bed.

As the weeks continued to roll on,  Tim and I were also thrilled to find that A was sleeping for nearly six hour stretches by the time that he was eight weeks old!  This was so, so different from M, who was, shall we say, not the most sound-sleeping baby.

But here’s where we made our mistake: Tim and I, in our arrogant naivete, chalked up all of these differences to our clearly superior parenting skills this second time around. 

It was so obvious that we just hadn’t known how to give a baby a bath or snuggle him up in a sling or set him down or help him to sleep for long stretches when we were newbie parents with M.  But now–now we were seasoned parents, and we knew what we were doing now.  High fives!  Chest bumps!  A round of beers for everyone!

However, our self-assurance began to crumble when A started waking up every two hours at night when he was about six months old.  And every trick we used with M to help him sleep when he was at this stage of his infancy simply didn’t work with A.  Not books, not singing, not nursing, not patting him on the back until he fell back asleep, not a regimented bedtime routine–not anything that was in our seasoned-parents’ bag o’ tricks.  And what made this new lack of sleep especially traumatic for me was that M was sleeping through the night (8-12 hours a pop) from the time he was about six months old.  I was expecting the same from my little A!

Then A developed this crazy-ass temper that just a couple of months ago led him to headbutt me in the trachea.  And whereas M would respond well to gentle scoldings at this age, A either melted into a blubbering mess and/or lashed out with an even scarier eruption of anger every time I’d just look at him sideways.  But besides gentle scoldings, how do you discipline a raging one-year-old?  How?!

And soon it dawned on me: A took well to baths not because I had become a better baby bather but because he simply loved (and loves) the water.  I mean hell, he was born in the water!  And he probably loved his sling more than M did because he simply prefers snuggling close more than M does.  (M loves snuggling–he just doesn’t love feeling restrained.  And this shines forth in all areas of his personality.)  And he probably slept for longer stretches early on in his infancy because that’s just how he adjusted to life outside the womb.  And he probably didn’t respond to our gentle sleep training like M did because that’s not how he got to sleep and stayed asleep best.

And this realization is what shed light on the most challenging aspect of having a second baby for me: I had absolutely no control over whether my tried-and-true techniques with baby #1 were going to work with baby #2.  And while I did know a thing or two more about getting a good breastfeeding latch or changing a blowout diaper or getting spit-up stains out of a onesie this time around, there were still some things about which I was still completely clueless when it came to parenting baby #2.

And that’s because he was (and is) amazingly, frustratingly, radically different.

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