When you’re a first time mom there seems to be endless advice from friends, family, and online about how to cope with a new baby – sleep when the baby sleeps, don’t stress about laundry piling up or dirty dishes in the sink, make sure you take time for yourself, don’t be shy about asking for help or accepting help that is offered. All good advice. But how does that apply when you are welcoming Baby #2 (or 3, or 4, or 5…) and you have other children to care for as well? You can’t very well sleep when the baby sleeps and leave your 20 month old to play by himself (and let’s be realistic – the chances of their naps coinciding, at least that the beginning, are slim to none). In addition, sometimes you NEED to do the laundry or else no one has anything to wear, yourself included, and someone has to make dinner – you can’t serve frozen meatballs every night and that salad isn’t going to make itself. So what do you do?
More often than not, moms who “had it all together” with their first baby find the challenge of a new addition that much harder because more often than not, the rules for first time moms no longer apply and juggling the demands of two (or more) children is harder than most of us expect. Those of us who have travelled down this route have uttered phrases such as “I’ve done this before – how much harder can it be?”, or “I’ll just do what I did with my firstborn – it worked out just fine.” Some of us are even savvy enough to state, “I’m sure it’ll be more work but if I did it once I can do it again.” Sound familiar? Well, now try adding to the mix two (or more) nap schedules that don’t line up (or a toddler or older child who no longer naps! Heaven forbid!!), the monolithic task of trying to help your older child(ren) adjust to life with a baby in the house, a baby that at times seems like he will never sleep again (or even stop crying, or spitting up, or pooping for that matter!), a child who may be in some stage of potty training (why do they always need to go when the baby is being fed?!?), sleep regressions, growth spurts, your (likely even greater) level of fatigue, and let’s be honest, at times much greater level of frustration, as well as your desire to shower or even use the washroom by yourself. Just. This. Once. Ahh, motherhood.
As mentioned earlier, advice like “sleep when the baby sleeps” is not all that helpful and unfortunately that is essentially the only type of advice that Dr. Google seems to have when you’re scouring the internet at 2 am looking for expert advice on how to manage the demands of a newborn and your older child(ren). Ever try getting a newborn to sleep with a toddler that is “helping”? Or how about full blown temper tantrums because apparently cookies are supposed to be legit breakfast options for today’s modern 2.5 year old (or at least that’s what your toddler would have you believe). Add to that the ear-piercing squalling of a newborn who is, at times you’re certain, screaming just because she can? Am I painting a vivid picture? I hope so, because that is precisely why even seasoned moms who handled their first born with grace and majesty often feel heightened anxiety and distress with the arrival of their next children. The rules have been changed but there is less information available, besides trial and error techniques, on how to deal with those changes that really affect the entire household this time around.
So how do you stay calm when chaos seems to reign all around? Well, as with your first time as a mom, try anything and everything that may have even the slightest potential of working, pulling out all your old tricks from Baby #1. If those don’t work, here are some other things to try that may make your life easier (or at least they may prevent you from feeling like your head is about to explode):
- Respond to the most pressing need (or person in most immediate need) first
- Figure out who can be helped and thus appeased the fastest. It may mean that the baby cries for three more minutes, but if it allows you to get your toddler started on lunch before you sit down to feed your youngest, it may be worth it to avoid a toddler meltdown
- Set realistic expectations for everyone, yourself included. Accept that you won’t be able to make everyone happy at all times – you are only one human after all. It doesn’t make you a bad mom if someone is upset for a short while as you tend to someone else’s needs first (even if that someone else is you and you just really want to use the washroom without an entourage – you are allowed, even if your toddler or baby disagrees).
- On a related note, revise your own expectations of what it will be like to have more than one child. If you expect to be tired and expect to bump against some obstacles along the way, such as sleep regressions or changes in behaviour in older children, it will not be as difficult to handle when or if it actually happens. However, you may find you have more energy than you thought or that your older children are handling the changes a new baby brings better than you expected. A pleasant surprise is always better than a rude awakening! Put another way, challenge your automatic thoughts: Instead of thinking, “This is going to be awful. I’ll never be able to handle a busy toddler and a newborn!”, try telling yourself, “This will likely be challenging but that doesn’t mean I can’t do it, I’ve risen to challenges in the past.”
- If your older child is old enough to understand, explain to him that sometimes he will have to wait while you tend to the baby’s needs. Make sure he understands that it doesn’t mean you love the baby more, just that the baby is, well, a baby and that he is a “big kid” who can help mommy by being patient and waiting his turn. It is also helpful to point out times when the baby has to wait his turn while you are helping your older child. This reinforces the idea that you love them both equally and that sometimes they each have to wait their turn to have your attention. Lastly on this point, it is helpful if you can explain to your older child when they will have to wait and why. For example, “The baby needs to be fed and once I sit down to do that, I won’t be able to help you colour or get you a snack. So, before I sit down, is there anything you need?” Once you help your older child, make sure you don’t give in to any subsequent requests or you’ll be opening the door to ever louder protests and demands while you are busy with the baby, and that makes things more stressful for everyone.
- Additionally, if your older child is somewhat clingy and wants to “help” with everything, including trying to get the baby to fall asleep, he or she may be more apt to let you tend to the baby solo if you include them in as many baby-care tasks as possible. For example, he can help get a clean diaper, wipes and a sleep sack in preparation for nap time, it can be his job to turn on a white noise machine or night light, and it can be his job to watch you on the monitor in another room as you put the baby down (you know, to make sure you do it “right”).
- Another struggle moms often face is around bed time. If you had hoped to nurse your newborn to sleep or give a bottle without interference from a “helpful” toddler, it may be wise to try moving bedtime a little bit earlier so that you can do your normal bedtime routine with the eldest and then have quiet alone time to get the baby to sleep.
- Pick your battles and know when you’ve been beaten… for now. If baby just won’t go down for nap as planned, change your plans and try again later. Hit the park instead and hope for a stroller nap and some uninterrupted playtime with your older child. You can’t make a baby sleep so there’s no point stressing over it.
- Invest in a good baby carrier or wrap. Life will be much easier if you can carry the babe hands free while interacting and playing with your older child(ren). This can be particularly handy during visits to the park or if your older child is enrolled in a class or program that requires your participation/assistance (e.g., parent and tot gymnastics, music or art class).
- Take note of any cognitive distortions you may be exercising. Are you discounting the positive? Take stock of the day: Did you get to shower? Did you eat at least a few meals today? Did you manage to get out the door on time (or at least with a clean shirt)? Did you get to sit and sip a coffee while snuggling with someone or reading a story (or, sipping a coffee while they got to watch a TV program)? If so, these are all positives that you need to remember. Who cares if the rest of the day was a mess – as long as at least a few small things worked out you can count the day as a success. What about engaging in all-or-nothing/perfectionistic thinking? Does everythinghave to go perfectly in order for you to count the day as a success? If so, see the above point. How are your semantics? Do you find yourself using words like “always”, “never” or “should”? If so, try substituting other, more realistic words. Does your baby always wake up as soon as you lay her down, or only sometimes, and the rest of the time she takes at least a short nap? If so, cut yourself some slack and change up your wording.
- Related to the above point, stop “shoulding” all over yourself! What do I mean by this? I mean stop berating yourself with “should” statements, such as, “I should be able to handle this better” or “I shouldn’t be getting so frustrated all the time”. The only thing a “should” statement does is make you feel guilty, which in turn makes it even harder to truly be present and cope effectively with the challenges little ones present.
- Lastly, at all costs sleep when (if?) the children sleep!!
If you find yourself in need of more specific strategies for combating anxious thoughts (“I’ll never sleep again!”, “What if my eldest brings home a bug from daycare and gets the baby sick?”, “How will I ever manage two children once the baby is born?”, “Will my eldest feel ignored or unloved once the baby arrives?”), then you may benefit from treatment for perinatal anxiety. In my practice, we offer one of the only treatment programs in the area specifically designed for new (or soon-to-be new) moms to help you learn specific skills and strategies for dealing with the major life changes that come along with having a baby.
For more information or to book an initial appointment, just give me a call or send me an email and let’s get started!