When Genevieve Kenny went on mat leave with her second baby, she assumed it would be a lot like her first mat leave: lots of coffee dates and mom-and-me classes. But when there’s a toddler in the house, the reality is a little different. “I rarely make it out beyond basic errands, it’s almost impossible to find activities that suit both kids’ schedules, and I’ve had days when we didn’t leave the house until after 4 p.m., with at least one child still in their pyjamas,” says the Toronto mom.
In Vancouver, Tara Carruthers, who has three kids (each two years apart), also finds being home with two little ones with completely different needs extremely challenging. “It’s so hard to manage your time,” she says. “What do you do when you need to wipe your potty-training toddler while your baby is crying in the bassinet?”
Taking care of two kids when you’re used to just one is difficult. And if your older one doesn’t get what she needs—time outdoors, socialization and tons of your attention—she’ll act out, making it that much harder.
Toddlers who feel connected and supported will be less demanding of you, says Toronto-based parenting coach Sarah Rosensweet. But what does that really mean? And how do you achieve it when you’ve got a newborn attached to you? Read on for some tips.
Keep the big one close
Your toddler can entertain himself for a short time while you’re dealing with the baby, but as soon as you can, try to find ways to involve him. Rehana Logel, a Toronto mom of three, found a position that allowed her to comfortably nurse her baby on the floor so her older kid could sit next to her while she read him stories. Carruthers placed a small rocking chair next to the large one in the nursery. “Makena would rock her little doll next to me,” she recalls. Even if you can’t physically involve your toddler in what you’re doing, try to keep him nearby and talk to him.
Don’t stress about your schedule
Logel tried diligently to get her newborn on the same regimented schedule she had imposed on her first baby, but she found they were stuck in the house and her toddler wasn’t getting the social interaction she needed. Once Logel gave up on the idea of a perfect schedule, things got easier. “Instead, we focus a lot on getting at least one decent nap in a day and trying to honour mealtimes and bedtimes,” she says. “But within that framework, there’s flexibility now.”
Give up the guilt
There are times when it will be impossible to meet both kids’ needs at the same time. When Carruthers found herself torn between competing needs, she usually chose to tend to her toddler first. She figured the older kid would be more aware of being ignored, so she felt less guilty, and then the two of them would tend to the baby together.
Lower your standards
With a babe in arms and a toddler at her feet, Kenny finds even simple tasks like emptying the dishwasher almost impossible. “Our house is always a mess, and our meals are extremely basic,” she says. That’s to be expected with two little ones around, assures Rosensweet. “Don’t focus on anything but taking care of your kids’ needs for the first few months,” she suggests. “Have takeout, get people to help you and simplify.” Many parents of two under two also swear by babywearing as a sanity-saver.
Although having a toddler around while caring for a newborn has its challenges, Kenny says there’s a positive side. “My toddler is surprisingly helpful. He entertains the baby, and gets stuff when I’m stuck on the couch nursing. His chatter and questions also make for interesting conversations.”
Does your two-year-old shower the newborn with kisses one minute and scream that he hates the baby the next? Resist the temptation to say, “No, you love the baby,” suggests parenting coach Sarah Rosensweet. Instead, say something like, “You really wish you were the only child again, don’t you?” Toddlers—like everyone—want people to understand their feelings, not to try to change them.
A version of this article appeared in our June 2016 issue with the headline “Double duty,” p. 50.