Second child guilt

By Heather Woods

I’ve recently experienced the joy of becoming a mother again, to a beautiful redheaded baby girl. She was an IVF baby like her older sister and we worked hard to create her. Super tiny and a bundle of love, she was a perfect fit for our little family – and the adrenalin bubble of the first few weeks was no different to the first time around.

We had family members of both mine and my husband’s helping us out, some even flying from New Zealand to stay with us. They took care of the toddler, the dog, the cooking, the cleaning; they were our taxi service too. We couldn’t have done it without them really. It made me realise how lucky I am to have such a loving and supportive family and in-laws that up and leave their country simply to help. And I assumed that because I’d done the ‘new baby’ experience before, the second time around would be a breeze when they left.

Boy was I wrong. Yes I could manage a newborn, and yes there were some sleepless nights – but I expected and was prepared for that. What I didn’t expect was that doing it all with a toddler hanging off me and demanding her usual attention levels would make it quite an overwhelming experience.

Hubby eventually had to go back to work, and the live-in helpers moved out and resumed their normal lives, which left me with 2 children to look after each day on my own until my saviour walked through door about 7pm each night to help restore my sanity (and allow me to use the bathroom solo for the first time that day).I think it was over a week before I even left the house with the two of them. Now obviously I knew all along that at some point this would happen, but I started to feel two different kinds of guilt.

second-child-guilt

The first pang of guilt was that maybe we had made a mistake in having a second baby.  I’d finally gotten used to one child after 20 months of parenting, and she was old enough to really interact with and take out places with me without any hassles. She was sleeping for 12 hours overnight with rarely any issues and also having a respectable day sleep that allowed me time to do what I needed and/or liked, so long as it was in the confines of our home.  She had meals at set times each day and I was comfortable leaving her with my parents overnight if we had functions such as a weekend wedding or something similar. How were we going to manage now that I had a helpless and vulnerable newborn, plus a fiesty toddler that isn’t capable of reason yet?  I wasn’t sure I had it in me and selfishly wondered when I was going to ever get any ‘me’ time again!

The second pang of guilt was that I seemed to be saying ‘no’ to my toddler – a lot. Along with ‘hold on’, ‘wait’, ‘leave her alone’ and many other similar phrases. I desperately wanted to have our old play time and giggle sessions (which also involved a lot of selfies and video making to send to her dad – sorry to my Facebook friends that endured the barrage of photos) but I was engulfed in feeding sessions and endless newborn nappies and which nap time I was rocking baby #2 for.  She was my first-born and I felt so much guilt that she couldn’t understand why all of a sudden I was essentially telling her to go away. She had a curiosity for her sister that was endearing, though sometimes it bordered smothering. I found her trying to brush her teeth – not great when you’re trying to keep everything sterile. And she also thought her sister might like some cheese. Cute? Yes. Safe? Not very. Again, mummy says no.

I finally got over the guilts and realised that it was the same learning curve as the first time around. I simply needed to find  a way to teach them to be sisters (something I have no experience with, growing up with a brother) and manage my time so that they both receive my love, attention and direction evenly. It takes practice, but it can be done without feeling that you aren’t doing enough or aren’t doing it right. There are days when I simply have to attend to the girls and nothing else gets done. There are days when I’m supermum and tick off my entire to-do list. And there are nights of endless preparation for the following day, especially if an outing is involved. I never quite know how each day will end but I know that there is an unspoken process that you go through as a parent and eventually you come out the other end with a giant love-filled smile on your dial. And I know that I love my girls more than anything in this world.

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