Thursday, July 17, 2014

Transitions: Reflections on (almost) a year of having two


Several people have asked me recently about the transition from parenting one to parenting two--was it hard, how did I cope with it, that sort of thing. And now that I'm almost 11 months (!) into this whole parenting-two business, I feel like I actually have something to look back and reflect on. It's become second nature to me now, parenting both kids. It's hard to imagine there being only one of them. But there was only one of them, not too terribly long ago. And there was some mess and adjustment involved in figuring two of them out.

Honestly, it was never as bad as I had expected it to be. I talked to a lot of people, pre-Sylvia, who had really rough adjustments from one to two. And mine wasn't. It was an adjustment, make no mistake, and there were rough days and sleepless nights and frozen dinners and a grand overall lack of housecleaning. But it really wasn't miserable at all. And there were very, very few moments of collective meltdown.

Mostly because I got lucky, I think. Peregrine was a very easy two-year-old and Sylvia, while not necessarily a textbook easy baby, was a lot easier than Peregrine, so I was pleasantly surprised by her easiness. If she had been fussy or colicky, or if she had Peregrine's drive to be held (and moved! constantly!) all the time, or if Peregrine had been an easy baby and my expectations had been different, the adjustment would have been a lot harder on me. If she was a newborn now, and I was dealing with the three-year-old Peregrine instead of the two-year-old one, that would have been a whole new level of challenge. But they meshed well. Timing was perfect and generally felt pretty natural.

Also, Sylvia's birth was simple and straightforward, and healing was uncomplicated. I had lots of help right after the birth, and I had very little postpartum depression (beyond the usual round of expected "baby blues"). I stayed remarkably healthy when Sylvia was tiny, and so did she. So we had a lot going for us.

But there's a paradigm shift that happens when you parent two, and I think I'd made it before Sylvia was born. I'm not actually sure when. I think it's built into me a bit, from years of being the oldest of several, of babysitting multiple children at once, of teaching whole classrooms, of taking care of my niece and nephew along with Peregrine when he was tiny, and really, of raising Peregrine, who was neither textbook easy nor textbook fussy, but certainly impossible to keep content. I went into parenting two having already readjusted, and I think the adjustment would have been much, much harder if it was something I'd had to figure out after Sylvia was born.

I think what you have to realize when you parent two is this: Not everyone gets what they need all the time. And that's okay.

That's what everyone asks me, and what I see asked of any number of moms of more-than-one: "How do you juggle all the needs? How do you stay on top of it all?" And I always answer: sometimes you don't. Mostly you do, because you have to (and you do figure it out, and it becomes so much easier with practice), but sometimes you don't, and that's okay.
Not pictured: Peregrine, not being held.
When I was talking about this with my friend, I told her I think of parenting less as meeting individual needs and more as managing a household. Not that individual needs are neglected. But they aren't the ultimate goal. I've read so, so much about parenting being simply connection with one's baby, learning cues and meeting needs. And while I appreciate the simplicity of the advice and the core of truth in it, it's easy to get sucked into thinking that your only goal as a parent is to tailor your child's world to your child's person, to orchestrate it perfectly so that he never feels discomfort or discontent, and to be there for him at every turn of the road. That may be possible, with one child. I can't imagine it ever being possible, with two.
Not pictured: Peregrine, still not being held.  He didn't choose to have the not-measles descend upon his family.
If I truly thought parenting was simply a manner of meeting needs, that my job as a parent was to anticipate my child's needs and fulfill them, I don't think I would ever have chosen to have a second child. I really don't. Because discontent happens. Disappointment happens. They happen daily, hourly even. They are constant, for every member of the family. And I'm not talking about making a child wait to play with you until you get off the toilet. I'm talking about making a child wait for half an hour outside a closed door while you calm a screaming and overtired baby. I'm talking about canceling a day out because someone got sick, or listening to one child scream while you comfort the other one because you simply can't hold them both at once. I'm talking about shortening bedtime routines, saying no to snuggles, putting away fun toys that used to be able to litter the floor with abandon, getting in the dreaded car seat every day because big brother has to go to preschool. My kids' presence in each others' lives greatly limits their personal fulfillment. They hamper each other, annoy each other, make each other cry, and steal me away from each other. If I measured my success as a parent by how often my kids are discontent with their lot in life, I would have failed, utterly and completely, a long time ago.
Pictured in the background: Sylvia, utterly miserable that I put her down so that I could fill up Peregrine's long-awaited water table.
But I don't think that's what parenting is all about. It is so much more than that, in the end. Discontent and disappointment are very present in life, no matter what. My job as a mother is to see my kids through those times, not to prevent them. And, while small random needs go unmet, and people feel tired or annoyed or upset or ignored, and children cry and I sometimes have to choose whose cry to respond to first, it is so very possible to parent two and meet all their needs. It just takes an understanding, I think, of what needs really are. Snuggles get postponed, but there are still snuggles. One kid may have to wait for food, but in the end, he does get fed. Fun activities get cancelled, but there are hugs and kisses and comfort, and the promise of fun things to come. Missing some cues, leaving some things undone, having to say no, even when needs are completely and thoroughly legitimate, do not cancel out the consistent presence of trustworthiness and unconditional love.
Plus, there's learning about life. There's learning to cope. There's the beauty of letting other people into your life, messy and interrupting and annoying as they are. And there's so, so much wonderfulness to make up for it all. My kids my hamper each others' singleminded pursuit of happiness, but pursuit of happiness is a poor substitute, in the end, for relationship. They delight each other. They laugh at each other's jokes like no narrow-minded adult ever could. They miss each other terribly when they're apart. They check for each other first thing after waking up. Sylvia adores Peregrine with everything in her, no matter what toy he's snatched from her or thrown at her head. Peregrine protects her with every ounce of being in his little soul. The friendship they have, the bond they share, is worth so many inconveniences. I don't think they would ever choose to give up that friendship in order to have their needs met more quickly and consistently.
Not pictured: Dinner, not being ready on time. But look at the way they're looking at each other!
And for all the moments of can't-do-it-all, there are so many more where we simply just learn to live with each other. For all the moments where not-being-first is a source of tears and misery, there are so many more that are taken in stride, or even filled with humor and playfulness and fun. Laps of crying toddler-and-baby that melt into laughter because there's too much baby on my lap! and then suddenly, that's funny, to everyone. Collisions and conflicts over toys that erupt into playing an entirely different game, and then my lecture on being kind is lost because Peregrine just put dees on a lego truck and brings them to Sylvia and yells, "Dee delivery!" and then we all laugh because, well, dee delivery is funny.

Before Sylvia was born, I wrote about choosing to be family-centered. I still hold that phrase, always, in my mind, and it has been a very solid anchor in the uncertain sea of re-working our family and adding another person. And I think, more than anything, that mindset has helped us all make the transition from one child to two.

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciated this. Thanks! (i have 3 - the same truths apply!)