When my first child was little, my world completely revolved around him. I would plan my day around his naps, his nursing schedule, and his moods. Of course, there were exceptions, but as a stay-at-home mom of one child, I had the flexibility to cater to his needs. And I was happy to do so. After all, a well-rested, well-fed child means a happy mom. I was definitely a little hyper-focused and obsessive. But most new parents are that way, right?
Enter my second child. When he was a few weeks old, I was already bundling him up and putting his screaming little body into the car seat every morning to take his big brother to school. (Am I the only one whose babies hate the car?) Not only was his life based around his big brother’s schedule, but my attention was constantly divided. I was often frazzled. I realized early on that I needed to cut myself a lot of slack in the parenting department or we were all going to go crazy.
Any ounce of idealism or perfectionism I had with my first child was thrown out the window. Flexibility was the only way to survive. My second child is now 3, and I still see myself doing things with him I would never do with my first child. Some are born out of necessity, but I will freely admit that many come out of sheer exhaustion and utter desperation.
1. Bribery with candy.
As a new mom, I scoffed at parents who used M&Ms to potty train, or had a secret stash of Twizzlers in the pantry for tantrums. I mean, there were far better ways to deal with those hard moments, none of which involved sugar or food dye. With my second child, I sometimes need a very quick fix to get something to happen. If it’s time to pick his big brother up from school, and my toddler won’t put on pants, I take out my “healthy” lollipops (made with organic sugar and vegetable-derived food dye). But who am I kidding? I’m bribing him with candy. Because he needs to wear pants right now so that his big brother doesn’t have to wait a half an hour to get picked up from school.
2. Half-filled baby books (if that).
With my first child, we documented everything. The first time he cooed, his first bath, the first time he watched the ceiling fan spinning and laughed. Hell, we even wrote down the first time he spit up and his first blowout poopy diaper. With my second child? We documented his first word, and I’m pretty sure we wrote down when he took his first step, but I’m not entirely sure. Also, I don’t remember exactly where I put the book…
3. Screen Time rules are loosened—a whole lot.
I remember the first time my older son ever saw a TV show. We had been reading Max & Ruby books for a few weeks (it was a book series first!), and we were delighted to show him the TV show. He squealed with laughter when he saw that the characters from the book were brought to life. He was about 2 years old at the time. Yep, we waited until that golden age to introduce TV to him. My second child started screen time the day he snatched the iPad from his big brother, and I was too busy cooking dinner and hoping the kids didn’t destroy the living room to care.
4. Junk food eating starts much earlier.
My first child used to think granola bars were dessert. He didn’t eat a bite of ice cream until he was almost 2. His 1st birthday cake was a fruit-sweetened banana loaf (I kid you not). By the time my second child was born, my older son was a sassy, candy-obsessed kindergartner. At about 6 months old, my second child crawled into the kitchen cabinet, found his big brother’s Halloween candy, and literally sucked the Hershey’s kisses out of their wrappers. There was no turning back.
5. Doctor and dentist checkups are spaced farther and farther apart.
With my first child, doctor’s appointments were like mini therapy sessions. “Look at how much he’s grown” meant “Yay, you’re keeping him alive. You’re the best mother in the world.” All the little check-ins to see that he was healthy were sweet and (mostly) relieved the lingering anxieties I had as a new mom. I scheduled his appointments well ahead and on time. But my second child is lucky if I remember to brush his teeth, let alone take him for a dental cleaning. Of course, I make sure to get him all his necessary checkups, but they just don’t happen as punctually as they used to. In fact, that reminds me that I need to make his 3-year-old checkup appointment—three months late.
6. Playdates happen on the fly, if at all.
My first child had a booked social schedule. We had weekly playdates with a group of moms, and individual playdates with different kids. We went to a million different toddler classes, museums and playgrounds. My second child is the tagalong kid. He certainly has friends his own age, and playdates too, but they are more sparse. His first best friends were five years older than him, and he spends his afternoons running around chasing second-grade girls.
Cutting myself slack in these little ways has shown me that kids are more durable I realized. A little extra candy and screen time won’t ruin them—and eating Pirate Booty for breakfast isn’t a crime. I still have a tendency to be a nap and bedtime sergeant, but necessity has taught me that my kids will be fine skipping naps sometimes and going to bed late (I might not be quite so fine, but that’s a different story).
Mostly, all this rule-breaking has made me a better mom. Being a perfect parent is not only nearly impossible, but it’s stressful and exhausting. My kids like me better when I am quicker to laugh than yell, when I can get down and cuddle instead of being busy keeping the house immaculate. Of course, I still have certain standards for myself and my kids, and I strive to keep their lives wholesome and simple—but I know there is more than one way to accomplish that.