My husband and I are both only children; my family by choice, his by circumstance. And while there are a ton of great aspects to life as an only, I always knew I wasn’t going to be a one-and-done mom.
Of course, that sounded great in theory, but when I eventually became pregnant with our daughter I immediately fell into a state of mourning for my son’s lost only-ness. After all, he’d been the sole focus of our life for so long. He was the sun that our world revolved around and he joyously lavished in all of our love and attention. In addition to the sleepless nights and sore nipples, I spent the whole nine months of my pregnancy preparing for his unavoidable devastation, and the subsequent tantrums and pleas for attention. And I primed myself for my eventual fall from the pedestal he’d put me on as his everything to my rightful place as future therapy fodder.
What I wasn’t prepared for was that I might actually be really good at momming two kids.
My son had been a hard baby. He was a bad sleeper, a bad eater, he needed to be held at all times … but only by me. It was exhausting, but his babyhood had basically been a boot camp that had prepared me well for our new little bundle of chaos. This time around I took it all in stride, and so did he.
I’d spent so much time preparing for catastrophe that I wasn’t at all prepared for a little boy who adored his sister and wanted to be with her all the time, a little boy who when he acted out it was because he wanted more of her, not less. I wasn’t prepared for the obsessive love I had for him as my baby to morph into the pride I’d have seeing him as a big boy, a thoughtful, kind, generous-with-his-mommy big brother.
When I was pregnant, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to love my children equally, but that fear was quashed a few minutes after I gave birth. There was enough love for everyone; what there wasn’t was enough time, and by far that was our hardest transition. As an only child our son never had to compromise his time with us. But what I realized in watching him play by himself was that I had been stunting his growth through my own good intentions.
I was a shy kid and I remembered always feeling lonely and never wanted that for my child, so I was his constant companion and entertainer. And the more time I gave, the more he needed to be satisfied. When I’m busy tending to his sister now, he plays by himself; he does complicated puzzles and creates elaborate games of pretend. His attention span has grown exponentially through solo play, which may just be a matter of age, or may actually be a muscle he’s strengthened with use. He needed some time to grow by himself, and I needed to learn how to give it to him.
I appreciate my one-on-one time with him more than ever before. I mean, I appreciate the solo time I get with each of my kids. I love the baby babbles and milestones I get to share with my daughter, and I savor every mostly-coherent word my son rattles off about his day at preschool. I’m no longer annoyed by his constant request for me to sing the Paw Patrol theme song ad nauseam or to say everything in my best Optimus Prime voice. What once felt exhausting now feels like a special treat, so I savor that time when I have it.
I’m a better disciplinarian now. Kids need discipline, and I’m naturally more of the “do what makes you happy” ilk of human, which isn’t the greatest combination for child rearing. I’ve read every book on gentle parenting that’s been published and assumed that if I disciplined him the right way he wouldn’t be upset about it and we’d all just calmly accept proper social etiquette and hug it out forever … and he was a brat. I had to stop seeing him as a baby to be able to recognize his behavior as inappropriate when it was and be a sterner disciplinarian. I’m not spanking my kid, if that’s what you’re worried about, but I’m a lot less laissez faire about bad behavior. Now that he’s older and I have to worry about the actual safety of another person in this house I take discipline far more seriously, and he’s a better-behaved child because of it.
As for the baby, she may not get the undivided attention her brother got, or all the home-steamed and pureed baby foods that I somehow had time to make, but she has a mom who knows her way around a baby. A mother who isn’t so paralyzed by anxiety that she never sees the sunshine or feels the dog’s scratchy tongue on her skin. She has a mom who knows that the fun is in the process, and that it’s okay if she cries for a minute or so as long as she’s safe.
When I was pregnant I read so many articles and essays about the transition from one to two that made the whole process feel apocalyptic and I wish I’d read something that reassured me that it might just be okay. That my kids might actually like sharing their parents and that I might actually be okay at raising two different people.