When my wife was pregnant with our second child Zachary, various people offered the following refrain: “Don’t worry. The second child is much easier.”
Those people are liars.
Okay, that was perhaps a bit harsh. They weren’t lying per se; only trying to help. And they were correct in many important ways. Thus far Zachary has been an easier baby than my first, Audrey. Thanks to my time with her, I already knew how to change diapers with ease, administer naptime successfully, and cope with the unending rollercoaster of emotion that is parenthood. I also had all of Audrey’s toys and safety equipment–car seats, high chairs, that sort of thing–on hand, so there was no need to purchase much of anything for Zachary.
So yes, those things were much easier than the first go around. But what those people, and others that espouse this belief that the second baby is “easier”, leave out is that while it is undoubtedly easier to deal with that child one-on-one, the addition of a second child into a household is, in a word, apocalyptic. Flames. Smoke. Nasty beasts with pointy horns and hairy goat legs. You get the picture. And it all comes down to basic economics: supply and demand.
Kids demand a lot from us. No great revelation, I know. But with one child, our ability as parents to supply him or her with what is in need is, for the most part, doable. Should one parent’s supply run dry, the other can step in and take over. Easy. This back and forth served my wife and I well for nearly three years. Soon enough we settled into a routine. Parenting, while still exhausting, was manageable. And confidence in having a second was on the rise.
But upon that second’s arrival it became clear that this issue of supply and demand was going to be front and center for a good long time. No longer could we “hand off” our child to recharge our batteries. If we were at home we were dealing with at least one child non-stop. There were no more breaks. On top of that, both children’s needs would frequently overlap. For example:
The other morning my 2-year-old daughter Audrey was at the kitchen table eating her breakfast happily. Meanwhile, my newborn was loudly voicing his insistence that he be put down for another one of his many naps. Believing that I could quickly put Zachary down while Audrey sat at the table, I swiftly put a plan into motion. Minutes later, with a sleepy baby drifting off in my arms in an adjacent bedroom, Audrey screamed, “Oh no!” I squeezed my eyes shut at that moment. I didn’t want to believe I heard what I had. But then it came again, even louder. “Oh NO! Daddy! Daddy!” I looked down. Zachary was wide awake, staring at me, and starting to squirm. PANIC. Hearing more cries for help from Audrey I popped my head into the kitchen and mournfully took in the image of our kitchen table covered in milk. Drip drip drip it fell onto the floor. PLEASE NO, I thought as Zachary started to cry. PLEASE GOD NO, I thought as Audrey followed suit. Then screaming. Lots and lots of screaming. Screaming to the left. Screaming to the right. Screaming screaming screaming. And absolutely no fun for me.
Now, had I only had one child that morning would have been more than manageable. No one screams over spilled milk after all. But with two the situation became exponentially worse, and very difficult for little ol’ me to deal with.
So, not easy. Difficult. Definitely not easier with a second child.
Three months into this great, lifelong experiment my wife and I are still trying to figure out means of dealing successfully with this issue of dwindling supply and crushing demand. Together we often go with the “Divide and Conquer” strategy, which I trust is rather self-explanatory. But alone, as an at-home dad, I am struggling with it mightily. I don’t want to fall into the sticky sweet trap of hypnotizing Audrey with TV and iPad games so I can better deal with Zachary after all. But situations like the spilled milk one do little for my confidence. I don’t want to fear my ability to manage the two of them, but I must admit that sentiment has found purchase in my brain, and that is not a welcome development.
Nevertheless, I’m sure things will slowly smooth themselves out. Nothing lasts for very long when it comes to children after all. And while I can safely say that having a second child is not easier at all, my ability to handle them individually has never been better. Something to build on, I guess.
We all have to start somewhere.