So far, juggling the two sets of needs for which I am now responsible has proved manageable. Of course, a major factor in this is that I don’t have to do it for very much of each day; the parent-to-child ratio in our house on a daily basis is still 1:1. This is one of many advantages of Barry being the at-home
parent while I work; while I’m on maternity leave, there are
two of us at home. I have to say that this makes things embarrassingly
easy for me compared to many mothers of small children – although I
still take care of both children in the morning before Barry gets up,
in the evening while he cooks dinner, and sometimes in between when
there are things he needs to do that aren’t compatible with having a
three-year-old running around, there are large chunks of the day during
which Barry sees to Jamie and I only have the baby to take care of. Trying to deal with two children, like anything else in life, is a lot easier when you know you only have to do it for a few hours at a time before someone comes along to give you a break.
The other factor that makes things noticeably easier than they are for many mothers is the spacing. When Jamie was a baby, we discussed how long we wanted to leave things before having a second child, and decided three years seemed like the minimum that we wanted to deal with. That way, by the time we had another baby to cope with Jamie would hopefully be at a more manageable stage – talking, able to wait a bit for things, probably potty trained (this was before I’d realised that a) children don’t train as early in real life as they do in the books and b) although everyone talks about ‘having two in nappies’ as though this was some sort of ghastly problem, having two in nappies is actually far easier than having one at the just-potty-trained stage of needing to get to the toilet NOW when they need to go and leaving numerous puddles around). Ideally it might have been nice to leave an even longer gap and allow even more time for the first one to mature, but such things are a trade-off – the further apart we spaced our children the longer the whole early childhood stage would be, which would mean more time off work for Barry, not to mention that there was always the chance that my ovaries would run past their sell-by date and we’d find ourselves unable to have another, or at least find that it took longer than anticipated and a planned gap of X years actually turned into X + Y years. So, aiming for three years seemed a fair compromise. Later on, I was backed up on this by the depressing but informative Three Shoes, One Sock And No Hairbrush, which confirms that a spacing of three years or more gives the older child time to get out of the highly needy infancy stage and that most mothers find this quite a bit easier in the early years than having them close together.
Anyway, I can now also back this up from my own experience. Having two children with this age gap really is notably easier than it would have been if I’d had a new baby when Jamie was in that one-to-two-year-old into-everything stage. (Obviously, I can’t comment on whether it would be even easier if we’d left it still another year or two – quite probably.) Taking care of Jamie is a lot less hands-on than it used to be. Most of his day-to-day care involves things like reading him stories or just sitting next to him chatting with him about what he’s doing and letting him know I’m there. Most of Katie’s day-to-day care involves holding and nursing her, and the two sets of activities dovetail together pretty well. I sit next to him nursing her and chatting away to him or reading to him when he wants it. As one woman on an Internet forum recently phrased it beautifully: the baby has my body while the older child has my mind. And I’ve usually still got an arm free for a cuddle
One trick I thought of has been to talk to Katie in an ongoing running commentary about all the things Jamie’s doing. Since Katie is at a developmental stage where she benefits from having someone chat away to her regardless of what the subject matter is, so that she can get a basic feel for what talking sounds like, and Jamie is at a developmental stage where he benefits from hearing someone talking about what he’s doing, so that a) he learns the language for talking about the things that interest him and b) he knows that what he’s doing matters to someone, this struck me as a rather neat way of catching two birds with one net. The drawback, of course, is that talking non-stop about Jamie is going to be a rather less good strategy once Katie gets old enough to understand what I’m saying, and I’m going to have to figure out a way to phase this out between now and then, but I’ll worry about that further down the line.
Of course, there are moments when things clash. Jamie needs changing while Katie wants feeding. Jamie needs to be dragged away from something and I have to do it one-handed while holding/nursing the baby with the other hand. I have to rush Jamie through his bath and teeth-cleaning because Katie’s screaming to be fed (Barry now does Jamie’s bedtime routine five nights a week, but I still do it on Fridays and Saturdays while Barry keeps an eye on Katie, and, since the evenings are one of Katie’s cluster-feeding times, it’s always a race against time to get Jamie’s bath finished before Katie needs feeding again). But I figure out a way to get everything done, somehow or other. Somebody waits for a bit, and I juggle things, and it works out.
One important thing, I’ve found, is to stop caring about when everything gets done. Fretting because it’s X o’clock already and I still haven’t done the laundry or emptied the dishwasher or pumped milk and I planned to try to move naptime earlier today is a sure route to driving myself crazy. I’ve found that as long as I relax and go all Zen about it and just get things done when I can, they get done. Eventually. A bit at a time. And then I concentrate on the things I have got done rather than the things I haven’t – the small goals I’ve achieved in the course of the day (dishwasher emptied, another laundry load put away, a few more pieces of paper from my to-do pile dealt with). I remind myself to start each of those mental daily things-I-did-today lists with the important things – Fed baby. Listened to Jamie. Talked to both children. Held both children. Made both children feel I was there for them. If I can finish each day knowing I’ve done those things, then I’ve achieved the things I need to achieve. By that criterion, all of my days are a success.