As little girls we spend hours pushing miniature strollers, dressing (and undressing) dolls, emulating how we see mothers care for their babies and practicing for the future. Just like the real thing, right? Ha! As a child, no one tells you about the diaper blow-outs, catching vomit with bare hands, or being peed on, all while operating on 3 hours of sleep. Taking care of a baby is an all-encompassing job, and while it’s indisputably rewarding in a myriad of ways, it can simultaneously trigger feelings of terror, frustration and exhaustion (in that order) akin only to dodging through crowds of seasoned shoppers at the Saks after-Christmas sale.
In May my husband and I embarked on an emotional roller-coaster as we welcomed our second child when our first was merely 20 months old. Our cozy family of three had become a quartet overnight and it felt like we were driving a Ferrari without a steering wheel. In the weeks leading up to my newborn’s arrival, I felt a sense of guilt that even surpassed the time I had too many mimosas and purchased full-price Louboutins identical to a pair I already own. How would we preserve what we had with our toddler while embracing the changing dynamic of our growing family? How would I have the energy to keep up with a raging toddler while waking every two hours to feed a seven pound dictator? These were questions to which I would soon have answers.
Having 2 babies under the age of 2 presents its own unique set of challenges, but with patience and an optimistic mindset, it is possible to tend to a newborn’s basic needs while also managing an active toddler. Below I will divulge five of my own tried-and-true strategies for surviving, thriving and even looking chic while caring for two-under-two.
1. Put the Phone Down
For many Manhattan women, shopping is a competitive sport that requires discipline, stamina and a high-speed internet connection. If you’re like me, you’re glued to your phone around 11am/12pm EST when the online flash sale sites launch their daily deals. Who wouldn’t be interested to peep all of the discount designer merchandise on RueLaLa, Gilt, Hautelook, etc.? It’s easy to be distracted by the constant presence of our mobile devices and the immediacy of communication and information that they provide. Aside from accessing flash sales, we grocery shop, order dinner, pay bills, read news, and receive social media updates from friends all at the touch of a button. Although it may be difficult at times, it’s essential to disconnect from these digital distractions, especially in the company of your little ones who are competing for your attention. I really restrict my phone usage around my kids and instead use our time together to play games, read books, and focus on being “present”. Sharing these private moments with each of your babies reassures them that they are both loved and an important part of the family. Moms everywhere – Next time you feel the temptation to use your phone, please remind yourself that while the internet will be around for years to come, your babies will be babies only once.
2. Privacy – It’s Overrated.
I can’t even remember the last time I was able to take a shower or use the bathroom without the presence of a pint-sized playmate. Now that my toddler has learned to open doors, I’ve surrendered the little slice of privacy I’d been clinging to since his birth. When I’m brushing my teeth, there he is – my steadfast bathroom buddy, excitedly rummaging through my makeup drawer. If anyone needs their toilet flushed 157 times, my kid is available! Need toilet paper? No problem! My toddler has just unraveled an entire roll. Rather than allowing privacy deprivation to get me down, I consider myself lucky to have children who constantly want to be with me and I’ve grown accustomed to incorporating my sweet little sidekicks into my routines, even those that happen behind (once) closed doors. When my toddler isn’t busy ransacking my bathroom cabinets or trying to flush household objects down the toilet, I try to involve him as much as possible in my morning routine. My pint-sized personal stylist loves picking out my clothes and accessories, helping me get dressed, brushing my hair and helping me make coffee. In the afternoons, I often utilize my toddler’s nap as an opportunity to wash my hair, in which case my infant joins me in the bathroom in a bouncy seat so I can watch her through the glass shower door (with door cracked for fresh air). Sometimes I even add Olbas (http://www.olbas.co.uk/products/olbas-for-children.ashx) oil to my shower if she’s at all congested. She loves the sound of the cascading water and enjoys playing peek-a-boo as I wipe away the fog on the glass door. Who needs privacy when you can have inquisitive smiling eyes gazing up at you at all times?
3. Distract, Distract, Distract.
One of my chief concerns about having two-under-two was how I would keep my high-energy toddler safe and distracted so that I could peacefully nurse my newborn. This thrill-seeking mini-MacGyver, appropriately nicknamed “The Monkey”, would be right at home swinging from trees in the jungle. In highly calculated maneuvers, he pushes furniture to help reach objects, scales shelving units, jumps from high surfaces, and cannot be left unattended for even a moment. I had heard promising feedback about the Amazon Fire tablet through a friend and figured I would give it a shot. The tablet proved to be a successful means of keeping him engrossed and out of harm’s way, but I didn’t feel comfortable exposing him to so much screen time. That’s when I came up with the idea to create a “breastfeeding basket” filled with stimulating toys that I would make available only during the times when I’m nursing the baby. Worked like a charm! Nesting cups, Tupperware containers and Mister Potato Head have been some of his favorites, but it’s important to switch up these toys regularly otherwise the novelty wears off and the breastfeeding basket will backfire. If all else fails, you can always put your toddler into his crib with some toys.
4. Mommy & Me.
“Who is this new little creature monopolizing my mommy’s time? Why doesn’t she spend as much time with me anymore? Am I still her numero uno shopping sidekick?” Welcoming a new baby presents many challenges for the two-under-two family, the greatest of which, in my opinion, is helping the toddler adjust to the new family dynamic. He/she may be angry, confused and/or jealous of the new baby and unable to adequately communicate any of these feelings. After my daughter was born, it was very difficult for my son to fully comprehend the concept of having a new sibling. Even though we read books about becoming a big brother and role-played with dolls, it wasn’t until we brought the new baby home from the hospital that reality sank in. Although my son has been smitten with his baby sister from the very beginning, there have been times he has struggled with jealousy stemming from sharing my attention. While verbally reassuring him of how much he is loved is important, I’ve found it much more valuable to show him through my actions. I incorporate into our daily routine at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted “mommy & me” time and it’s been such a fantastic way for me to remind him I’m still his mommy. We take mommy & me classes, go out for lunch, visit museums and play at the park. Most importantly, giving him my undivided attention every day makes him feel valued and appreciated.
5. They’re always sick – Get used to it
When my son was an infant he never had so much as a sniffle. I took him to classes, restaurants, and more shopping adventures than I’m willing to admit. Fast forward two years and things couldn’t be any more different. On any given day, there is a fairly good chance that someone in our household is sick. Now that my son is in preschool he’s exposed to countless germs, all of which he eagerly brings home to his baby sister. Despite frequent hand washing and our best efforts to sanitize everything that comes through our door, it seems like we are fighting a losing battle. Ever try quarantining a rambunctious 2-year old in a Manhattan apartment? You would have an easier time going to Hermes and walking out with a Birkin. The first winter with your toddler and newborn/infant will inevitably be an endless onslaught of runny noses and low-grade fevers. No need to panic, however. Armed with infant Tylenol, boogie wipes and a NoseFrida, you will have all the essentials to ride out even the worst cold season. Dust off your Juicy velour separates and take advantage of this time by sharing extra cuddles and allowing them to indulge in their favorite television shows. Most importantly, take comfort in knowing that childhood exposure to germs may help boost immunity and enjoy those snuggles while you can!