Every time I talk to another parent who recently had their second child, we end up having the exact same conversation.
Me: You know, we were really surprised at how much harder it was to have two kids than it was to have one.
Them: Us too! It’s, like, exponentially harder!
Me: I know, right? Why didn’t anyone warn us about this? Everyone always talks about how hard the first one is but I never got a single warning about the second.
Them: Me either! I think you need to write about it. Like a public service announcement or something.
But I never did! Just like everyone else, I never shared how much we struggled to make the adjustment from one to two kids.
Today I’d like that change that.
For those of you who don’t know, my wife and I have two boys. The oldest is 3.5 and the youngest is 1.5. (Side note: I love how kids’ ages get measured in half years. When does that stop? Am I allowed to measure my age in half years? Or is that frowned upon?)
Our plan from the beginning was to have four kids. We both come from big families and we’ve always liked the idea of having a tribe. And that was still the plan after we had our first.
And then we had our second.
Now, the truth is that our kids are actually relatively easy to handle. Neither of them are great sleepers, which has definitely been tough. But other than that they’ve been about as good as it gets.
And we were still shocked at how much more difficult it was to take care of two than it was to take care of one. It was a real struggle for both of us.
Now, just to be totally clear, my aim here is absolutely NOT to discourage anyone from having a second child. I love our little guy to death and I’m incredibly thankful that we have him, and even that we had him when we did.
I’d just like to paint a realistic picture of what it’s been like for us, and to let you know that if you’re struggling with your second child, you’re not alone.
Double the kids. More than double the work.
Here’s the thing: when you have a second child, you have ALL of the same responsibilities and worries you had with the first one PLUS a bunch of new ones.
Here’s a small sampling of things I struggled with.
All of a sudden I had to account for two completely different sets of needs, all happening at the same time. The older one wanted me to read to him while the younger one needed to be rocked. One had a poopy diaper while the other needed a bottle.
These needs kept coming, one after another, and usually couldn’t all be handled at the same time. Which meant that I spent most of my time trying to catch up on the things they had needed a few minutes ago, while also trying to anticipate what they were going to need in the next few minutes, and basically constantly feeling like I was 100 steps behind.
And if we were also trying to get out of the house and go somewhere? I mean, forget about it.
Also, how do you put two kids down for naps at the same time, in different rooms, when the other parent isn’t around? I’m still not sure how we did that.
What about when they’re on different nap schedules? How do you plan a day when there are double the number of nap times to work around?
Not to mention the fact that neither of our kids were sleeping through the night, which basically doubled the amount of time we spent awake. Thank God for coffee!
And that’s all just the logistics. I also spent a good amount of time worrying that I wouldn’t be able to love the second one as much as I loved the first. There’s such a special bond that forms when you’re devoting all of your time and attention to one child, and you just can’t do that with the second.
And then I worried about losing the bond I had with the first because I didn’t have the time or energy to do all the things we used to do now that there was a baby in the picture. I felt like I wasn’t able to be as good of a dad as I had been and that he might resent me for it.
Having that first child represents a HUGE change in your relationship with your spouse or partner. You basically go from being best friends with benefits to being business partners in charge of running your family corporation together.
And all of that only becomes harder with the second child.
To start, you have less alone time than you did before. It’s simple math really. Two kids require more time, more attention, and more energy than one, which means you have less of all of those to spend on each other. Date nights, romantic evenings, and even casual conversations are harder to come by.
You also have more things to disagree on. Before you only had to figure out how to co-parent one child, which is hard enough. But now you need to figure out how to not only handle two different children with different needs and different personalities, but how to handle the interaction between them.
There are just a lot more decisions to make, and no matter how much you love each other you’re not going to agree on everything.
Keeping the relationship strong takes a lot of patience, understanding, and compromise, and at times it’s pretty challenging.
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But wait! There’s good stuff too!
Now, all of that paints a pretty bleak picture. And while it HAS been a big struggle for us, there’s also been a whole lot of good that’s come from having two kids.
The best part is watching the two of them interact with each other. They spend plenty of time fighting, but they also genuinely love each other and it’s just awesome to watch them play together, make each other laugh, and help each other out. It’s really cool to watch their relationship grow.
It’s also fun see how the younger one still clearly idolizes his older brother and learns a lot from him, but isn’t afraid to assert himself when he wants something. He’s more than capable of holding his own.
Also, I did eventually find out that I COULD love the second one as much as I love the first, AND that while my relationship with first son changed a little bit (everything changes over time), our bond is still strong and I can still be a good dad for him.
Finally, they’re just two different people with their own personalities and it’s a lot of fun to get to know them and find different things I enjoy doing with each of them. They’re both really cool in their own unique ways.
A change in plans?
I said before that our plan all along was to have four kids.
Now? We’re no longer sure where we’ll end up. We’re past the hardest part of having two (for now anyways!) and it’s gotten a lot more fun. We’d still love to have more kids if the situation is right, but neither of us feels ready yet.
I think we’ve also come to terms with the fact that it’s okay to not have more kids. We’re not failures if we don’t reach our initial goal of four. We’re allowed to just keep on doing a kick-ass job with two.
So there it is, out in the open. It may not exactly be a groundbreaking discovery, but it’s not something I was ever told even though everyone else seems to feel the same way.
That second child is pretty darn hard.