Why Doesn’t Anyone Tell You That the 2nd Child Is Harder than the 1st?

Why Doesn't Anyone Tell You That the 2nd Child Is Harder than the 1st?

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.

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Relationship strain

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.

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.

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42 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Brian @DebtDiscipline August 4, 2015

    Try having 2 at once. Our first children were twins. Talk about double the work! We found that we needed to really work together when they were first born. As parents you find a way to manage. (I learned the zone defense coverage for when the began walking and I was home alone with them) It does get easier as they get older, and as you learn more as a parent. Looking back I would do it over again in a second. I’ll save the stories are adding a third child for another day. 🙂

    • Matt Becker August 4, 2015

      Oh man. I can’t even imagine! You’re spot on that you somehow find a way, but it’s not always easy.

    • T dot July 24, 2016

      I’ll second that … ! wasn’t even looking up twins, but they seem to get onto every parenting message board..lol… Anyway, two at once is like a punch in the face! especially for first time parents….EVERYTHING is easier after that…I mean even two toddlers!. Although, two at different stages actually sounds harder in the long run…

  • Andrew@LivingRichCheaply August 4, 2015

    Every time I see parents with 2 little ones, I ask them how they handle it! We have our hands full with just one for now. At least with one, the parents still outnumber the kids…but once you get to 3 and 4…. =) I have heard some parents say it does get a little easier. You’re a pro now and probably not as anxious about stuff as with the first child.

    • Matt Becker August 4, 2015

      I’m definitely not anxious about all the same stuff, but there are new things to be anxious about. I actually just heard from someone on twitter though saying the 3rd is easier, so that’s good news!

  • Mrs. Crackin' the Whip August 4, 2015

    Yes parenting styles can differ too! Now I’m pretty laid back and figure each child reaches milestones as they’re ready; i.e. giving up the bottle, potty training. etc.

    Mr. Crackin’ is a little more serious as in, “Our child turned 1 last week and you’re still giving him his morning bottle?!” I will never forget that! It still makes me smile. He’s chilled out quite a bit now.

    I’m wishing you the best with a 3.5 and 1.5 yr. old!

    • Matt Becker August 4, 2015

      Absolutely! Dealing with those differences in style can be tough. That’s actually something I really need to be better about. Good to hear that you guys are figuring it out!

  • Amber Tree August 4, 2015

    This is a very recognizable situation. We were in your case 1,5 years ago. And indeed, It feels more like 1+1 = 2.

    But, things can change and will change. Now that our kids are 3 and almost 5, It turns out that we have more free time on our hands than before. We apparently can do more things now in a day, we have better sleep at night. The children are more independent, and their interaction is now more self entertaining. At some point in time, I dare to say that 1+1 = 1,5

    Sounds promising, don’t you think?

    • Matt Becker August 11, 2015

      Yes, I like the sound of that! Actually, I think we’re partially already there ourselves. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s much easier now than it was. And there are stretches where they can entertain themselves, which are getting longer. It’s certainly progress! And it’s a whole lot of fun watching them grow up together.

  • Paul August 5, 2015

    I have absolutely found the same thing. having two was at least three times harder than having one. The good thing is that having a third was (other than the sleepless nights at the beginning) roughly 0% harder than having two. Since we are now working on our fourth I’m hoping the trend of 0% continues…

    • Matt Becker August 11, 2015

      Well that’s nice to hear! I have to say that the prospect of multiple wake-ups throughout the night is not all that appealing right now, but it’s good to know that you didn’t find it much more difficult otherwise. Good luck with number 4!

  • Done by Forty August 5, 2015

    Timely post. You’ve inspired us: after we’ve had the first kid, we’ll make another, and auction off our second baby to the highest bidder, then use the proceeds to fund the first kid’s education.

    Or, I guess if we want to be less efficient, we could keep the little bugger around.

  • Oh man I’m feeling this pain right now with a 6 week old boy to go with our 3 year old daughter! Our first was a great sleeper, and we thought the odds were against us of having another good sleeper – and unfortunately we were more right than we could have imagined! I had heard from others that 2 was much much harder than 1, but was definitely not prepared…

    At least our daughter has been very sweet to our baby boy since day 1, so I can definitely see some great potential for the relationship between them!

    • Matt Becker August 11, 2015

      Congrats on the newborn! Sorry to hear it’s been tough though. It definitely does get easier, but I know you’re in the thick of it now. It’s great to hear that they’re getting along though. That will only get more fun as they age.

  • Dane Hinson August 6, 2015

    Matt, I really feel like goes widely unspoken. When our second child came it was quickly apparent that it was much more than double the work. I have noticed that as they grow up they’re getting better at playing together which is taking some of the pressure of mom and dad. But it’s been a looooong journey and a lot of patience.

    • Matt Becker August 11, 2015

      For sure! I really don’t know why you don’t hear about it more often. It’s nice to know that other people feel the same way. Helps you not feel like a failure.

  • Cat@BudgetBlonde August 8, 2015

    I can relate to a lot of what you’re saying. Having two kids definitely means less one on one time. I love taking just one of my kids out to run an errand. It’s so much easier and gives me some one on one time with them. I think the hardest part for me is having a sweet moment with one of them like cuddling or reading to them and then the other one starts crying. I find it really hard to catch those individual moments. We go back and forth on wanting more kids. Only time will tell!

  • Matt Becker August 11, 2015

    That’s such a great point. Those rare one-on-one moments are definitely really special now, though it can be frustrating that they’re so hard to find. And you’ve had two from the beginning! You guys are the real pros here.

  • Its been awhile since our kids were that young (they are now 27, 24 and 22 and we are empty nesters) but I do recall that having the second did result in much more work. Surprisingly our third did not seem to though I think by that point in time we had “lightened up” as parents. As a friend with three related to us during the time we only had one (to parphrase) “… when the first one hits their head on the coffee table you frantically call the doctor and ask for a referral to a specialist, when the second one does it you are still concerned and with the third one your first concern is about any damage to the coffee table). We didn’t go out for almost nine months with our first one (and reluctantly had the 16 year old honor student who lived across the street as a sitter), we schelped the youngest one out to a friend’s for dinner within his first week and left him and his sisters with a sitter much sooner.

    • Matt Becker August 18, 2015

      HA! We definitely already worry less with the second, and it’s nice to get another vote for the third being a lot less difficult. Maybe there’s hope yet for getting to our goal!

  • Paul Moyer @SavingFreak September 4, 2015

    Just got turned onto your site from Jeff Rose.

    Moving from one to two was harder for us than two to three. Right now our kids are 6, 4, and 1. What makes the third one not so bad is that by the time you get to that one the oldest can kind of help out or at least take care of themselves.

    My next experiment with my son (the oldest) is “The Magic of Making Your Own Breakfast”

    • Matt Becker September 4, 2015

      Glad you found me Paul! Thanks for stopping by. What you’re saying makes a lot of sense, and my own parents have actually said as much (I’m the oldest of 4). It definitely makes things easier when they can do things for themselves. Our oldest has recently learned how to dress himself, which is awesome! I hope you guys are able to figure out breakfast!

      • Paul Moyer @SavingFreak September 4, 2015

        YES!! Dressing themselves is a huge deal. Both of our oldest do this. We have them pick out a whole week of clothes in advance and put them in a set of pockets that hang on the closet door. This way you can tell them to go get dressed and they only have to pick out something that already matches.

        Now if I can just get all of them to wipe their own butts I will have crossed a major hurdle.

        • Matt Becker September 5, 2015

          HA! Oh man, we’re still a long way away from that.

  • Sustainable PF September 4, 2015

    We have an (almost) 4 year old and a now 9 month old baby. We haven’t found things as difficult as you describe. Both kids sleep well at night which may be the big difference. We are done at 2 however. The thoughts of having 3 were doused as Mrs. SPF has thoroughly enjoyed her pregnancies and doesn’t see any need for a 3rd!

    • Matt Becker September 4, 2015

      Good to hear you’ve had an easier go of it! The sleep thing is definitely big. Ours are pretty much sleeping through the night now and it just makes things so much easier when you aren’t up multiple times each night.

      How are yours getting along? It’s a bigger age gap than ours, which I’m sure has pros and cons.

      • SustainablePF September 14, 2015

        Our son is almost 4 (few weeks away) and our daughter is 10 months.

        I think we got really lucky that our son really loves his little sister and helps out with things like stocking diapers, getting her toys – most importantly interacting with her a lot.

        Our daughter is having some issues getting through the night – hit and miss but mostly miss.

        As for their relationship our daughter is quite “smiley” and loves interacting with her brother. Probably her favourite person.

        Sharing is becoming a noticed dilemma. A lot of our son’s old toys are now being used with our daughter.

        Every family has its own challenges!

        • Matt Becker September 22, 2015

          Sounds like it’s mostly good though, which is great! There are always sharing issues, but as long as that baseline relationship is there then it’s usually okay for the most part.

  • Stockbeard September 20, 2015

    We got our second child 10 months ago and I can 100% relate with everything you said. We also relocated internationally when she was 3 months old, and I can guarantee this adds a lot to the messy mix.

    I hear the third one is not that hard, as after that point you count a lot on the kids learning from each other. I think I’m not going to try though. My initial goal was to have 3, but I don’t see where I could find the energy. My wife seems to be up for it though…

    • Matt Becker September 22, 2015

      I’ve heard the same thing about the third. We’ll see if we end up trying it out for ourselves!

  • AS January 4, 2016

    You said: ” 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”

    Most parents I have spoken to say 2 is easier than 1 because they play together and keep each other entertained. My kid requires a lot of attention from me when she is alone but when her friend comes over, it’s so much easier on me as I can actually get things done while they disappear to play.

    I can see how 2 kids mean more responsibilities overall, but I can also see how my friends are right when they say 2 is easier than 1.

    • Matt Becker January 4, 2016

      That’s a great point, and that’s become more true for us as our kids have gotten older and are getting better at both playing on their own and playing together. It’s definitely easier now than it was, and it’s quite possible that it will get even easier going forward.

      In the end I think all of this really boils down to individual situations too. We found it to be a big challenge to go from 1 to 2, but I certainly understand that not everyone will have the same experience.

  • Madiha March 30, 2016

    Just wished I would at least have seen this post before I had my second one.. My daughter is 1 year and things aren’t going as easy as I thought it to be ..still waiting ..

    • Matt Becker March 30, 2016

      You’re definitely not alone Madiha. From my experience though, and from talking to other parents, it does eventually get easier. My youngest turned 2 a few months ago and while nothing is easy, it’s definitely less stressful than it was.

  • Heather Davis June 21, 2016

    Reading this scares me. I only have one,10 months old, but my husband wants a second. I also feel guilty not having another one as my daughter will be an only child. But I am struggling so badly with just one that I can’t imagine cari g for another.
    My daughter does not sleep through the night and she wakes at 5-5:30am every day. I’ve tried everything to get her to sleep later. She also is not a great napper. She is very active and does not sit still for a moment. I am so exhausted both emotionally and physically that each day is a huge struggle to get through. Being alone all day, every day is tough and throwing a pregnancy and then a second baby in the mix is terrifying.
    I don’t know how you parents of 2,3,4 + do it.

    • Matt Becker June 21, 2016

      Honestly that sounds a lot like us Heather. Our first was a terrible sleeper and it made everything so much harder. He had started getting better but reverted once our second was born. Not getting enough sleep is such a big challenge.

      I certainly don’t mean to scare you away. Nolan (our second) is absolutely amazing and I’m so glad we have two now. The boys play together, take care of each other, and honestly at this point watching them interact is probably the best part of parenting. I love it.

      But it’s difficult, and there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with having an only child, especially if it’s already a handful. Here’s an article I really enjoyed: Great News: You’re Allowed To Have Only One Kid!

  • Janifer @ Travel Bharat July 16, 2016

    YES!! Dressing themselves is a huge deal. Both of our oldest do this. We have them pick out a whole week of clothes in advance and put them in a set of pockets that hang on the closet door. This way you can tell them to go get dressed and they only have to pick out something that already matches.

  • Martin Kirkham November 21, 2016

    Great article … I feel the pain.

    I think the second child is more difficult as he sees his older sibling running around, talking and they get so frustrated.

    My youngest is full on. He expects to be held , played with, amused all day long .. he doesn’t sleep through the night.

    It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done … my work used to send me to the brink, its high pressure. These days I skip to work.. my thought patterns and actions have logical consequences .

    My wife is my hero but there is so much tension some days .. we argue about who has the most downtime .. we actually compare how many times we ha e been to the bathroom !

    My eldest is such a good boy … but my youngest is literally a living nightmare .. but he is probably the cutest baby ever… it’s a good job !!

    • Matt Becker November 22, 2016

      I hear you Martin. It’s a real challenge. The one thing I’ll say is that it gets easier, at least from my experience. I mean, it’s always a challenge but it does get easier as they get older and are able to do more things for themselves. And when the siblings start developing a real relationship with each other, man is that cool to watch!

      It’s tough, but like you say it’s a good job.

  • Matt February 23, 2017

    Great article! I wish I had found it before we had two so I could have been more prepared. I foolishly felt that baby two would be easier for me than the first.

    We have a 3.5 yr old and a 10 wk old.

    This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I struggled with anxiety when our first born was a baby and I’m struggling the same with the second. I don’t regret having a 2nd but right now it is very hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    I’m excited to see them grow up together and interact but it seems so distant right now. I know that it will improve….it has too!

    It’s comforting to know that we aren’t alone and that it will get better.

    • Matt Becker February 24, 2017

      I hear you Matt. It’s a difficult transition for sure and you’re right in the middle of it, but it definitely gets easier. Hang in there!

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