Updated: Mar 7
Five months ago, our little family expanded with the arrival of our second boy. At the time, it didn't seem like a big deal. One more baby shouldn't be too hard right? Didn't we just do this? We can do it again! Fast-forward to today and wow... this was a complete different human being with his own personality traits and preferences. What worked for the first no longer applied for the second. Not only that, but I've underestimated the intensity of my toddler's terrible twos. Suddenly, all the challenges we experienced as first-time parents seemed so trivial compared to our two-year-old's temper tantrums.
EXHAUSTION AT IT'S PEAK
Two years ago, we thought that taking care of a newborn would be the most tiring phase of parenthood. We were so wrong! The newborn stage was by far the easiest. Toddlers are a drastic contrast and definitely more demanding in terms of energy and patience. He's needy, he's whiny and he's starting to have a little mind of his own. Of course, there's nothing needier than a newborn, but toddlers are natural attention seekers and when mama's too occupied holding another baby, emotions run high.
Children have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, which explains why our toddler is incapable of controlling his emotions. It's for this reason that we've made it our mission to use a more gentle approach during his meltdowns. When he cries or misbehaves, instead of punishing him harshly, we see it as an opportunity for development. The problem with this? Easier said than done! Being physically and mentally available at all times for an infant and a toddler can be just as demanding, if not more so, than a full-time job. I know this now.
PRIORITIZING OUR MARRIAGE
It goes without saying that having children can really test a marriage. Quality time spent alone with my beloved husband is, for the time being, close to non-existent. We know this period is temporary though, cause we've been through it before. But I can definitely understand now why some couples don't make it past their child's first birthday. The sleep deprivation, the stress from work, the comparison of who is more tired than the other and who's not doing enough... These are all contributing factors to a deteriorating relationship where in the end, there's no more teamwork and you're truly better off without each other.
We currently have a great system that works for us: Every morning, my husband takes care of the little ones to give me extra sleep. At night, my shift begins with exclusive breastfeeding around the clock every two to three hours. Once in a while, after the kids have gone to bed, we make time for a bubble bath together with no screens, no distractions, and we just talk about life. Occasionally, we ask family or friends to watch the kids at home so we can enjoy an evening out. Ironically, we always end up talking about our boys. Not even two hours without the kids and we miss them already!
I'm not gonna lie and say we never get into arguments. When we butt heads, it's most likely due to miscommunication or expectations that aren't fully met. It's always been easy for me to feel irritated and immediately point a finger at anyone but myself. I've come to the conclusion that it's just not worth it anymore to play the blame game. My stubborn, younger self would sulk and give the silent treatment until someone got fed up and extended an olive branch. But life is too short. We only have a small window of alone time together before our youngest one wakes up to feed again. Why waste it on being unpleasant with each other? It's so much easier and healthier to just sit down and listen actively to the other person and to try and really understand their perspective before shutting down their side of the story. You learn and you grow. Sometimes it's my fault, sometimes it's his. One thing's for sure, the mistakes never get repeated. And in the rare case our toddler witnesses a disagreement, we remind ourselves to always make up in front of him. This teaches him how to reconciliate after a conflict and to model our behavior in the future.
Prioritizing quality time in our marriage is beneficial to our synergy as parents and allows us to not only communicate efficiently, but also prevent future disputes. We always have something to talk about, and that's what I find so precious and beautiful about our marriage, so it deserves to be nurtured.
JUGGLING FAMILY, FRIENDS & SELF-CARE
There's always a trade-off when choosing who I spend my free time with. I'm the extroverted one of the couple, you know? The loud one, the party animal, the night owl... still desperately clinging on to part of my past life and wanting to chill with friends on weekends. The truth is, every time we see our friends, I can see how it puts us back in our element; a forgotten but still familiar, "fun", care-free version of us. The only difference now is that we've got priorities. Is hosting our friends past midnight worth waking up grumpy the next day with no energy to play with our sons? Don't get me wrong, we truly adore our friends. But our kids don't have their own friends yet, all they have is us.
I admit that I'm still struggling with this new lifestyle where I constantly feel like I have to be available for everyone as a friend, as a daughter, as a daughter-in-law, as a wife, as a mother. Where does me-time fit in all this? During the week, I survive on dry shampoo and loungewear. I squeeze a manicure or a haircut in my schedule every now and then. I do some squats and I call it a day. The rest of the time I'm either changing diapers, or sleeping, or feeding, or chasing my toddler.
Time management is crucial especially now that we have our hands full. We're at that point where weekends sometimes feel like more work cause we have to be up at 7:30 AM every day. Saturdays are practically the equivalent of Mondays. Making the most of our free time is what keeps me sane and happy. If I'm not allowed to sleep in on weekends, then we better be doing some type of activity. It's gotta be productive! It's gotta be fun! However, I tend to get too ambitious, and sometimes, over-planning can backfire. I learned that the hard way. We now limit ourselves to achieving only one thing per day. Whether it's going apple picking, attending a friend's housewarming or even just going to the in-law's for brunch. Scheduling ahead is key and limiting our expectations makes everything more relaxing and enjoyable.
ADAPTING A NEW MENTALITY
Parents of young kids are often depicted as prisoners of their own children. "We need to leave by this time because our kids need to nap" or "We can't come because it will be past their bedtime" are common phrases you'll hear from them. It's true that skipping naps can lead to overtiredness, which makes it harder for them to settle down at night. On top of that, having a consistent routine can positively influence a child's cognitive development.
However, I'm also a firm believer that our world does not revolve around our children. I do put them first, but not to the expense of my own well-being. Life is all about balance. Your ride-or-die friends will adjust to your new normal. Some people will inevitably phase out. I made peace with the fact that the me from the past—the me who had no kids—is a completely different person from the me today. I embrace this new me and this new reality where I have two dependent little souls who look up to me.
This shift of perspective allowed me to fully enjoy the ups and downs of being a mom of two. Sure, it can get chaotic and messy, but the best parts are seldom talked about because my friends hear me vent more than I boast. When I'm asked how I'm doing, I always say I'm tired and that it's not easy. In reality, the blissful and happy moments fill my heart with so much joy on a daily basis.
On some days, I leave the baby behind with my husband and go run errands with my two-year-old, and I'm delighted that he's willing to tag along and hold my hand. I know that one day, he might push my kisses and hugs away and say: "Mom, you're embarrassing me!" This is exactly the reason why I hold my younger one an extra minute long before putting him back in his crib at night. I take a moment to soak up the wonderful feeling of having him asleep against my chest. I smell his little tuff of hair and feel his soft cheeks against the back of my fingers. I do all this because I know he too, will grow up too fast, run around wildly and throw tantrums like his older brother, so I might as well enjoy his little coos and drools while I still can.