Dear me, new mother of two:
It’s been four years since I was, well, you. You’re probably reading this on your phone while nursing the baby, struggling to stay awake and attempting to appease the toddler. I’ll keep it short.
You’re feeling guilty. Don’t. Your toddler will not suffer because he doesn’t get every ounce of your attention now. He will grow up better for it. He will learn that the world does not revolve around him. Having a brother will help him learn to share. To take turns. To handle prickly encounters before he hits school.
Your baby will not suffer because you read toddler-appropriate books rather than the black and white newborn-centered volumes you had for your oldest. Looking back, this seems like a silly concern, but I know you want to give your second child the same opportunities as the first. Holding the baby while you read to the toddler gives him new words to learn and cuddle time with you. He’ll still develop a love for books, just as the older one has.
Let’s talk about the older one for a minute. You’re on maternity leave, so you’re opting to keep him at home with you instead of sending him to day care, which you’re paying for to hold your spot. You feel guilty because you have this time off work, this free pass to spend the majority of your hours together.
Forget about that. Accept the help. Send him to day care. Let him keep his routine. He won’t resent you. He’ll be happy for it, and you’ll be able to sleep.
By the way — I know your history with sleep. All-nighters studying in college, followed by coffee. Late-night movie marathons with your husband after you tucked in the oldest. You could shuffle through the morning at work, peak around lunch and coast through the afternoon with few consequences.
Well, that’s not going to work anymore. You want to be a good mom? Sleep. Stop thinking of it as a block of hours that you can whittle away as needed. When you know the babies will wake up at 5:30 a.m., backtrack eight hours and make your lights-out time 9:30 p.m. Be the old lady.
Because the thing about sleep is that it gives you patience. Lets you function within your natural state of kindness and happiness. Without it, you’re a short-tempered, pessimistic rhymes-with-witch. Caring for two needy, demanding, albeit adorable fledgling humans can bring out the worst in a person. Steel yourself with as much shut-eye as you can muster. Ask for help. Nap.
Remember how you read all those baby books before you had your first child? You were nervous. You tried to absorb and make sense of all the conflicting advice about sleep schedules, feeding schedules, co-sleeping, swaddling, diapering, you name it.
Then you learned to relax and trust your instincts. And your instincts told you that you had the mothering thing down.
Once the baby came, you were going to spend your maternity leave going on outings with both kids. Storytime at the library. Trips to the pool, the park and the zoo.
Having a newborn was going to be easier this time.
Except it isn’t. Even though the new baby doesn’t have colic like your first, learning to be a parent of two has its own challenges. It’s OK that the second time isn’t easier.
You feel like a hot mess, with your greasy hair and your spit-up-stained tank tops, but you’re doing great. Keep fighting through.
Just don’t forget to take care of yourself, OK? I’m not even talking about showering or combing your hair. Stop sleeping in that armchair in the baby’s room. I know it’s comfortable, but one day soon you’ll wake up and you won’t be able to turn your head. That neck ache won’t disappear for weeks.
Oh, and that rash on your lower back? The one that you Googled and convinced yourself was poison ivy? Get that checked out ASAP. It’s shingles, which breaks out in times of extreme stress.
Obviously. Asking for help, taking a nap, sleeping in your own bed, going to the doctor — those things don’t make you less of a mother. They help you be more of one.