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Preparing for a Second Child: Examining Routines

It seems that going from one to two children can rank among the most challenging transitions that many families will ever face. For Annabelle’s sake, as well as our own, we’re trying to prepare in a number of different ways and I’ll be sharing those with you as we go along in an informal series I’ll call Preparing for a Second Child.

Of course I’m still in the preparing stage myself, so my thinking on how beneficial these ideas are, is still purely theoretical. I’m learning as I go and by no means do I have it all figured out. I’m just sharing ideas as we take this journey, and I’m open to yours as well!

The first thing we started doing when we learned of my pregnancy was looking at our daily rhythm and considering what would likely continue to work after the new baby’s arrival, and what might present a problem. Because the arrival of a newborn will, in most cases, inevitably turn the family’s world on its head for a period, many recommend that parents keep the older child’s basic routine as “normal” as possible and avoid introducing unnecessary changes close to the new sibling’s birth.

This makes sense to me. Change is difficult for all of us, children included, and can make us feel a bit uneasy or insecure. While there will be a new person in our bed, at my breast, and in our arms, I’d like for Annabelle to be able to relax in the knowledge that the bed is still her bed, too. That she can still nurse, too. That we still want to hold her, too. While many things will be different, I’d like for her to be able to relax in the understanding that the basic frameworks of our lives are still something she can count on.

There’s also the concern that the older child might attribute any changes they experience as negative, to the baby, and this might interfere with their feelings about and bond with their new sibling.

Of course we’re packing up and moving across the globe, to an entirely different climate and a completely different home a mere eight weeks, give or take, before our second baby is expected to join us, so our ability to keep things consistent is rather limited. What we’re focusing on are our basic daily routines. I’ve been paying close attention to these since finding out I was pregnant, and I’ve been asking myself two questions about all of the things we do on a normal day:

  • Is this working well for us now?
  • Will we be able to keep this up when we have a newborn to care for, too?

If the answer to either question is “no,” I know it’s time to consider a gradual change in routine. I’m hoping that by changing things that are sources of stress or frustration now, and by making sure that our routines are manageable for parents of a newborn and a toddler, we can head off some issues that might arise to add to the challenges of those early days.

All tucked in and ready for bed.

The biggest example I have of this is sleep. The bedtime and middle of the night routines with Annabelle were becoming increasingly frustrating for me, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep them up every night after the baby. The first big change we starting working on after finding out I was pregnant was night weaning. I admire mothers who happily nurse two children during the night, but I knew this practice would make me, personally, a grumpy and touched out mama, so I decided to try night weaning long before the arrival of the new baby. It turned out to be great for both Annabelle’s and my sleep!

Once that was all settled, I started looking at the events leading up to bedtime. Annabelle was needing my focused attention, for one to three hours on most nights, before she could fall asleep. Knowing that there would likely be evenings in the future when the baby needed to nurse or be walked around and Annabelle needed to get to bed, at the same time, I decided this routine was likely to become a source of stress (admittedly, I was already feeling a bit crazy some nights). I’ll write more about the specific changes we made here later on, but for now I’ll just say that I had two basic goals: That the parent present at bedtime could be either dad or mom and that, if necessary, said parent could support Annabelle while simultaneously taking care of another task (or a baby). This way my husband and I can each handle the bedtime routine with equal success, and either one of us can manage it alone, with both children, if the other needs to be away for some unforeseen reason.

Those two changes are the big ones. Aside from that, we’ve been working on ways of keeping our house consistently in some state of something resembling order. What constitutes “order” may need to change a bit with a newborn around, but hopefully we’re forming habits that will help us keep our living space livable throughout the transition.

Choosing a snack to eat.

We’ve also been working to support Annabelle in the many things she’s capable of doing herself, like dressing and getting snacks. The less energy we need to focus on things like these during our adjustment phase, the more energy we can focus on simply being with, enjoying, and loving on both of our children. I’m under no illusion that things will all go as planned, or that we even have control over how these routines will go. The inevitable changes that come with welcoming a new baby may throw Annabelle for a loop, causing her to wake frequently at night, to demand help in getting dressed, or to exhibit any range of new behaviors. I can’t prevent all of this, but I’m hoping that by getting rid of sources of stress now, I can relax and prepare to take on any challenges that come our way with patience and understanding.

If you have two children, what were the most helpful things you did to prepare for the arrival of the second? If your second is on the way, how are you preparing?

This post is linked up with Seasonal Celebration Sunday at the Natural Mothers Network.

37 Responses to Preparing for a Second Child: Examining Routines

  • Jess says:

    You are such a good mama, so aware and in touch with your baby’s needs. Weighing each decision, learning and listening it is very difficult but very commendable. The mere fact that her okness is so important to you will be what she feels, new baby or not, new home or not. She knows she is important and safe.

    • melissa says:

      Thank you for the reassuring words, Jess. That thought really does bring me comfort – I do hope that’s what A will feel. Just what I needed to hear!

  • Laura says:

    It seems as if you were writing to match my deepest concerns, so I don’t have words to thank you enough.
    I’d like to share how we are preparing but the truth is I am still coming to terms with the fact of a second unplanned child. We are somewhere (previous to) around the stage of reconsidering routines. Sleeping has also been a big issue around here and I am glad to say that after nursing M’s dad is able to get her to sleep at bedtime (not naps). Night-weaning might be the next step but I don’t really feel we are prepared yet. Sorry for rambling on!

    • melissa says:

      You’re not rambling on at all! You have plenty of time yet to prepare, and I’m sure you’ll do wonderfully. Night weaning is a big help to some, but there’s no reason to rush it if you’re not ready or not having any issues related to night nursing. You’ll no doubt find a rhythm that’s just right for the three, soon to be four, of you.

  • Anna says:

    It is so personal to each family, how the first sibling copes with the second. A lot depends on what the new baby is like. My second baby was very loud, which upset the first. When he cried it sounded as if he had been violently hurt but he was actually just crying a little. He is still very loud! I found myself having to find ways of coping with the older child’s distress and the younger child’s needs at the same time. It was hard because I couldn’t feed the baby and hold her at the same time because she wouldn’t come close to him. When number three came along I was all ready for a rerun and it just did not happen in the same way.

    My advice is, beyond having thought about routines, which will make an enormous difference, even if things are difficult, make sure that you have a time every day for your older child. It isn’t enough to tell yourself that you will have special time when the baby is asleep because that time depends on your baby being a good sleeper and that might not happen. Also, it means that you and your older child have to drop an activity so you can tend to the baby when s/he wakes up. Discuss with your husband and any other family/help you might have around how to carve out some time every day just for you and A. As the baby gets older you will need to carve out enough time for the babe as well, but by then you might have A in nursery or a routine that allows it.

    I would also say, just in case, have some DVD’s that you can bear, put aside in case of emergency. I never thought I would when I had only one child, but there are times when the kindest thing you can do is give her a bit of down time, give yourself a little down time and allow all of you to survive the day.

    This sounds as if I think it will be hell for you, and I don’t at all. My experience will not be yours. These are just things that made a difference or that I found worked for us.

    I hope you get some more ideas here because ideas are what you come back to when the time comes.

    • melissa says:

      Thank you for sharing, Anna. It will definitely be interesting to see what this new baby’s personality is like and how it meshes (or doesn’t at first) with Annabelle’s. I have been listening very closely to friends who have recently welcomed their respective second children, so I’ve gained a lot of ideas and insights from them. Our experience will surely be unique, but I’m taking notes anyway! Your ideas are definitely going on that list!

  • This all sounds very sensible, and I will definitely keep it tucked away in my brain for when it is needed in the future. But mostly I just wanted to say that I love those little snack jars!

    • melissa says:

      Aren’t they wonderful!? I was giddy when I found them, for a dollar something each. I’d been looking for something non-plastic to hold single servings of snacks for ages. They’re labeled as spice jars – not sure why I didn’t think to use that as my search term in the first place! :)

  • I just found a list I’d made of important things to do before Alrik arrived. Top of the list: “Get Mikko to sleep by 10 p.m. without one of us lying down with him.” I don’t know, it gave me a chuckle in retrospect, but apparently it worked to write it so prominently on the list — because, well, he doesn’t always go to sleep by 10, but our bedtime routine has become much more streamlined. I’d say that was a very important preparation for us.

    • melissa says:

      I’m glad to know working on bedtime was helpful for you. Your insights on kids and sleep, especially that it’s not something we can make them do/do for them, have been really helpful for me, so I value your thoughts on the subject.

      • Leanna says:

        Would love to know what you all did to streamline the bedtime routine (and make it so that either parent could do it) and work on night weaning. Right now we are having a lot of problems with this, which will just get worse when we have another child! Thank you for a great post!

        • melissa says:

          Thank you, Leanna!

          I wrote about how we handled night weaning here: One thing I haven’t mentioned on the blog is how much we’ve enjoyed, and Annabelle has seemed to benefit from the children’s book Nursies When the Sun Shines. That was really helpful as we got used to the no sleeptime nursing routine.

          I think we have finally arrived at the right bedtime routine solution for us, but I’m giving it a few more days before I consider it settled. I should be writing about that very soon!

  • Beth says:

    A bit off topic, but I love the single-serving snack jar idea! I have no kids of my own yet, but I’ve been reading your blog to glean ideas for whenever I’ll need them.

    • melissa says:

      Thank you, Beth! It’s always an honor to know I have a few non-parents out there reading. I’m sure you’ll have some great ideas of your own when the time comes!

  • Melissa Vose says:

    Half of me is so admiring of your thoughtful approach, and your preparation. You have a well balanced attitude, where you know you cannot make everything familiar and stable just after a move, so you are being realistic, but you are also being mindful of A’s need for stability, which will make all the difference.

    The other half of me is thinking that you can’t *fully* prepare for life with two, much like you can’t fully prepare for life with one. But that doesn’t negate the merits of preparing as well as you can.

    In light of those two thoughts, I would say that my advice might be to trust yourself to wing it. You won’t always get it perfect, but you will always still be a listening, responsive, mindful momma. That’s the bottom line. I’ve a pretty strong hunch A will take a sibling remarkably well, because she is very advanced verbally and has a strong sense of empathy. That will help her appropriate a sibling with little fuss.

    Getting bedtime to a manageable routine is pretty smart, though. I’d add that as #2, maybe.

    I went *EFFING NUTS* after #2, so maybe my third bit of advice would be to bookmark ‘just in case.’ =P I went nuts. Literally crazy. And I had no resources, no effective help, and I floundered. You’re well ahead of me, there. That will not be your story.

    Hm, what else? Yes, perhaps a special basket of things to do with you while baby nurses. It can be hard to nurse and interact with your toddler but in the end it makes life easier. Reading together while baby nurses is really cool, because you can still snuggle next to each other. Board games are cool. Puzzles. If you have a basket of those which are for difficult times of day, they can help both you and A get through and feel connected. Pointing out how it is great to be A’s age because they *can* play with these neat things can reenforce that while babies get lots of lap time, they don’t get to play with such neat things.

    Ayden chose Matthew a special “welcome home!” toy and gave it to him when they first met. That was pretty cool. He actually still remembers that. =) It helped him take ownership of Matthew, as a new member of our family.

    Lastly, be flexible, be flexible, be flexible. xo.

    • melissa says:

      Wise words! I definitely don’t think I’ll reach a point of feeling fully prepared – especially not in the next 14 weeks! As with most things, all I can do is, well, what I can do. A few things here and a few more there to put us all in the right mindset, but for the most part we’ll have to take it as it comes.

      I love the idea of a nursing basket, and that’s a post I had in mind for this series :) I love your ideas on things to include, and have to smile at the image of one kiddo nestled under my arm with a book while another nurses happily in my lap. We’ll see how that goes!

      I have filed away many of your wise words with regard to postpartum anxiety and the like, and I’m grateful you’re so willingly to share on that topic, because it seems that it can strike anyone. The idea that Ayden still remembers giving Matthew his welcome home gift is precious. What a great idea!

  • Rach says:

    I love that you are putting so much thought into this. Many people seem to expect the child to just love the sibling, with no thought of the emotional impact on them of suddenly having competition! I feel you are giving you all the best possible chance of having loving relationships with comforting rhythms and most of all lots and lots of love. Lucky kids. Look forward to more on this for when or if I have another child.

    • melissa says:

      Thank you for the encouraging words, Rach! B would make an amazing big sister, and you a pretty fantastic mom of two if that worked out to be what you wanted for your family. I’ll stay tuned!

  • Karlie says:

    Thank you for your blog, I am really enjoying it. A friend led me to your recent post on sharing and turn taking and I found it to be of immediate value (that afternoon at a play date in fact!). It gave me a new perspective on what role to play as a guide during play amongst three toddlers (alongside their mothers).

    I think we may have similar gaps with our children – our daughter Eve was born on 24/1/2010 and I am due with baby number two on 18/6/2012. So we are in the middle of preparing for life with a newborn in the home…definitely my concerns this time are about how to help Eve with the transition. My faith in the birthing process and in my ability to adapt and cope with providing care to a new baby exists after good experiences the first time round.

    Some things we have been working on at home include:
    - Me making sure to let Eve have plenty of time with her Dad at home and out and about, and avoiding the temptation to step in or assist if I can hear that there are things happening that I feel I may be able to help with (hard!)
    - We have invested in some arty/crafty supplies and I have browsed Pinterest to get ideas about play activities for fine and gross motor, inside and outside play. I have made a list of the activities and printed it out. I am encouraging Eve to engage in activities regularly so that we both get the ‘hang’ of it – she is learning good concentration and attention skills, I am learning about how long to let activities go for, how to be a part of it or when to stay away, when is pack up time etc etc.
    - A bit off topic but a weekly meal plan is a god send, it really frees up time not just by avoiding frequent supermarket trips, but also with planning how the day needs to run based on what main meal we will be having. The template I have contains 5 weeks so you can look back and see what was done in previous weeks.
    - I have put together a photo album of my husband and I during my pregnancy with Eve, photos of Eve’s birth and care from our midwife after her birth, breastfeeding, Eve in the sling, being held by grandparents and aunt/uncle etc, including lots of photos of her being held by myself or my husband. So that we can talk to her about these things now, and show her that she received the very same love and care she will see us show the baby
    - I am planning on having some ‘quiet time’ music if getting Eve down for her daily sleep proves to be too difficult after the baby comes along. I would stick with a similar time and hope that myself, Eve and the baby would remain together during that time.
    - More TV has been watched during the pregnancy than ever before and I am grappling with that one. Limited to Playschool (a lovely Australian program) and Sesame Street once each day but still…so a routine of sorts that has its boundaries.
    - Starting to have Eve’s lunch ready for when she wakes, aiming to have it available to her for self-serve in case I am unable to retrieve it
    - Rotating toys/activities/puzzles etc more regularly now as it is definitely a better way to win her attention and keep her interest up in the variety of play options. I have been intrigued by the Toddler Activity Bags on Pinterest and have created versions of my own and made them part of the rotation.
    - Encouraging her to start dressing herself and putting on her own shoes by having her outfit laid out the evening before. I love your little snack jars!

    So sorry for my long message – this is all very close to my heart as I find myself tearing up regularly when I think about what it will be like to adjust to not being able to meet Eve’s needs in the way have been available to over these past two years. My heart just swells when I look at her and think of how her world is about to change. I believe so wholly that she will love having a sibling but it is still quite overwhelming to imagine myself in her shoes when the time does come for baby to arrive.

    Keep up the lovely entries and all the very best with your preparations and your move.


    • melissa says:

      Thank you so much for taking time to comment, and to share so many wonderful ideas, Karlie! I truly appreciate it. You’re right that our children will be very similarly spaced. Annabelle will be 28 1/2 months, give or take, when her sibling is born. It’s great to hear from someone who is in such a similar place on this journey.

      I love all of your ideas. We’re doing many similar things, but by no means have I tried everything you mention, so there’s a lot of inspiration I can gain from your list. Next week’s post will be about a book I created that’s very similar in concept to the photo album you mentioned. That has been so helpful thus far! And your first point, about giving more space in the father-daughter relationship is so valuable! That’s something I’m working on, and not always succeeding at, too.

      Thank you again for sharing!

  • tinsenpup says:

    Wow… I have so much to think about…lol… I think an eight year gap between my first two children made the transition from one to two really quite seamless and lovely, not that I’d recommend it as a plan, necessarily. ;) My older daughter was also at her sister’s birth and bonded with her immediately. We kept things really flexible and just focused on enjoying time with our baby as a family, rather than as individuals. I’m thinking it might be a little more challenging with a just-turned three year old to help through the whole thing. Thankfully, you’re scouting the way ahead, so I’ll be eager for any advice I may be able to glean along the way.

    • melissa says:

      I’m sure this experience will be altogether different for you, given Ly’s age. You all seem to work wonderfully together as a unit, however, so I’m sure you’ll survive the transition intact. I expect to make quite a few mistakes along this way, so hopefully you can learn from my more spectacular ones ;)

  • Thanks for this post! I’ve been thinking about these things too. I’m amazed at how far Baby has come over just a few short months as far as being more capable and independent. His communication level also astounds me after so many months of nonverbal communication. I know this is from his developmental stage in life rather than my preparation, but it makes me feel so much more at ease with Little Sister’s impending arrival. It is also a nice reminder that nature and development does take it’s course and Baby will be continuing to become even more capable on his own. We just have to be there to support him and love him. That said, I really look forward to your bedtime post. Sleep seems to be the one area where Baby still needs lots of help, and it makes me nervous.

    Pinning this as a resource and I look forward to the rest of this series!
    Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama recently posted..5 Ways to Pass Down Environmental Values to Your ChildrenMy Profile

    • melissa says:

      It sounds like there’s a lot of growth going on with everyone in your household! I’m sure the new skills that Baby has learned will be really helpful for both of you as you transition. I’m looking forward to continuing to follow your journey. I’m sure I’ll learn a great deal from you as we prepare! :)

  • teresa says:

    once again, I have to say, you are brilliant. The thoughtfullness with which you approached this is so important. If I were having another, I’d be reading and re-reading this post.
    I hope the move and all the additional change diffuses the “new baby changes everything” feelings for Annabelle. Hopefully there will be so much excitement in the newness.
    Did you ever read the book “3 year old: friend or enemy”… sounds awful, but it really helped us when Melody suddenly seemed to go insane. I would have thought it was something we were or were not doing if not for that book. We took the best and disgarded the rest. anyway… in case anything really weird happens with your angel, keep it in mind.
    I’ll send you my copy if you want it. (only thought of this because during packng I came across it…)

    • melissa says:

      Thanks for the sweet words, my friend.
      I keep hearing about the absolute craziness that seems to settle on the homes of many families with three year olds. I’ll definitely take any tool I can to prepare before we reach that milestone. I don’t want to assume it will be crazy, but it never hurts to be prepared just in case! :) I’ll add that book to my list!

      • teresa says:

        Definitely. It made a huge difference in our ability to stay patient and not get freaked out by her behaviour. So we didn’t make it worse by making a big deal out of it.

  • I love this. And I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series, too! I’m not ready to have a second — yet — but thinking about it makes me stressed out already. My husband is worried about a lot of what you address here and also the toll on our relationship. As for me, I can’t fathom how I will have room in my heart to love another one and still love my first with the same intensity and devotion. Does that sound crazy? Anyway, thanks as always for your insights!

    • melissa says:

      Thanks, Courtney. That definitely does not sound crazy. In fact, it’s perfectly normal as far as I can tell! I have heard that same concern from most of my mom friends as they contemplate a second child. I don’t know anyone who actually seemed to struggle with having enough love once the baby arrived, though! It’s crazy how much one person’s heart can hold!

  • Sounds like some solid plans to me, and some that I’ll be sure to consider when we take the leap! It has been on my brain a lot lately and I’ll definitely have an eye on your family as you write about your adjustments!

    • melissa says:

      Thanks, Janine. It seems like Sebastian would make an incredibly cool big brother. I’m pretty excited at the possibility of watching your family grow in the not too distant future!

  • Amy says:

    I look forward to this series! I think Q-ball and A have similar nighttime habits!

    • melissa says:

      So much is changing around here with sleep! I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts when it finally calms down enough for me to write about the changes. Loved your Floor bed/AP post :)

  • Thanks for sharing this post at Natural Mother’s Seasonal Celebration Sunday. I would like to feature this on this Sunday’ s Seasonal Celebration- I really enjoyed reading it, thank you!

  • Luschka says:

    I think you’re doing brilliantly, and I love how conscious you are about it all. (I was talking to someone recently who hated her sister her whole life. She was six when the baby was born, didn’t know there was a baby coming, had no inkling her life was about to change – her mom just disappeared for a few days and came back with a baby she was told she had to love. She never ‘got over’ the shock of it! How sad :( )

    One thing I would say is that while Ameli was night weaned before Aviya was born, she’s taken up nursing a few times a night again, although we’re working on reducing it again. On the one hand it’s her ‘want’ and on the other, Aviya doesn’t feed through the night – at least not between about 12 and 6 so sometimes I wake up with my boobs so full and painful, I just ask Ameli to drain them for me! Bliss. ;)

    The best you can do is prepare, and I can tell you from experience, you just adjust, and some things (like housework) become slightly less important, and things just readjust.

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