Second Child Bootcamp

So, what is it HONESTLY like to introduce a sibling into your home, when your 1st child is still essentially a toddler. At time of writing, our youngest, Lola is now 3 months old, and oldest, Milo, is 2yrs 9 months.

Other than an unhealthy obsession with capes/cloaks and magic wands, our toddler seems to be developing fairly well as a human-being-in-training, so my wife and I have already proved that we are borderline competent parents at least.

Most of my account is about those tricky first 6 weeks, and the memories are still raw enough for me to hopefully convey a truthful account.

This is, the 2nd Child Bootcamp:

I think that some of the following account may apply to new parents for their 1st child, but I also figured that first time round, you are so captivated by the wonder of this amazing thing you have just created, your mind is sheltered from some of the harsher side effects of having a newborn child in your home.

Like some kind of natural beta-blocker, softening the tones of your child’s cry, releasing endorphins at every baby smile to counteract the lack of sleep, you float through the massive change in your daily circumstances in a giddy haze of love & amazement.

Either that, or only 2 years 9 months after he arrived, our bodies/minds have already erased the darkest hours we went through in the first few months of Milo’s existence. Instead, we look back on it with a rose-tinted nostalgia. Whatever the explanation, Lola is now part of our world and, as Richard Ashcroft so famously put it, “now the drugs don’t work”.

There’s no giddy haze here, just a 6lb ball of noise & frustration who has absolutely no interest in a sibling rivalry to win the hearts of its parents.

Numbers Game:

This is the most obvious of points, but it has to be made.

Previously, with just one little under developed being to deal with, you could tag in and out of play with your partner at will. He might wear one of us down, but we outnumber him and we will pass this little human baton back and forth throughout his crying marathon until he concedes that he is indeed no match for us.

Not anymore. Now the sides are evened up. Rules of engagement have been redrawn, and they’re not favourable to the Big People.

Somehow, the 2 of them can simultaneously work together AND against each other, and still defeat my wife and I.

New arrival will not sleep, because the toddler is playing with his drum and singing. Toddler can’t hear his drum because the new arrival is crying. The two of them, cranking each other up while you helplessly stumble from one to the other trying to regain control.

I remember when we would eventually get Milo down for a nap, and the house would fall silent for 1 sometimes 2 hours. During this downtime, you would reflect on how you were actually getting the hang of parenting and despite its trauma, it was all worth it.

Now, even when you get one of them to sleep, there is no lull. No period of reflection. Just a constant balancing act as you try to keep your toddler entertained enough that he is not crying or whinging loudly, but also not shouty-singing delirious.

It’s a tightrope, and a frayed one at that. On a good day, you manage to keep the newborn asleep for a whole hour without any interruption by a toddler tantrum. Your reward? A baby who is waking up nice and refreshed, just as your toddler is getting tired/cranky. You’ll excuse me if my victory dance looks a little lacklustre…

Smells like team spirit:

With the teams now being evenly matched, merely joining forces with your partner is no key to success. Quite the opposite in fact. Now the tactics have switched and ‘Divide and Conquer’ is the game plan:

Me: you feed the newborn

Wife: OK, you get the toddler out of screaming/drumming/singing/throwing range for at least the next 90 mins.

While this strategy can be effective overall, the concept of you and your other half being a team gets stretched. While I stand in the local swingpark, freezing, keeping 1st born entertained as he moans that I’m not pushing his swing fast enough, Mum is half a mile away on a warm sofa watching TV while feeding the baby. You may have noticed a touch of disparity between our situations in my last sentence. It is all about perception however.

Yes, Mum is at home on a warm sofa, but unknown to you, she is covered in milk/vomit and is trying to stop Lola from screaming in her face. And all the time she is thinking how she’d love to be out in the fresh air, hearing her son giggle as he plays angelically on the swings.

The grass is always greener for the other parent. Much like joining a queue at Sainsbury’s, seconds before the person at the front has an issue with their debit card; in my own head I can guarantee whichever child I choose to manage today will be the one who is 5 mins away from a nuclear hissy fit.

Suddenly you no longer trust your long-term team mate. The Sturridge & Suarez style success story of 2 years ago has become the Sturridge & Origi tale of woe. (Sorry, that’s a football reference!). ‘Divide & Conquer’ is indeed an effective strategy. But it’s the kids who are using it to best effect.

Even sleeping arrangements are affected with you both having to take different shifts to cover mid-night feeding patterns. Before No.2, we would put Milo to bed at 7, and have the evening to ourselves on the sofa enjoying each other’s company like we have done for 10+ years. Now, by the time he is asleep, and we’ve managed dinner, one of us is heading to bed while the other takes the early shift with Lola. We’ve regressed from idyllic couple sharing our family home to a couple of grumpy flat-mates grudgingly saying good morning as we pass each other in the hallway!

If this all sounds a bit bleak, then remember I wrote most of the above, during or just after those initial first 4-6 weeks, when above all, sleep was in super short supply. Speaking of which…

Zzzzzzz’s dead baby, Z’s dead:

Whether it’s your 1st, 2nd or 5th child, you will hear someone say (before they are born) some variation of the line “I hope you’re getting plenty of sleep in now then, because when it comes….ha ha ha”. I know, it’s funny, right? Because babies don’t sleep all night. Ha ha ha! They make lots of noise, crying and screaming. In the middle of the night. Ha ha ha!

And what with sleep being a crucial part of a functioning human being. Haaaa!

My wife and I met while out clubbing. It was a massive part of our lives, and as such we were regularly up through the night at clubs, events or the inevitable after party. As it happens, both of us were usually one of, if not *the* last folk to finally call it a night and go to sleep. Some folk have said to us that this ‘attribute’ would stand us in good stead for the sleepless nights that 1 and then 2 children would bring. I’d like to categorically state here for the record:

  1. a) Being able to stay up at a party, after 6 hours of clubbing, until the last of the vodka had been consumed is something we *wanted* to do. It was a *choice*. Forcing yourself to stay awake after a 10-hour shift at work, because your baby’s life depends on it is a whole different situation. It’s a whole different kind of tiredness.
  1. b) My claims about our clubbing stamina are honestly not a poor attempt at a humble brag (Ohhh, we were so cool back then, always last man/woman standing). There’s a good chance, if I did it all again, I’d try to claw back a few hours of sleep this time, knowing what was lying ahead.

Sleep deprivation is used as a method of torture. In Guantanamo Bay, they would play heavy metal music or white noise constantly to keep inmates from sleeping before interrogating them. I downloaded an app that was supposed to help babies get to sleep. One of the things it did was play white noise!

As I sat there at 3:07am in a dark room, knackered beyond belief & with nothing but the sound of crying and white noise in my ears, it made me think of those who claim torture doesn’t work as it forces false confessions. At that very moment, I’d have confessed to being Pat Sharpe’s barber in the 90’s if it meant I’d be allowed to close my eyes.

Much like the daytime naps, when Milo was asleep at night, there was a period of calm. Even when he wasn’t sleeping, the only thing that stressed us on the rare occasion that he would be crying in the middle of the night, was how annoyed the neighbours might be at hearing it. But then we figured actually it was a nice payback for the time they sang “A Whole New World” at the top of their drunken voices at 2am whilst having a party. Midweek.

But now, there is the added stress that if Lola cries too much/too loudly, she may wake Milo. Which means his sleep is disrupted, which makes him harder to deal with the next day, which makes it harder for Lola to nap, which ….arrrrgggghhh!

So yeah, managing the sleep cycles of 2 children over 1 whilst having none of the stuff yourself is a major challenge!

As I said at the start, my account is based on the older child being a toddler, and I’m sure if Milo was older he may even be a bigger help. He’s old enough to understand basic things, but he’s not quite there yet when it comes to prioritising. (“Yes Milo, I know you really want to watch that episode of Ben & Holly again, but I’m trying to keep your sister alive at the moment”).

Having said that, when he offers to hold her bottle as she is feeding, asks her “what’s wrong?” when she is screaming her lungs out, it is very cute and does make you look forward hugely to when she can actually answer him. Even if that answer is one that starts a loud shouty argument between them.

You may well have detected a slight softening in my tone in that last paragraph there?

That’s because this part of the blog, I wrote 3 weeks later than the rest of it. i.e. once we’d finally started getting back on top of things, and Lola had started to give us a break for more than 5 mins out of every 24 hours!

We even managed a glass of wine on the sofa last night with only baby monitors for company, so the flat-mate phase is on its way out!

Most conversations about how hard it is with kids, end with the phrase “but it’s so worth it when…”

I don’t know if I’ve just never spoken to someone when they are still in that 2-6 weeks bootcamp phase, or if maybe folk have been polite instead of honest. But “it’s so worth it” were absolutely not the 4 words my wife and I used regularly during that period. “Whose idea was this?” is probably a more accurate (& censored) version.

But now here we are, we’re out the other side, and the annoying couple who’ll tell you all “how worth it” it all is. And besides, my wife and I have done the maths and 1 salary isn’t gonna be enough for the care home we’re expecting in our later years so, all going well, we’ll now have TWO high earning kids watching their hard earned cash disappear to pay for our nappies & meals, and the circle will be complete.

Graeme also occasionally writes his own blog (not baby stuff) at https://pavementtherapy.wordpress.com & is currently fundraising for SANDS stillbirth charity: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/VeloForDexter.

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Graeme is 54% Glaswegian 46% Londoner, having lived in the capital since 1999. He counteracts his dull city job existence by raising a 2 yr old superhero, writing a blog, https://pavementtherapy.wordpress.com/about/, and when time allows, (very) amateur photography.

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