Sunday, June 8, 2014

Mothering a newborn vs. a toddler

I do not think I'm a very good mother of a newborn. Lest you think I'm losing my self-esteem or trying to solicit your sympathy, let me add: I'm a fantastic mother to a toddler. I've been grappling with this a lot lately. I share my thoughts on this not because I need you to say, "But Stephanie, I am sure you're a fantastic mother of a newborn," but rather because these are things I feel few people I know share out loud, though I think a lot of people feel similarly.

Newborns are easy and hard to deal with, as are toddlers. But I'm much better at the difficulties of toddlerhood than I am at the newborn stage. I schedule formal and informal activities for the toddler. She attends classes. She has an art bin full of quiet activities that keep her interest. I read to her. I make her laugh. I challenge her to conquer her fears. I teach her many new words each day. I do what you'd expect a parent of a toddler would do, plus I'm getting not too shabby at this whole toddler discipline thing. But this second time around with a baby I feel I'm an even worse mother of a newborn, mostly as a result of the attention I give the toddler.

Also, the newborn is a fine sleeper, but he's taking longer to become an excellent sleeper the way his sister was at this age, so that factor is no doubt clouding my judgment. I think we are all a little less chipper when we are waking up in the middle of the night. I am trying not to compare my kids all the time, as I know this is setting me up for a life-long struggle, and I know it's just generally wrong to do/not fair, but I'm human and I can't help it.

Because the newborn isn't staying asleep all night every night, I'm left wondering what I'm doing wrong. Is he not sleeping enough during the day? Is he sleeping too much during the day? Should he get a bottle before bed? (He almost always does because I'm usually working during his bedtime.) Is he eating enough during the day? Would he sleep better if he had formula or started solid food before six months? Should my husband take over night feedings? So far we have done everything practically identical to what we did with his older sister at this age, but it has not yielded the same results. I know every baby is different, but I feel like I've already exhausted (pun intended) my bag of tricks. I was afraid of this.

I also worry that he's not stimulated enough during the day. I try to read a few books to him at least twice a day. I sing, put him on his belly some, and dangle colorful toys for him to grab. We recently brought the Exersaucer out from storage, and he's grabbing all the toys a lot more than his sister did at this age (yay, Adam, you win this one!). But a lot of his daily activity involves watching his sister, tagging along to her little classes.

Sometimes I realize that when the toddler is napping and the newborn's awake, I barely talk to the newborn. Am I smiling at him enough? I wonder. The fact that he's a boy also makes me worry about conditions more prevalent in males than females, such as autism, ADHD or speech delays. So, even though he has no signs of any concerns, I still feel like I should talk to him more, do more activities just for him.

A friend recently shared her anxieties regarding stimulating her second kid as much as she did her first. In a moment of clarity, I reassured her that I am a second-born child and I turned out just fine. Plus, in many cases our second kids' experiences will be even richer than our first-borns' because they'll be exposed to more toys, books and activities from an earlier age. And, as our babies absorb us speaking all the time to our toddlers, maybe they'll learn even more than our toddlers did at this age. When I'm feeling like a confidence parent, this is what's running through my head.

I'll admit I wrote part of this post on a crappy day and part of it on a better day, which might explain the duality contained within. But rather than deleting what I wrote when things weren't so hot, I think this post is, if nothing else, an accurate window into the mind of a parent in the trenches. In one day I can go from feeling like I'm doing everything perfectly to feeling like I'm barely doing anything but feeding and dressing my kids and I just want bedtime or my work time, whatever comes first, to arrive.

So, I've decided in the past week to also start scheduling some activities for the baby that the toddler will tag along to, just for equity's sake. This could be a giant disaster, but I'm hopeful that my toddler can exercise her patience on such outings and we can all emerge better for it.

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