Remember those early months with your firstborn? Aside from the nerve-shredding fear that you had absolutely no idea what you were doing and the huge weight of responsibility weighing down on you, they were blissful days really. I remember with absolute clarity the instant that the fog lifted and I suddenly, all at once, felt like a mother and not some imposter winging it day-to-day, pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. It was a beautiful spring morning, still chill, but blue skies with a glaring sun. I was pushing my son in his pushchair across the road on our way back from a visit to the village library. He slept and I was planning on a quiet cup of tea in the sunlit window, gazing upon his tiny baby face. In that moment I felt newly calm and as if I was finally at home in this new skin, I felt, for the first time, in control and capable. We spent the next few months in a rhythm of walks and baby groups, sleeping when the baby slept, long naps and hours spent holding my son whilst I watched films and read magazines.
And then, number two arrived and I was back there on the rocks, trying to cling on each day and get the three of us through until their daddy came home, with as few tears as possible. It seemed a momentous task, here were two little people, both needing me, both with entirely contrary needs and wants. The days spent quietly succumbing to the rhythm of a newborn were gone. Sleepless nights couldn’t so easily be recovered from when a toddler is there each morning raring to go, a ball of boundless energy and intrepid fearlessness, ready to scale anything and launch himself from the top. There is no gazing over a sleeping baby in your arms, watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s when a toddler wants you to sing and dance with them. And you can’t so easily park yourself on the sofa and breastfeed for hours on end, with baby bobbing on and off the boob, when there is another child going stir crazy and writing on the walls and attempting to empty the potty all over the floor.
But somehow we got through, we survived, the three of us, well enough to go on and have another baby and not to feel like I was drowning the next time. So here are some tips for surviving the early days with a newborn and a toddler. Good luck out there!
Prepare your toddler as much as you can according to their understanding. There are some great picture books for helping a toddler to understand what to expect. I particularly like What Baby Needs by Dr Sears.
Don’t feel the guilt. There is no harm in using TV sometimes if you need your toddler to sit quietly whilst you get the baby to sleep, let them sit next to you with a snack and a nice calming programme.
Call in favours. If you have family or friends who can help, then don’t be afraid to ask. It may be that your toddler won’t want to leave the house without you, but if someone can come and bake cakes with them, or do some painting or run around in the garden, it will give you some time to nap with the baby and give your eldest some one-on-one time with an adult they love. Alternatively, if baby has fed and is content, then an extra pair of arms to hold the baby will give you some precious time with your toddler.
Try to get out of the house each day, even if only for a five minute walk. I hated our double buggy, it was so cumbersome, but what worked for us, was putting the baby in the pram and carrying my toddler on my back in a sling. This gave us some much needed close time and meant that we could chat away on the walk without disturbing the baby. Often by the ned of the walk they’d both be asleep, which meant I got some much appreciated time to take a breath.
Make a special basket for your toddler, which you only bring out when feeding the baby. In it put some snacks, some new and interesting (but quiet) toys, some new books (or ones from the library) and some stickers. Make it really inviting and your toddler will look forward to you feeding the baby as it means that they get their basket out.
Check out play groups locally that cater offer a sibling price, we found two really lovely groups that catered for babies and toddlers but only charged one price per family. All the mums looked out for all the children, so I felt I could relax a bit more and even got to drink a hot cup of coffee. Some play groups are free.
Offer monkey-platters for lunch, with a choice of easy, healthy finger food. It can be pre-prepared in the morning and then your toddler can access it whenever they like. I included things such as dry cereal, raisins, carrot sticks, falafels, rice crackers and grapes. There are lots of ideas on Pinterest.
Look after yourself. Make sure that you are drinking plenty of water and eating well, if you do achieve the Holy Grail and both children sleep at the same time, ignore the dishes and make sure you get some sleep too. My favourite thing when my boys were little was waking up from an afternoon nap surrounded by soft cheeked babies snuggled up on either side of me. If you can, at weekends get a lie-in or go for a coffee for an hour on your own. Of course you will miss them and I found it really hard to tear myself away, but I came back refreshed.
Treat each day as a new beginning. You will have overwhelming days, but each day is a fresh start, don’t dwell on the odd difficult day.
For happy children, just add water. In any situation, if I was having a hard day, I found it could usually be improved with the addition of water for the toddler (and the baby after a few months). A bath with some lavender bubbles and some food colouring sprinkled in, a bowl of water for washing toys, or the sink filled with some cups for pouring, toddlers seems to cheer up as soon as water is around. Of course, if you can get a bath while someone sits with the children, then water appears to have the same effect on mums too.