"Children...are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth.
Blessed are they whose quivers are full."
Life as a mother of two little ones is very busy but very full and incredibly rewarding.
I admit that there are a fair number of challenges: My postpartum recovery has been miserably slow, since I'm on my feet most of the day chasing Sophia around. (Please pray for this, if you feel led!) The challenges of living on the third story with a barely two-year-old and newborn need not be elaborated upon. Inevitably, there are those nights when James needs to nurse frequently and then Sophia wakes up an hour earlier than usual saying, "Mama, birds noisy!" Occassionally, we have to remind Sophia that she cannot feed her brother cashews or Cheerios or give him her sippy cup of milk. Getting out the door to run errands is certainly more challenging. No sooner do I get Sophia dressed and ready than James needs another diaper change, and by the time that's done, I find Sophia with her shoes off--"Where did you put them, honey?"--and her crayons scattered all over the entryway, needing to be picked up before we can finally head out the door.
Any mother of little ones would be silly not to admit that there are challenges. But, honestly, it's worth it. Not only are the kids worth it, those little challenges really are blessings if we have the heart to view them as such. I look back through my journals at when Sophia was James' age, and I am astonished at the work God has done in my character in these past two years! I am naturally lazy; I covet my alone time, and I have a very quick temper and a rather sharp tongue. I still struggle with all of these things, among other failings, but being a mother has tempered them in so many ways! I cannot think of a more merciful, joyful, rewarding way for God to mold my character than through the blessing of children!
In addition to the challenges, which as I said are their own form of blessing, there are also many, many rewards. This picture is reward enough. Never in my wildest dreams and most fervent prayers did I ever imagine that a two-year-old previously only-child could be so in love with a little newborn baby brother. Sophia adores James. It seems she was made to be a big sister--and of course, she was. She always wants to "help" me care for her brother, fetching diapers, comforting him if I can't get to him immediately when he cries. She hugs him, gives him goodnight kisses, prays for him, and wants to show him off to every stranger we meet in the store or the park. "James! James!" she'll announce proudly, pointing to her little brother. Watching them together makes me think of a post that my friend Kelly at Generation Cedar wrote earlier this week entitled "Large Families and the Oldest Child."
My heart overflows with joy when I think of the gift my children have in each other. I can say with James Boswell, "I, who have no sisters or brothers, look with some degree of innocent envy on those who may be said to be born to friends." My husband and I are both only children, and this innate love we see between our children is miraculous and beautiful to us. Certainly, there will be quarrels and other pitfalls. Such things are the nature of humanity; we always seem to squabble with the ones we love most. But, with a foundation of friendship, the expectation of godly attitudes within the family, a good dose of forgiveness when needed, and continued prayer, I see no reason that our two babies will not continue to grow into the best of friends.
And, finally, I have some bits of advice to offer from my limited experience as a mother of two for all of your soon-to-be-second-time-mamas out there:
- Babywearing. Get a sling, a wrap, a baby bjorn, whatever. Especially if your little one needs to be held as much as my James does, this will be invaluable. I am able to get chores done, play with Sophia, cuddle her, even carry her all with James strapped happily to my chest. Heck, he can even nurse in there, and I still get to keep one hand free! Babywearing also makes it possible to keep the siblings close to each other as much as it keeps your littlest one close to you. Sometimes I feel like a conglomerate mutant, with James attached to my front and Sophia in my lap or on one hip, but it really does make things easier, and frankly, it can be a lot of fun!
- Synchronize routines. If you change one diaper, change the other one while you're at it. Get them on the same nap schedule--this is really key if you want to get any rest yourself. I have found that with an already established routine, it's been much easier to get James into a rhythm than it was with Sophia. And, let me just mention that we do not have a schedule for our babies. I breastfeed on demand, and I let my kids establish their own nap rhythm. It just happens to be that those rhythms naturally seem to synchronize with the general ebb and flow of our day at home. Being at home is an important element of this; if your own schedule varies from day to day, you can't expect your children to suddenly want to nap at the same time on the day you happen to be home.
- Seek one-on-one time with each child. I take the opportunity of James' morning nap to enjoy some special time with Sophia. I lay James down on his blanket. Then, Sophia and I climb up on the couch and snuggle together with a big stack of her favorite books and read to her heart's content. She always goes down for her nap while James is still up (usually hungry). I make sure to banish all distractions for this precious half-hour and really pay attention to him. I tickle his chin to make him smile, give him my full attention while he nurses, stroke his soft head as he falls asleep, and simply gaze and marvel at how wonderful he is. When Sophia was a baby, I could do this for hours, but having two prevents me from giving him the same sort of undivided attention. I have learned that this is not a bad thing, but I am not willing to let these baby days pass by without taking as much time as I reasonably can to relish them.
- Don't expect too much. I try to make sure I only do errands one or two days a week, and only one long one, like grocery shopping, or two brief errands (say, stopping by the ATM and then running to the post office) on any given day. We do go out for walks almost daily and to the library once or twice a week, as well, but honestly, being at home is best for my children. I can see, if I try to fit more into the day, that not only is Sophia cranky and overstimulated, but James is too, and I get exhausted and irritable myself. Life with two children is difficult. Getting out the door with two young children is difficult. Grocery shopping with two young children is difficult. Don't expect to be able to do all you once did. This is a precious season: rather than wearing yourself out trying to "do it all," remember to enjoy these fleeting years!
- Do set expectations. Set expectations with your oldest for age-appropriate behavior and responsibilities. Really, you should be doing this even if you only have one, but it will reveal itself to be more necessary once baby #2 (or more!) comes along. Your average two-year-old should be able to understand and obey two-step instructions ("Can you go to the bedroom and get your teddy bear?"), assist with dressing themselves, put away toys in the appropriate place, eat without making a huge mess, help with simple chores like taking the clean clothes out of the dryer or feeding the cat, etc. If you instill these expectations and follow through on consequences for disobedience, you will not only be laying the foundation for a strong, godly character in your child, you will be making life a whole lot easier for yourself, and setting the course for a more harmonious life in your home.
- Find activities that your toddler can do while you're nursing or tending to the baby. We keep a basket of art supplies on the hearth for Sophia, and whenever I'm nursing, I'll call out an activity ("Let's play with your modelling wax!" or "Can you color a picture to give to Daddy when he gets home?"), and she'll happily scurry off to grab the necessary supplies and amuse herself while I'm taking care of James. Other go-to ideas at our house are for me to ask Sophia to "cook" us a snack in her play kitchen ("Mama's going to be hungry for some soup after Baby James is done eating"), playing with blocks or Leggos ("Can you build me a tower?", "Where's the blue block? Can you find a green one, now?"), and singing songs ("Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Five Little Speckled Frogs" are favorites in our house).
- Involve your toddler. Even if you have to make up superfluous tasks, let your oldest feel involved in what you're doing. Ask her to hand you the diaper, even if you could have easily grabbed it yourself. Ask if she wants to snuggle with the baby while he has some "tummy time" on his blanket. Have her help you with chores around the house--she'll feel so proud that she's "big" enough to help out, while the baby plays on the floor or sleeps. Sometimes I completely make up tasks, just so she'll feel involved and not run off and get herself into something she shouldn't: "You know what would really help Mama right now is if you could hold this spoon for me. Do you think you could do that? Hold it really tight now, and Mama will finish getting our lunch ready." You'd be amazed how proud one can be about holding a spoon as long as it's "helping Mama!"
- Teach your older child to be gentle, preferably before the baby arrives. We made sure Sophia spent time with our friends' new babies and were careful to make sure she treated her baby doll (a gift she received from us a couple months before James arrived) as though it was a real baby. We taught her to be extra gentle with babies' heads and not to ever put pressure on them if they were laying on the floor, and to be careful never to step on them. This training really paid off once James arrived, since we hardly ever have to remind her to be careful of him; she already knew what behavior was expected.
- Smile. Seriously. And, laugh, too. The kids are going to get under your feet. You're going to have kitchen mishaps. You'll get everyone loaded into the van, get the grocery store, and suddenly one--or both of them are going to have a complete meltdown and you'll have to turn around and head home empty handed. Keep a sense of humor. Keep a spirit of fun. Cultivate charity. Remember that these children are blessings.
- Pray! Every night since the beginning of my second trimester of James' pregnancy, Brian and I have added a request that our children would love each other to Sophia's bedtime prayers. I do not underestimate the influence that these prayers have had on their clearly loving relationship. I sometimes wonder, if we hadn't said these prayers, if their relationship would be as strong and beautiful as it is. You pray for your marriage. You pray for your friendships. You pray for your children's relationships with you and your spouse. Don't underestimate the power that prayer can have in the relationships between your children.