I’ve been writing this in my head throughout my entire maternity leave. I wanted to get this out there sooner. I was sure I’d have the time one afternoon, one evening, during naps, before anyone woke up one morning, etc. Sadly, it took sitting back at my desk at work on a dreary, blustery, snowy afternoon to finally get my thoughts started on paper…well, on the computer screen. I hope you enjoy what I’m writing during my mental breaks from work during my first week back. This is, once again, another mommy topic that I’m sure will spur some comments. So, once again, here are my thoughts and opinions…
This topic came to me awhile ago, but really came to life when Henry (my third child) was just 5 days old. He had his first pediatrician’s appointment that morning. I took him there by myself and brought the grocery list as well. After his appointment I journeyed over to Kroger. We needed groceries. And not just milk and bread…we needed everything. I put Henry in the Snap ‘n Go stroller, grabbed a Starbucks and pulled a grocery cart behind me filling it to the top. It looked as though I hadn’t shopped in weeks. I took my time as he slept and at the end I pulled into a check-out lane behind another woman with an infant in a similar pumpkin seat in her cart. Her cart which seemed bare with only the baby and less than 5 items – the essential milk, bread, etc. was present. I could see her baby, but she couldn’t see mine. Here’s our conversation:
Me: “Looks like you have a little one as well…how old?”
Woman: “Yes, just 3 months.”
Me: “So cute.”
Woman: “Thanks, how old is yours?”
Me: “Only 5 days.”
The woman then looked from me to my overflowing cart to my stroller and then back to me and back to the cart. Her facial expression could not even be described. I quickly saw the look of defeat on her face and I felt bad that I hadn’t lied and said that Henry was really 2 years old because her response was a quiet and monotone, “I thought I was going to die when mine was 5 days.” Saying that Henry was 5 days old was an insult to her…how could I be out buying groceries (and lots of them) by myself with a 5 day old?? I believe she was feeling really good about being out with her baby (an accomplishment for her) until she came across me. I had to quickly reassure her…and I did.
Me: “Oh, don’t worry. He’s my third. It gets easier.”
She did smile, but I don’t think she was convinced. We can categorize ourselves all day long: working moms/stay-at-home moms, breastfeeding moms/bottle-feeding moms, organic moms/non-organic moms, etc. Today I’m focusing on moms with only one child versus moms with multiple children. I only say versus to point out a difference. As a mom of multiple children, we really need to look out for and help those moms that are just experiencing the joy of motherhood for the first time. It is extremely overwhelming for most. Moms of multiples need to get rid of the “told ya so”, “here’s the only advice you need”, and “you have it easy with only one” attitudes and jump in with consoling, listening, steering, empathizing, etc. And moms of multiples need to quit being down on themselves because what they envisioned isn’t what reality looks like (more on this later).
I’ve written previously about deciding on the number of kids you want to have. So I must add that moms with only one kid and no plans of any more…you may never understand parts of this. (However, I’ll never understand what it’s like to be your child’s only playmate in a home without siblings!) I’m sure some of the following could also be due to the parent’s attitude and habits as the child ages and as the parent ages as opposed to the number of kids there are in the family. So chime in with your experiences and perspectives. Moms of one kid currently, but plans for more? Promise me you’ll read this after your second or third child is a toddler. I think you’ll relate more (and laugh louder) then.
Although I must now admit I was really bummed that my best friend had her first two kids way before me, I now see what a blessing it was. She was pregnant with her third while I was pregnant with my first. Although I’m sure it would have been fun going through all of the “firsts” together, I now see that I was lucky to have her help keep me sane and give me some realistic perspective – which continues today. Otherwise, we may have been two people running around like chickens with our heads cut off.
On the other hand, how she didn’t kill me as I experienced new things for the first time (and either freaked out, got overjoyed or just cried), I’m not sure! You can easily stereotype a new mom. There were definitely things I did as a new mom that now make me cringe or wonder if I was out of my mind. Did I seriously use the breastfeeding/poopy diaper measurement chart given to you at the hospital for weeks and weeks? There are things a lot of new moms probably try but soon abandon due to other priorities. I tried going organic with Stella, but never stuck with it for multiple reasons.
When I told the new mother at the grocery that it gets easier, I was not exactly telling the truth. It absolutely does not get easier in general. The truth is that it’s different things that get harder. Going to the grocery store with just one child was my new easy! And most moms of multiples that I’ve had conversations with all come down to one realization…you lower your standards to keep your sanity and create your new “normal”. You try to focus on doing your best at that moment – the definition of “that moment” is what changes over time. So what seemed right or the best thing to do when you had only one kid changes as your family grows. At least it did for me.
When you are a new mom and talk to friends with multiple kids, it’s sometimes like being from a different planet. As a new mom you may gawk at the idea of your toddler drinking juice, eating sweets or having treats. Who in their right mind would contaminate their child with sugary candy/drinks before the age of 2? Moms with multiple kids! (If I could only tell if you were laughing or cringing right now!) Just try telling your 18 month old that although she also cleaned her plate at dinner, she can’t have a treat because her 3 ½ year old sister didn’t get treats until she turned 2 years old. Pick your battles with children #2, #3, etc. One cookie every once in awhile won’t kill them even if it’s at an earlier age than child #1 received exact same treat.
So here’s a tiny peak of the planet I currently live on…the following is a list of some of my lower standards and/or things that have changed over the course of three kids:
- Baby book/calendar – I purchased both for Stella. I could not understand why my best friend did not want a new baby book as well during the same shopping trip while we were both pregnant (remember, it was her third pregnancy). I only kept current with the calendar. Therefore, for Charlotte I only purchased the 2-year calendar which is blank past 9 months old. I made myself buy a 1-year calendar for Henry during my last week of pregnancy…I was feeling guilty for not having one. It’s still not open and he is 13 weeks old…so his existence isn’t even documented in it.
- Swimming lessons = Bath night.
- Blood = A hysterical scare the first time. However, when you have multiple kids and one gets hurt in a store and is bleeding and obviously needs stitches…the first thought that goes through your head might be, “Should we check out first or just leave the full cart sitting here in the aisle and get to the ER?” (We did leave the full cart.)
- Photos – I have a unique photo album of Stella. It’s her picture taken every week in the same spot her first year of life. Fifty-two photos that show her week-to-week changes. Although I have photos of Henry, I never did make a birth announcement.
- Daycare Incident Reports = I used to have lots of questions when they were filled out for Stella: What happened to her? Who did this to her? Etc. Charlotte was bit at school recently and my first question was, “Did she deserve it?”
- Naps – With Stella I tried every schedule and followed the eat, play, sleep routine to the extreme. I did have Charlotte napping in her crib around 8-9 weeks old. Henry will not sleep much at daycare because he’s used to being in his car seat and napping during errands!
- Veggie Straws = A serving of vegetables.
- Family Photos – For Stella’s baptism I wanted the photo to be perfect. Everyone needed to look nice and also be looking at the camera. Now? I just want the right people in the photo. At Henry’s baptism our family photo included Charlotte’s pacifier and Stella’s pink construction paper crown made earlier that day in Sunday School. I don’t think either of them are looking at the camera.
- Being Mobile – With only one child, this used to mean having a stocked diaper bag, a high chair cover, disposable placemats, disposable bibs, etc. with us at all times. Now it means having a diaper and/or pull-up in the car (which is now a minivan) or in my purse.
- Wade Holiday Party – Used to be a drunk fest that started at 7/8 PM and went to midnight. Evolved into an Open House from 3-8 so that we could get people to leave around the kids’ bedtime and still clean-up before going to bed ourselves. This year we are going to meet another family downtown on a Saturday night to see Santa rappel from the Macy’s building and watch the fireworks afterwards.
- Exercise – Used to have a great workout schedule. Running, biking, etc. Then it turned into pushing a stroller on a walk with my neighbor. Now it’s the muscles I build when Henry is in the Baby Bjorn strapped to the front of me and I’m also holding Charlotte on one hip (so she won’t run away) while I’m pushing Stella on a swing. As a magnet in my cubicle states, “My kids are my cardio.”
- What I want to do turned into what needs to be done 95% of the time.
- Daycare – I only work 4 days a week but the cost is the same for 5 days of daycare. With just Stella I rarely left her there to even stop at the grocery for milk on my way home from work. I wanted to get to her as fast as I could. However, I must confess, that even with just the two girls there were days that I could have left work earlier, but didn’t. I’d find something to do for another 30 minutes to stall leaving. Because of the time of day it was, I knew they were having fun on the playground and if I waited 30 more minutes then Andy would also be home by the time we pulled into the garage. Having him home with us makes the witching hour so much easier. Now that there are three kids…well, today is my day off and they are all at daycare. I’d rather use my day today to catch up on laundry, go to the grocery, and finish up some Christmas stuff by myself so that we can all spend the weekend together playing and enjoying each other. I never would have believed I’d do this if you’d ask me a couple of years ago. I must say I do not feel a bit of guilt about this because the girls love “school” and are doing age appropriate things instead of being lugged around from store to store bored out of their minds. And Henry? He’s got to be thrilled to be out of that car seat!
The point of this is NOT to paint an ugly picture for moms of one child that want to expand their family. It’s to let them know that if they find themselves “lowering the standards”, having different expectations, or wondering what happened to the vision they once had, it’s ok. Don’t feel guilty as long as you are doing your best in the moment. People constantly ask me, “How do you do it all?” I don’t. Maybe it looks like it because I don’t broadcast that on Wednesday nights the baths are skipped because of swim lessons. And I did feel a little guilty about this at first. But then I saw other moms in the locker room putting their kids straight into pajamas as well. And realizing it wasn’t just me…made me feel better. So that’s why I posted my list above – so that maybe some of you can relate (while I’m sure others can’t stop shaking their heads.)
There are so many, many things that I used to do or be involved with that just don’t exist in my world anymore. For example, I’ve given up on organizing photos, reading books, and leisurely shopping. (Remember leaving in the morning and browsing TJ Maxx, Kohls, Macy’s, the mall, etc. all day for nothing in particular? And now a trip by yourself to Costco, Kroger or Target for necessities is a blessing!) I would love to do more volunteer work. Do I miss those things? Absolutely. But I’ll return to them at some point in my life. Right now being in the moment with my kids matters most.
And don’t be fooled by other moms you think are doing it all. I felt deflated when my best friend’s third child had learned to dress herself way before Stella. How was she doing something with three kids in the house that I couldn’t accomplish with one? It was quickly pointed out to me by my dear friend (with a smile and a laugh) that her daughter learned this due to “a healthy amount of neglect” from being the third child.
Bottom line? As I’ve stated in other writings, support each other. Be open-minded. Keep the word “perspective” at the forefront and remember that we all live in different environments. All moms need reassurance, not to be measured. Quit comparing yourself to other moms no matter what the similarities or differences are. I recently went to a Girls Night Out dinner and 3 of the 6 moms had one child, but were planning for others in the future. The other three of us had 2, 3, & 4 children. The conversation was great as the three of them asked the three of us pointed questions. What I remember most was that it stayed positive and light-hearted.
Treasure your children, no matter how many you have. For us, the third time’s a charm even if it’s not easy.