The Guilt of Having a Second Child
As I sat down to enjoy lunch with my toddler after finally getting her 2-week-old sister to sleep, the baby promptly woke up screaming with a painful bout of gas and then had a huge diaper blowout. As I rushed off to clean her, I looked over and saw my toddler quietly eating alone, looking down at her plate. She clearly was feeling left out and my heart shattered.
When we had our second baby, I was prepared to feel physically exhausted as I balanced the needs of my newborn and my two-year-old. I expected jealousy from my toddler and was ready for her to act out. But what caught me off guard was the all-consuming guilt of having to split my attention between my toddler and my newborn.
I, like every mom, am no stranger to feeling guilty. But the guilt that came with having a second baby was brutal. I felt horrible for not being there for my toddler the way I used to be. She would get upset that I couldn’t cuddle with her while I fed the baby and she got frustrated when I constantly had to say “in a minute” in response to every request she had. I felt like I was letting my toddler down. I was also exhausted and just didn’t have the energy for playing and having fun like I used to.
When other people stepped in to help after we brought the baby home, they often were taking care of my toddler so I could focus on the baby. As a result, I found myself taking my toddler to the park less, missing out on simple everyday tasks like brushing her teeth or changing her diaper, and no longer rocking her to sleep before bedtime. Because I chose to exclusively breastfeed my newborn, I felt especially trapped in this situation. I could not delegate feeding my baby, who was eating 12+ times a day.
In addition to the guilt, I really missed my toddler. I felt constant pangs of disappointment as she headed off on adventures with my husband while I stayed home to feed the baby and get her down for a nap. I missed how my daughter and I interacted before the baby arrived. I mourned the loss of our three-person family.
I reached out to several friends when I was having an especially hard day and I got some much-needed advice that helped me turn things around.
Give It Time
My friends all told me that I would start to feel comfortable splitting my time between two kids and to just wait it out. The new normal would sink in and I would get better and bonding with my toddler while taking care of the newborn. I needed to give myself time to learn this new skill.
Sure enough, by about 8 weeks I realized I had gone a whole day without feeling guilty about splitting my attention between my kids. I finally had more energy, we were getting out of the house more, and we were doing more things together as a family. I was spending less time breastfeeding and more time playing on the floor with my toddler. I simply needed to wait the bad feelings out.
Make Breastfeeding a Time to Still Bond with Your Older Child
I kept a basket of toys and books near each place I typically breastfed. Whenever I sat down to feed the baby, I would clear out a space for my toddler right next to me and have games and puzzles that we could do together. Now when I sit down to breastfeed, she usually comes right up next to me on the couch ready to play. It has become a special time for me to bond with each of my kids, instead of just the baby.
Involve Your Older Child in Baby Care
My friends encouraged me to invite my toddler to join me when I changed the baby’s diaper, got her dressed, or bathed her. If my toddler showed interest in helping, I gave her simple tasks that helped her connect with her sister and not feel left out. Seeing her joy in feeling she was a key part of these tasks helped to ease my guilt significantly. I watched her blossom as a sister and witness the richness her sister added to her life. It added a new dimension to the way each of us connected.
Now that I am 16 weeks postpartum, I have almost forgotten we ever had a life before being a family of four. I feel fully connected to my toddler again, and the guilt of splitting my time between two kids is rarely felt. There are still moments my daughter tells me to “move that baby” and hold her. Most of the time, I can grant that wish. But even when I can’t I still remind myself I am doing a great job.