Most parents I interact with either at a professional or personal level, have two kids; some have more. I come from a family where all aunts and uncles had 2 kids, albeit my cousins. It was like a kind of unsaid norm, that every couple will have two children.
Needless to say, the importance that our society places on having more than one child, is communicated consistently. You see subtle messages on the media around you on billboards, television shows, movies & receive more direct messages from family.
Having two or more kids at home presents challenges very different from the ones we face while raising a single child. The most common issue that parents complain of regarding their two kids are often related to sibling rivalry.
I often come across clients in therapy settings, who show regressed development after the birth of a younger sibling; for e.g., bed wetting after being toilet trained. Many adult clients present to therapy due to unresolved emotions which they have harbored for years, due to the experiences they had with their siblings and parents while growing up.
One thing that I have understood after working with a diverse range of clients over the past 8 years, is that very often children hold nothing against their siblings; but their feelings toward their siblings, is a manifestation of their feelings regarding how the parents are navigating the issues between the siblings.
This is evidenced in how the parents are dividing their attention between the two children, the kind of material things being given to one & the other, and even the kind of appreciation being provided.
I am of the opinion that when in doubt regarding spending time with a newborn and your toddler, always give preference to your toddler, because your newborn is not likely to understand or interpret you giving your toddler attention over them, as negative; but the same doesn’t hold true vice-versa. So, if you are a parent to more than two kids, here are some suggestions tried and tested in therapy, which could help make the journey of parenting a tad bit easier:
- Set up a routine: Structure your days in such a way that you are able to give time to both (all) your children equally. If the children are very far apart in age, this can get tricky but then it would help to make one kid part of another’s life in a proactive way. If your kids are closer in age together, you can create activity times in which you could supervise / guide both kids together. Setting up a routine will bring in some structure to your days, and also leave you some time for yourself & your partner; particularly if you are working.
- Keeping the older one occupied: If your children are not too far apart, it can become a task to keep the toddler occupied, when you are with your newborn/infant. It would help to invest in interactive activities, which could keep the toddler engaged while you spend some time with the newborn baby. If your elder one is slightly older like 4 or 5 years old, you could also make them a part of your routine with their younger sibling.
- Plan in advance: Managing two young kids and their schedules, will take more planning than it takes for just one. So plan ahead, pack the bags in advance, and also keep extra room for delays, they are bound to happen.
- Display empathy for your firstborn: Your older child’s life is going to change entirely when the new baby arrives; probably just like yours did after your firstborn arrived. So display some empathy, and don’t just expect them to be understanding and accommodative. Forcing the elder one to accept the change and embrace the new baby, along with being okay with sharing the parents, is unrealistic and will do more harm, which may make the elder child resent the younger one than love them.
- The guilt will not help you: Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can, and sometimes, it’s okay if your A game is not on. You are not a superhuman and it’s okay if there are loopholes and if you take some time off. Take help when you can, and take short breaks. Remember that self-care is important, even if there are two young people dependent on you.