And Baby Makes Four!

Toddler Routines with a Newborn

“Sleep when the baby sleeps” is something we hear a lot when we’re about to expand our family.  It's well-intentioned advice meant to point out to a soon-to-be parent that it’s not only okay but necessary to prioritize your own needs above that which you used to find important.  “The dishes will always be there” is meant to make us feel better about the fact that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to live life the way we used to live AND take care of a newborn.  And it's true... they will ALWAYS be there. 

Yet you did it.  Somehow, you made it through, with dishes in the sink or not, you managed to get enough rest to want to make another baby, and now you’re expanding your family again!  Except this time, you won’t be able to sleep when the baby sleeps, because you also have a toddler who will be very much awake, curious and into everything through most of the day.  What is a mom to do?

doula woodbridge

First, give yourself a break.  Recognize that while your love grew with the new baby, the hours in the day didn’t.  That means your family is going to find a new normal… again.  Some things are just going to have to be good enough for a while.  And that may mean that your toddler watches more TV than you’d like, or Chic-fil-A plays a greater part in your kid’s diet than you’d care to admit.  It is not only okay, it is imperative to cut yourself some slack.  YOU ARE SUPER MOM, even if your oldest doesn’t take a bath every day.

Find something that your toddler can do where you can supervise from a distance.  At Old Mill or Kenmore Parks you can sit on the bench with a baby and watch as your toddler learns how to navigate the big bad toddler slide alone.  Even if they are saying, “Come here, mom!  Watch me, Mom!” you can still get some rest.

Have your toddler help with the baby… if they want to.  Sharing their favorite book, helping to change the baby’s clothes or bring mom a diaper are all great ways your oldest can become invested in being the big sibling.  And sometimes they may show disinterest, or opt not to help as a form of control.  That’s okay too.  They are still learning the boundaries of self and family, just because they don’t want to help doesn’t usually reflect how they feel about being a big brother or sister.

Have a “Special Basket”, just for when you are feeding the baby.  It can include a few special books, toys and/or treats.  This basket can come down when it's time to feed the newborn, and then gets put up after the baby is done eating.  Your toddler will look forward to having something special while mom snuggles with the baby, and maybe once the baby is situated, you can even read to your two year old.

Tell the baby she has to wait.  This is a big one that kids really love.  I realized I spent a lot of time saying, “Hang on, big boy, Mommy has to take care of the baby.”  Learning to wait is an important part of children’s development, but it’s also nice too if the baby has to wait every once in a while.  The baby doesn’t even need to be crying, she may be sleeping, but you can make it a point to occasionally say, “Hang on, little baby, your big brother needs my attention.”  Your oldest may not acknowledge it, but it will go a long way in showing your toddler that he is still important.

Naptime/Quiet time is sacred.  Make sure you get that time each day.  If your oldest child doesn’t take naps, they can have quiet time, where they can read, do a puzzle, play with a non-noise making toy, whatever it is that is quiet, in their room, and unsupervised.  They will be fine, and you NEED this.  This is, as my partner would say, like putting an oxygen mask on yourself before you help the other people on the plane.  As an added bonus, most kids really benefit from the time alone.  If your kiddos share a room, it’s ok to put them in separate rooms for this, or toss them in their joint room cage-match style. Quiet time doesn't even really need to be quiet. As long as they stay in their rooms and play safely.

Have a “meltdown minimizer”. Don't let your kids bribe you into giving them something to solve their tantrums, but there is often time a period of the day I like to call The Witching Hour.  It often happens right about the time someone is preparing dinner—everyone is tired, hungry and emotionally spent for the day, and that is a time when a lot of crankiness tends to appear, for everyone.  Identify if this is a period of your day, and find a proactive solution.  Maybe that’s when your kid gets to do play-dough, or color with the big kid crayons, or even schedule bath-time if it makes your kids happy.  Let them bathe for 30 minutes while you sit on the floor of the bathroom, feeding a baby/playing on your phone/talking to them.  You’ll find something that works for you.

You will make it through this big transition.  So will your toddler.  And your baby.  And time heals all wounds, so life will be easier once you can get a reasonable amount of sleep again.  Until then, use these routines for toddlers, ask for help, hire a doula, and take care of yourself.  You are enough.

Victoria McCollum

Victoria McCollum is a birth and postpartum doula and owner of Doulas of Fredericksburg, in Fredericksburg, Virgina. She resides there with her husband and three precocious sons.