When my first daughter was about 18 months old, I took her into a local juice bar. As I was placing my order, she proceeded to roll all over the floor and giggle as if it were her own house. With all of the other people around, I was a little embarrassed and even apologized for her behavior. One man assured me he had two kids of his own and not to worry. Then, he asked if we wanted more children. I politely responded “yes, but maybe not right away.” I will never forget his response: “Well, when you’re ready just know that one feels like one and two feels like ten. Just wait, you will see.”
I thought he was exaggerating. Or maybe his kids were just bad. I had friends with multiple kids and never heard once it was that overwhelming.
As I was pregnant with my second child, I came across blogs about families with two or more kids and how the transition from one to two was the hardest. I even found some books about going from one to two kids. Who knew this was a big enough topic to publish multiple books about?! I thought the second child was easier? Weren’t they supposed to be better sleepers and eaters? I started to wonder if I should feel more scared.
I bought two books and began investigating. I read that the biggest struggle would likely be keeping the older child entertained and feeling loved. I read about how to share my time and affection between both kids while maintaining a healthy marriage. It did sound a bit overwhelming, but at this point we already had baby #2 on the way. (As a side note, on top of having our second child, we were also preparing for a move to a different state with no family or social support.)
I knew I needed some coping strategies. I knew I needed to drastically lower my expectations of my two-year-old and myself. I wasn’t sure what that would look like, but I was prepared for possibly the biggest challenge of my life.
Once our second daughter was born, I had help from our parents for about one month. Even during that time I could begin to feel the strain that felt like a tug-of-war. The constant decisions, neediness, and compromises were taking a toll on me. Even when I wasn’t taking care of one of the kids, I was thinking about it: Should I wake up the baby to feed? She misbehaved a lot today, maybe we should be stricter. No, actually we should be more lenient because she is going through a lot of changes…
The best way I can describe it is the constant-ness.
Because with one child you are likely stressed and don’t have as much free time as you would like, it only takes a little more work to feel like you’ve reached your max workload. Two kids is not necessarily double the work, but you have to take into account your starting point. You only have two hands, one brain and one heart. You can only multitask in so many ways and for so long until you feel overwhelmed.
If you can handle two kids, then heck, you can probably handle ten. If you can handle the tug-of-war of emotions and physicality, you can do anything.
A friend told me that with each child you become a little more broken inside. At first, that sounded like a negative perspective, but I finally understood once I experienced it. In order to grow you have to change, and change requires damage. It’s kind of like building muscles. In my field, we educate patients on why delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) is painful — because you have to create micro tears in the muscle to build new fibers. In some sense, I do feel more damaged than I did before having kids. Or maybe vulnerable is a better word? I feel that I’ve lost many things I once had such as control and free time. But, what I’ve gained is far greater than anything I lost.
Some say moms don’t feel a sense of accomplishment like they did when they had careers, but I beg to differ. The sense of accomplishment that comes with getting both kids in bed peacefully by 8pm when your husband is working late, feels AMAZING! Granted, it’s a different type of success. I feel incredible joy and confidence knowing I’ve kept two tiny humans alive for this long, and not just alive, but thriving.
So maybe that man in the juice bar was right. I honestly don’t think I could handle ten kids. But I can certainly do more than I ever thought possible.