Double, Double Toil and Trouble: How Much Work is Two Kids?

“If no one has warned you yet, let me be the first—two kids are 10 times as hard as one kid.”

The dad who told me that has 3-year-old and a 3-month-old boys. He works full-time in an office and the mom works up to 5 hours a week outside the home. The 3-year-old attends preschool a couple times a week.

So, do you think he’s right?

I figure the dynamics of a two-child household in the early years depend upon the ages and demeanors involved, particularly with regard to the older child.

For example, caring for a newborn while a 12-month-old runs around your home has got to be hectic. Or maybe twins are in the picture. Maybe there is a large age gap, as in the case of my mother who attended college while living at home when her sister was 2-years-old (and my mother majored in child development, too).

In my situation, I’ll have a well-behaved 4-year-old girl when our second child is born. In virtually every way she has been great. In my rosy fantasy world, I see our biggest problem being hurt feelings when we don’t let her help out with every aspect of baby rearing.

She is adamant that she will be changing the baby’s diapers for us, and I’m sure she doesn’t understand how much attention will be directed toward the infant.

Two kids obviously represent more work than one, but how much more? I’ve often heard it’s double the work, and a bit isolating, with each parent watching one child when it’s feasible.

To what degree does having an interested sibling learning from the experience temper the work? If you have two or more kids, what has been your experience?


15 Responses to “Double, Double Toil and Trouble: How Much Work is Two Kids?”

  1. Jessica G. says:

    My mother warned me that it was like earthquake theory — 100x the work when you have two!

    I am not sure it is that bad. It certainly is magnified though. I have an intense 3 year old and a pretty mellow 6 1/2 month old. My mother-in law ended up moving in with us and has been a huge help. I work 1/2 time (as an editor from a home office), husband works full time and MIL works full time. Somehow we manage. My 3 year old just started preschool. That has made a big difference.

    I think I was not prepared for how much I wanted to spend time with my oldest but the newborn fog filled much of my free time. I adore both of them but feel like I missed out on a few months.

    Divide and conquer. Sometimes it is ok that one parent is better at calming one child vs the other. Embrace that rather than resent it. Utilize the skill set in the household! It is tiring. For a while you were two people worried about one child and now you are two people worried about two children. Sometimes it is necessary to let one parent worry about one — just for a mental health break! Try to be thankful that you have a parenting team. I am always amazed by the single parents out there – how do they do it?

    What IS amazing is how love is not finite. I thought I could never love anything as much as I love my eldest daughter. It just expands and makes room! I love them so differently and individually.

    I still have no idea how people handle 3 or more. I think those are the mom’s with the “crazy eyes.” I joke (sort-of).

    September 14th, 2007 at 8:08 am

  2. Ticia says:

    I never had one kid, having had twins first, but going from two to three is a bit of an organizational challenge. The main thing is making sure you still give attention to the older child or children, and they learn that the baby is just a new part of the family.

    September 14th, 2007 at 8:19 am

  3. Bev says:

    LOL. Two is a piece o’cake. Wait till the 5th comes along. Someone once said that 1 child takes up all of your time so it doesn’t take any more time with 2; you just divide your time differently.

    I had the “perfect daughter” as #1 as well, and she was only 16 mos old when #2 came long. It worked out. It will all work out.

    If you’re lucky, you have friends close by with whom you can share the joys and the frustrations–and babysitting. Ideally they have kids the same age as your own, many of whom will grow to be life-long friends. That’s what makes it so much easier!

    All things considered, it’s a wonderful adventure.

    September 14th, 2007 at 8:54 am

  4. AJ says:

    For those of you playing at home, that’s the same Bev whose now 38-year-old son still carries his baby blanket around with him in his coat pocket.

    September 14th, 2007 at 9:03 am

  5. Jennifer says:

    Adding an additional child takes some adjustments, however once you get into a routine, everything falls into place they way it should, making it a bit more work, but worth it all. I don’t think that you will have much of a problem once everything settles because you have a well behaved older child and a realistic approach to parenting.

    September 14th, 2007 at 10:24 am

  6. STL Mom says:

    I think it really depends on the ages of your kids, the difference in age between them, and the personalities and interests of each child.
    My daughter was almost 3 when my son was born, and loved to “help” — at least some of the time. Sibling rivalry didn’t start until he was old enough to crawl around and get into her stuff. Now that they are 7 and 4, there are times they entertain each other and I can get things done. At home it is not much more work, sometimes less work, to have two. Whenever you leave the house, it is a lot more work and stress to have two. This is especially true when one or both are still at the running away/wandering off stage. Also, we have to limit sports and classes so we are not taking a kid somewhere every night.
    A great book is “Siblings Without Rivalry.” It is mostly about older kids, not babies, but I found it helpful to read when my son was young to help me avoid some bad habits that I might not have thought about on my own.
    An interesting review topic would be books and videos that “prepare” an older sibling for a new baby. I searched an entire shelf at a bookstore before finding one book that was positive, “I’m a Big Sister” (there’s a big brother version, too.) All the other books included at least one page about, “sometimes you’ll be mad at the baby for getting all the attention” and I figured, why put that idea in her head before it gets there on its own? My daughter loved having people come over to look at her baby, and getting to check out all the baby gifts. As I said, it was months before she felt any jealousy or rivalry.

    September 14th, 2007 at 10:47 am

  7. megret says:

    I agree with a previous commenter; it really depends on the age difference between the two, as well as the gender and temperment of the child. In our case, we had a girl 22 mos. after a boy, and he was intrigued by her, but not really angry/jealous. He really didn’t notice her much at all for the first 9 months, and we couldn’t enlist his help with throwing away diapers, etc. until that point, but a lot of that was maturity and the ability to follow simple directions.

    As he gets into the 3s, we see how much more helpful he’s becoming with her, and how much he truly loves her; they don’t fight like many siblings…..he’s good about giving her toys to play with (switching bait when she has something he wants, which will work for now….) and being concerned when she’s upset.

    I agree about more than twice the work, though. When we go out to others’ houses for dinner or anywhere, really, my husband and I each tag a kid as ours for the evening and we pretty much focus on that….we have to reconnect with each other later on. And we have come to realize that those occasions aren’t good opportunities anymore to socialize and catch up with friends….that is, of course, unless we want one or both of our unattended kids to tumble down a flight of stairs. :0)

    A challenge, yes, and exhausting, oh boy, yes….but fun and sweet, absolutely. :0) Good luck and best wishes to you.

    September 14th, 2007 at 5:08 pm

  8. Rachel says:

    I have an almost 3-yr old and a 2-month old. It is a lot of work. Routine is the key that helps my oldest through the day and keeps the insanity in check. Tag-teaming bedtime has also helped a lot.
    My husband and I are keeping a close watch for any signs of PPD, which I suffered with when my oldest was born. The sleep deprivation is worse than the first time as well. Since my DH works full time he needs sleep just as much as I do. Trading off night-time duty with a bottle of expressed breast milk keeps every one even keel.
    *Momma’s little helper* only goes so far, so during the baby’s morning nap I make sure to spent some one-on-one time with my oldest so she doesn’t get jealous.
    What makes is all worth while is when my oldest hugs her baby sister and tells her how much she loves her; that and when she pretends to cry and then gives herself a pacifier.

    September 15th, 2007 at 7:04 am

  9. Working Dad says:

    Every family is different, but we found the warning-advice that having a second doesn’t double the work it quadruples it to be way off the mark. We had maybe half as much work when our daughter arrived. Our son was two, and what likely made it easier was that both slept. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t this huge jump in work. We knew what to expect and we were more relaxed and prepared. Now a third baby could really increase our workload.

    September 16th, 2007 at 10:54 pm

  10. Tracie says:

    I am the proud stay-at-home mom of a 1 year old and 3 year old. I began to stay home just before the birth of my 1 year old son. He was a colicky and horrendous baby, but I managed to make it work. Yes it was harder to go out shopping, take quick trips anywhere, but it only gets easier and easier. My daughter learned to be more patient and to wait because if he was hungry, he had to be fed right away. I also made sure to spend more time with her when he was sleeping or to take special trips just the two of us. It is a juggling act and some days are more difficult than others, but it is really a HUGE blessing to have them both and I can’t imagine them not having each other as they get older.

    PS- The first trip I took with them to the store was so nerve-wracking and when I got home I thought, that’s what I was afraid of? It was so much easier than I had thought it would be.

    September 17th, 2007 at 11:43 am

  11. AZ says:

    As other pps have said, it is totally dependant on the ages and temperaments of the children involved. Our son was 6 when his baby sister came along and I could not imagine a better situation. He had time as the sole focus of attention, was old enough to really be involved in the preparations for her arrival and has been great all around! He is old enough both to verbalize when he feels he is being short-changed and not to take it out on the baby, which is huge. When she was one month and again at 8 months we took her to his class for “show and tell” so he could share her with his classmates. They are now 8 (last week) abnd almost 2- and get along wonderfully.

    September 18th, 2007 at 8:39 am

  12. kelli says:

    It totally depends on the ages of the kids, and the temperaments of the kids AND parents involved. We’re a pretty laid back family, and we’ve survived having a newborn when our first son was just 2 (J & T are 24 months, 10 days apart). I work from home and take my older son to a co-op preschool (for the first 6-months of T’s life he went, too).

    J had lots of books read to him about babies (I love “Let Me Tell You about My Baby’ by Roslyn Banish) in the months leading up to T’s arrival. My husband was able to take a month off of work which helped with dividing night duties and letting me get a handle on breastfeeding (CONSTANTLY) again.

    The level of confidence in having the J survive for 2 years was really great: we weren’t going to break T; T wouldn’t automatically stop breathing if we weren’t right there; sometimes kids just fuss in the evening, etc.

    We didn’t use a stroller for J, so he was walking at the store at 2 — he holds the cart or my hand and T rides in the cart. My boys are mostly calm and well-behaved (in public, anyhow), so shopping with them is at least tolerable, if not fun.

    My husband and I usually divide and conquer when we go out — each of us take a kid and focus on them. We are sure to communicate, and sometimes my husband will take both boys so I can actually talk to other adults for a while. (Several times he has taken “boys” trips with the two kids and the dog — even a couple of overnighters!)

    The kids are now 3 and 1 (both about to have birthdays, so nearly 4 and 2) and they can play together and run in the yard and are often very sweet to each other. Which is good as we’ve had to break the news that their sister is arriving in January!

    September 18th, 2007 at 4:37 pm

  13. Nikki says:

    Well like most of the others I will say that it completely depends on the older child and the parents. I was told the same “it’s more than 2x the work!” stuff when I was pregnant with #2 but I was also told that high school would be sooooo much harder than middle school and that college would be soooo much harder than high school, etc, etc and I never felt like things were as bad as people told me they would be :)

    In our family, my older son was 2 years 7 months when his younger brother arrived on the scene. Several things helped our transition –

    1. My husband is super involved so even if big bro couldn’t have my attention, he could easily have Dad’s.

    2. We each have special time with big bro every day – everything from just two of us going to the park or just an extra long snuggle in the morning.

    3. We try really really hard to not blame the baby for anything or negatively compare the two as a means of motivation for the older kid – friends of ours frequently use things like “baby ate his whole lunch, why haven’t you?” or “I can’t read to you right now because baby NEEDS me” – we try to either reword things like “How about you pick out 2 books, sit on the couch and when I’m finished I will come read to you” (making it all about me and giving him something to occupy his time).

    That all seems like common sense, of course, so again, a lot of it has to do with personalities – my older son is very active, empathetic, loving, funny and curious – all of which led him to ask how he could help when baby was crying or bring me things he thought might make the crying stop (no, baby doesn’t want to play with your playdoh, sorry :) ). Anyway, #2 is 14 months now and so far they have been the best of friends!

    On the flip side, we have friends that have a 4 year old girl and just had another baby girl. The 4 year old is a nightmare – she’s used to getting what she wants, when she wants it and is very distraught over her mommy spending time with baby and not her. This was all very predictable, though, since she was not at all excited about the baby coming, would get upset over her mommy talking to another child on the playground, etc. She’s now reading the book “Sibling Without Rivalry” trying to get ideas of how to help her older daughter cope.

    Best of luck! I’d say if your older child is a great kid now, that won’t change a whole lot when baby arrives! :)

    September 19th, 2007 at 12:35 pm

  14. Rae says:

    I found that going from one to two was actually an easier transition for me than from zero to one. It felt like simply adding another child to our family which was already up and running, rather than entering a new universe, which is what having my first felt like.

    Three was harder, simply my oldest was only three and a half, and my middle was not-quite-two, when my youngest was born. It was the factor of the two older ones getting up to no good when I was busy with the littlest that was the real problem, but now my youngest is twenty months and my oldest is five, and I really don’t think it’s all that much more work. They play with each other, and the sibling relationship is so precious that it’s absolutely worth it.

    September 20th, 2007 at 1:45 pm

  15. Darren Witt says:

    2 is WAAAAAAAY more work than 1. and i get to go to work. poor wife….

    September 30th, 2007 at 12:31 pm