Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007
Optimizing the Ratio of Toddler-to-Infant Activities in a Multi-Child Household
Thinga-reader Paul asks (paraphrased):
"With a second child on the way, will you be able to (or want to) give the new child the same devoted experiences your first child received? Or will you devote more time toward activities involving the whole family?"
Listen up parents of two-or-more kids… Please weigh in with your real-life experiences. What follows is my sheer speculation.
Each of us will define "devoted experiences" differently. Here is my shotgun approach:
First, we will manage day-to-day quiet moments with the baby through tag-team parenting. Each parent focuses on one child. Maybe Mom wants to breastfeed in silence, or just coo with the baby.
We may move our future 4-year-old daughter to full-time at her preschool, six hours a day. She and her parents will be ready by then, and it will surely assist one-on-one time with the baby.
Second, there are special activities that we’ll still do with the baby. At 9 months, we took our daughter to a babies-only swim class. And let’s not forget weekly playgroups where the baby will interact with kids within a few months of her age. Or, maybe our daughter will enjoy interacting with the babies, or the other families will have older kids, too. We’ll see.
Third, we can’t think of too many situations where we’ll want to take our 4-year-old somewhere without the baby. Our Capoeira class (a Brazilian martial arts game-dance-thingie) should be fine until the baby starts walking.
If we were juggling a younger toddler, circumstances could be quite different, but, for example, I don’t feel the need to personally accompany my now-3-year-old on every inch of playground equipment.
Fourth, I’m convinced that our daughter will take delight in helping with the baby wherever she can. That is when the magic happens.
Now, here are two examples Paul gave me after I pegged him for specifics:
"When our daughter was in her first year, I had a policy that she would get a ‘tour’ of every place we went. So if we were in a restaurant, I would say ‘tour’ and take her around to every wall decoration, lamps, cash register or anything else I noticed and talk about what it was. She loved it so much that all during her second year she would always request tours of places. It was a great bonding and learning experience for her.
With our son we can’t establish ‘traditions’ like that because it’s too hectic with having both children, and because our daughter wants to participate (which is fine but which changes the flavor and focus of it).
Another example is she would wake up at exactly 6 a.m. each morning, so it would be ‘dad’s turn’ to be with her. We had a fixed routine that evolved over the first couple of years of morning things we would do together as she matured. So I’ve been feeling guilty that I can’t do these kinds of things with the second child (it’s too hard to carve out anywhere near as much devoted one on one time because both parents work and life is generally more hectic).
With our daughter she was often the center of attention of both parents, but now with two children it’s more often one parent with either one or both child while the other rests and does chores.
But on the other hand, he has a relationship with a mature loving older sister who talks to him and cares for him which is a twist she never had, and of course we all do things together as a foursome which he participates in even though it’s not geared as much with him as the center of attention or towards his level."
I think Paul answered his own question in the last paragraph. His son won’t be missing out on special daddy time as much as daddy will be lamenting that time with his son is different than it was with his daughter.
Your new focus is fostering a sibling relationship. That means encouraging positive interaction between the kids whenever possible. Continue your restaurant tours with both kids, recruiting the older daughter as your assistant tour guide. Integrate the younger boy into your daughter’s morning routine. You will establish new traditions. They will be less intimate, but wonderful in a variety of new ways. Your daughter is now a companion and teacher to the younger child, an experience that will make both of them better people.
Hey, did that sound good coming from a dad with only one kid? Please, would the true multi-child parents in the room weigh in with their own advice?