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?


5 Responses to “Optimizing the Ratio of Toddler-to-Infant Activities in a Multi-Child Household”

  1. thordora says:

    We did (do) a lot of kid trade offs-especially when we first brought my second born home. Our oldest was only 19 months, so it was a bit of a change for her-luckily we had prepared her a fair bit, and she was ready for it.

    Now, they’re so close that they usually want to go places together-my older daughter teachers her sister things, as well as my youngest showing her things as well.

    It’s not the same as having 1-there just isn’t the same amount of time, but you aren’t as distracted by the newness either. We encourage the sibling relationship, while making one on one time for each. It’s been working.

    Sometimes i wish that we would have had a bit more time between children since the first few months were rough, but now, it rocks they get along so well. (most of the time) :)

    October 23rd, 2007 at 4:44 am

  2. Tracie says:

    I know we spent more individual time with our first child, but I don’t think we neglect our second. We just don’t spend as much time doing pat-a-cake, pointing and labeling things, etc. He hears us reading to his sister, singing songs with her, playing pretend games, etc. You just do the best you can!

    October 23rd, 2007 at 12:28 pm

  3. Chief Family Officer says:

    I admit, there have been times when I’ve felt that Tyler is getting the short end of the stick – our schedule revolves almost entirely around Alex, such that Tyler has never had much of a routine. We manage to make sure that he eats regularly, but his naps are always all over the place.

    The hardest thing for me was at the beginning, when Alex spent most of his time with his dad, while I cared for the baby (mostly nursing). It was really the opposite of when Alex was born, when pretty much any time that I wasn’t nursing, I handed him off to my husband. Because Alex spent so much time with his dad, he naturally began preferring Daddy all the time and telling me to go away, crying if I was the one taking care of him, etc. Even now he still prefers Daddy sometimes. It was heartbreaking for me, still is occasionally, though thankfully it happens a lot less now that I spend a lot more time with him (Tyler’s 10 months old).

    We do a lot as a family on weekends. The more both parents are around, the easier it is. I know that’s obvious, but I have friends with 2 kids under 3 who do most of the parenting b/c their husbands work long hours and it’s HARD for them.

    I’ve come to think that it’s impossible to compare our sons’ infanthoods. I’m not doing nearly as much mommy-and-me stuff as I did with Alex, but Tyler always has Alex around and is definitely very interested in his older brother. I’ve thought sometimes that it would have been a lot easier in some ways to have them farther apart (Alex is 21 months older) but I think that once we get through these first couple of years, it’ll be wonderful that they’re so close in age (I hope, anyway).

    BTW, if you’re like me, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ve forgotten. On the other hand, all the things that stressed you out the first time around are a lot easier this time!

    October 23rd, 2007 at 9:03 pm

  4. Kate says:

    Maybe I’m speaking as an older child myself, but here is my experience.

    We have two children, ages 3.5 and 14 months. The divide and conquer routine works well for us, as do family-oriented activities, but sometimes you have to let each kid get solo time with at least one of you — doing something non-routine (grocery shopping and chores don’t count).

    For example, at the beginning of fall, we all went apple picking. We brought the wagon and everyone had a ball. Then, later in fall, my younger son and my husband were taking a nap, and I decided to take my older son back to the orchard alone. He had a great time, unencumbered by his brother’s slower pace and the constant need to accommodate the wagon.

    Since my older son is now dropping his naps altogether, this provides us a good chance to bond. We usually do something special together at the beginning of his brother’s nap, either cooking part of dinner, playing a game, or making an art project… and then he goes off and plays on his own.

    My younger son gets plenty of one-on-one attention, because his brother is so self-sufficient and because he spends time in preschool (only six hours per week). I think it’s been more important to show my older son that he hasn’t been pushed aside for the baby than it has been to show my baby that he’s important too. And the special times my husband and I have spent with my older son definitely help prevent the acting out that comes from feeling the baby squeeze.

    We’re not perfect, either. I just wanted to point out that your daughter may feel a bit out-of-center after the baby comes, and to remember that she’s used to lots of personalized attention from you, and helping you with the baby will only provide so much of that.

    October 24th, 2007 at 5:49 am

  5. STL Mom says:

    I think the key is flexibility. What works at one stage, for either child, may not work at another. For example, many newborns can be easily toted around to an older sibling’s events. However, a toddler who needs to nap in her own bed at a specific time is a lot less portable. I limited my older child’s events outside the home until my youngest was done napping.
    You also have to look ahead – if you let your oldest do three after-school activities, remember that will be six after-school activities a few years later. With a three- or four-year age gap, there won’t be many activities that both your kids can do in the same place at the same time.
    Family activities are great in those times that your kids are getting along. When feelings of jealousy come up, that’s the time to separate the kids and do more individual activites for a while.

    October 25th, 2007 at 2:15 pm

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