The gap between my boys wasn’t the smallest at 21 months – but when I got home from the hospital with Wilfred to begin life as a family of four, it felt like I had two babies. It was tough at times, but also pretty wonderful.
Of all the questions about my boys from readers of this blog, the age gap is usually the one that people ask about – so I thought I’d write a post with 10 tips for surviving a small age gap between children. I’m no parenting expert (believe me, if you were a fly on the wall some days, you would realise that) but I speak from experience. So here goes…
1. Accept help
So obvious, but so difficult sometimes. As a mum of one, I wanted to be superwoman. To be a great mum, to be the perfect wife, to be successful at work, and to keep everything running smoothly at home. I wasn’t perfect by all means, but felt like I had it pretty much under control – and then I gave birth for the second home, arrived home with this perfect bundle of chaos, and very quickly realised I couldn’t do it all anymore (it might have been that day that the baby fed for 22 hours straight while the toddler took every DVD we owned out of the boxes and threw them into the toilet, but I forget…).
It took me nearly a year to realise it, but when I accepted help, life transformed. This might be in the form of nursery, some professional help at home, family stepping in to entertain the toddler, or simply accepting an offer from a friend. Superwoman will be back, I guarantee it – but she just needs a break for a while.
2. Routine is everything
Routine, bla bla bla. I know it’s boring, but getting to the point where I could put both boys down at 7pm, tidy up the lounge and kitchen, and then collapse on the sofa (until the next feed, at least) was a godsend.
This is difficult during the day (although nailing that coordinated lunchtime nap eventually will feel like you’ve won at life) but simply bathing together, getting them snuggly in pyjamas, reading stories, and then putting them to bed at roughly the same time made me feel like an actual human again.
3. Go hands free
You only have two hands – and a baby carrier or sling makes life a million times easier when you have a baby that doesn’t like to be put down during the day (naming no names, Wilfred).
And if you’re pumping, get a double pump and a hands-free bra. It’s life changing, I tell you.
4. Consider a double buggy
If you are happy using a sling and single buggy, that also works – but in the heat of Dubai, I worried about Wilfred overheating. My double buggy (Baby Jogger City Select) allowed me to strap both children in – and believe me, knowing that they are secured out of harms way (and unable to run away / have a full-on tantrum on the floor / knock over a display of glass bottles in a shop) is worth its weight in gold.
5. Go to the toddler first
I was given some invaluable advice in the early days, that if both children wanted me at the same time (and baby was fed, warm, and in a safe place), I should give priority to the toddler. After all, I knew the baby was out of harm’s way and he wouldn’t remember that I left him there for a few minutes. His brother, however, would remember. Knowing it was OK to do things this way round took some pressure off and I think (and hope) I had a happier toddler for it.
6. Take them out
I remember how fast my heart was beating the first time I left the house with both of my children. It seemed like an impossible task. But I survived.
For me, the key was to find places where the toddler was safe and contained – and I could feed the baby when he decided he was hungry. I found play areas where staff would help me, toddler classes where Stanley was entertained but I didn’t necessarily have to stick with him, and the ultimate – friend’s houses where Stanley could play with other toddlers and there was a comfy couch for me. Two years later, there are still places I’d take them out on my own and other places I’d avoid – but I always find the day easier if I make the effort to go out.
7. Give yourself a break
Having two children is hard – and just like every demanding job, you need to have a bit of time out to recharge batteries and stay sane. The key to my happiness as a mum-of-two has been to allow myself some ‘me time’ – whether that’s booking a babysitter and having a date night, escaping at the weekend for a lunch with my friends, or even leaving the boys with grandparents for the odd night away with my husband. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve left the boys overnight in the last few years, as we don’t have family around to do it often – but when it’s happened, it has absolutely reminded me that I need some time to myself too. And I think that it’s so important to spend some time with my husband without small voices demanding our attention every few seconds. It’s bliss, actually.
8. Move on from bad days
There will be bad days – but they will be peppered with the most beautiful, precious moments that keep you sane. I learnt early on that I shouldn’t beat myself up when I had a bad day. I still feel regret, sadness, and frustration when something doesn’t go right for me and I don’t feel like I’ve handled it well (especially at the moment, thanks to Wilfred’s epic terrible-two-tantrums) but I have also learnt that the next wonderful moment is always just around the corner. Parenting isn’t easy, but the boys won’t remember the times I have wanted to scream into a pillow (well hopefully, at least) – so there’s no point wasting time worrying about it.
9. Know that it gets easier
In those difficult moments, know that it does get easier. Each stage comes with a new challenge – but when you have a small age gap, there will never be a more challenging time than the newborn days. Just a few months in, as a routine establishes, you will feel life ease a little – and then when the siblings start playing together, you can feed them the same food, you can streamline the nappy bag, and (halleluiah) eventually leave the house without a buggy, you will have a epiphany and think ‘wow, life just got easier’. And if you are crazy like me, you may even consider making life harder for yourself with the arrival of a number three (gulp).
10. Wait for the bond
Right from the beginning, seeing the two of them together will make your heart melt – especially when the small one clocks the big one and breaks into the biggest smile. And around the time that life steps up a gear as the small one begins to move, you’ll notice an incredible thing happening. They will start to play together – and as they do, their bond will grow at the most amazing, whirlwind speed. And one day in a few years time, you’ll be sat with your husband or partner watching them play together – and you will utter the words to him: “I thought we were mad at times, but THIS is why the small age gap was the best thing we ever did”. Just as I did to my husband this weekend. And believe me, I meant every single word.