When it comes to caring for more than one child, it seems the name of the game is prevention. It is the name of the game, the rules of the game, the strategy of the game, and the winner of the game. Seriously, prevention. Trying to salve two meltdowns at once is exhausting when it’s even possible. If you can keep baby happy while the older child stays engaged (and therefore out of trouble), well then you win!
Schedule a few minutes of one-on-one time with your older child every day. It might only be the 10 minutes you spend washing dishes while the little one sleeps. But giving your kiddo some undivided attention (well, undivided among people) will go a long way. Doesn’t your marriage or other relationship go better when you focus on each other a bit every day? Don’t your friendships feel stronger when you take a few minutes to ask what’s going on in your friends’ lives?
Schedule a few minutes for yourself. It took a few weeks (ahem, 3 months) to get this started, but it’s done me a world of good. I get up 15 minutes before I “need” to. I check Facebook, email, whatever. I do nothing responsible except maybe eat breakfast. If my older daughter wakes up before I do, I ask my husband to take her downstairs and give her breakfast while I collect myself. My whole day goes better when I take care of my emotional self.
Take care of your physical self. Getting a shower into your day (every day?) is harder when you have multiple people who need you to even like, breathe. Do it. Many days I can’t manage a shower, but since my second child, I’ve started wearing makeup every day. Not because I care a lick about my eyeshadow or lip color, but because it sets a better tone for me and for my kids. Flylady recommends getting dressed down to your shoes so that you feel “on the clock”. What’s on my feet means nothing to me, but brushing my hair and putting on mascara seems to work.
Pack a bag for the car. A stash of diapers for each child, wipes, a spare change of clothes, a towel, some water, maybe some non-perishable snacks. You could even put some mama-only chocolate in there if you need to.
Be always ready with food, drink, and an escape route that (if at all possible) includes a car ride. Let’s be honest, we’re all a little harder to deal with when we’re tired or thirsty or just a bit peckish. Toddlers too. Just don’t leave the house without some water and a favorite snack. This is one place where I splurge a bit. We have fancy applesauce that squeezes out of a pack (think: capri sun without a straw) and my little Muse only gets these from the diaper bag. In the first few weeks, my husband would remind me before we left for the grocery store that if we needed to abandon the cart and go back to do the shopping after dinner (when he could come too) that would not be a big deal. For real. Leave yourself the option to just bail. I haven’t ever had to do this in the grocery store, but knowing I can takes a lot of stress away.
Anticipate. Have a toddler that could run off into the parking lot? This is the first child into the car and last child out. In fact, you might even take the child from the car directly into a carrier of some kind. If the child’s feet never hit the pavement, all the better. Have a kiddo that loves to scream? Be ready with food (candy if necessary) or a song or some fingers that love to tickle. As soon as the kiddo seems bored or tired or tempted, act. Don’t wait, don’t second guess yourself. Has your older one developed a fascination with the baby? Plant yourself between the two, and don’t budge. The fascination will pass, and the baby will eventually get big enough to learn a few basic self defense moves.
Arrange a chaperone. Another mom who can meet you wherever you need to go and be ready to help you if you need it. Don’t wait until after one child has taken off in the store and you’ve had to call security it find her; ask someone to come along with you who can dart off with the runner or stay with the baby while you get your chase on. Plus, if you do have to bail, she can take your cart to the customer service desk so they can put the milk away before it goes bad.
Get out of the house. Schedule something most (or every) day that will benefit you both in some way. Ideally, something everyone will enjoy that won’t cost you anything if you have to bail. My favorite is meeting other moms at a park. I know 2-3 moms who go to the park on Tuesday, 2 that go on Wednesday, one that goes on Thursday. Facebook is a great place to connect up with playgroups. But even if you have to go by yourself, a little sun on your face while your toddler gleefully races through the park is going to really help you in the long run. If your toddler is awake, the park is probably open. Grab some diapers for each, a burp rag, water, and a snack, and just go to the park. You toddler will have a chance to run off some steam, and you guys can take a break from fighting with each other. This is especially useful if you can go to a toddler friendly playground where you won’t have to be extracting the child from precarious situations.
Try several carriers. Keep at least one in the car. The baby is going to be fussy when the toddler is trying to scale something. The toddler is going to want to be held or cling when the baby wants to nurse. It might happen more often than you think. There are all kinds of tutorials and how-to’s on YouTube, thebabywearer.com, and any natural parenting forum is full of been there, done that mamas who would love to walk you through how to use a carrier. A great starter baby carrier is the Ergo. There isn’t much of a learning curve, and you can use it on your front or back (or hip) and with any child up to 35lbs. You can even nurse while wearing baby and extracting a toddler from a precarious situation. (Ask me how I know!)
Which brings me to another good point: give nursing in a carrier a try. It’s tricky, and I never found much success trying at home. It was when I was on the playground and just HAD TO that I figured it out. So far, I can only nurse in one carrier, but that’s enough. I can even do it pretty discreetly.
Even if you have to do late night research, have something new hidden away. Some new project or task or art or toy that you can whip out in a pinch. Currently in my holding box: a hair dryer and some tissue paper. The next time my toddler is really pushing against me and the baby needs more mama, I’m going to let Muse rip up some tissue paper and blow it around with my hair dryer.
This is long enough for one post, and I think these 11 ideas are a good start, but what do you think? Did I leave anything out?