Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mommy Guilt - Having a Second Child

Today's post is one that I have been adding to for over a week now. It is definitely a subject that I think about often. I'm talking about the differences in my parenting going from having a single child to two kids.

Going through everything for the second time around, I am hyper aware of all those differences. I like to think that I am doing a decent job with both K and H, but that mommy guilt creeps its nasty head around the corner along the way. Sometimes we (collective we) spiral into anxiety driven moments where we second guess everything. I'm not trying to be a downer, I'm just trying to do some self reflection.

Take television for example. From the get go I took to heart the APA's (American Pediatrics Association) recommendation of NO television for kids under the age of two. Little dude made it to about 21 months before he ever watched any kind of TV, and even then it was a half hour a few times a week at most. Now that he is 2, he watches some Sesame Street most mornings, and an occasional Dora in the afternoons. Overall I would say he averages less than an hour of screen time per day. I am proud of myself for resisting the urge to park my kid in front of the TV when it was convenient and finding other ways of engaging my child.

I was doing so well with K and had the same goals with H of course, but then in stepped reality. If K is in the room with the TV on, it is really hard to keep H from watching too. I don't move her out of the room often because the living room is where all the action is. She would not be happy if I kept her in her room while her brother watched a show, and I can't get anything done if I am constantly holding her in effort to distract her. She also knows the TV is on so she needs constant distraction or she gets angry. She doesn't watch TV as much as K, but she gets some.

I don't really think it is a big deal most of the time. TV isn't poison, and even if it were, she gets it in rather small doses. Then why can't I shake the feeling that I am in some way failing her? Every day I straddle the line between cutting myself slack, and being mad at myself for creating excuses.

There is also mommy guilt over what H has now versus what K got as a baby. For one, I worked a decent amount when K was H's age. This one doesn't bother me as much because I know he loved daycare and it provided opportunities for learning that I couldn't provide for him as easily. Still, H has mommy almost every hour of every day so just on principle alone I feel a little bad.

K also is at the age where he adores books. He brings them to me endlessly throughout the day and I do my best to read them to him as often as I can. H benefits greatly from this because she is usually on my other side while I read. I did read to K as a baby, but it wasn't even close to as much as H gets.
Then there is the parental learning curve. Some things I just didn't have figured out when K was a baby. The biggest example that I think about is talking: It is proven that on average, the more words a baby/toddler/child hears every day, the richer their vocabulary. Just as important as hearing lots of words, is engaging them while talking; it isn't enough to just talk endlessly to yourself in their presence. While a lot about parenting came somewhat easily to me, this part not so much.

I never grew up around babies and before having K, barely had any friends with babies. I didn't know much about how to handle kids at all. When I got pregnant I was pretty confident that I would figure it out. Many moms have fears about leaving the hospital and being responsible for a little life. I didn't have many reservations at all. What I didn't realize was the huge amount of complexities that come beyond the basics of baby care. I had no idea how important the early years were in the development of a person. In hindsight, it is rather obvious.
New mommy bliss (2009)

I had to learn to talk to my baby! That looks so weird typed out on the screen but its true. With K I knew how to take care of him, I definitely knew that I loved him, but I did not know how to have conversations with him. Talking to my baby just felt like I was talking to myself constantly. It was awkward and forced. I'm sure some people have that natural ability, but I was never good with kids and in this regard it didn't change when I had my own. As the months went by and K started picking up words himself, I became better at talking with him.

Now that he is a toddler and going through a language explosion I talk to him about everything and anything. I tell him what everything is called and tell him stories about them. I try to vary my sentence structures so that he can understand how words are put together. The funny thing is that I find myself doing the same thing with H. She says mama and dada now, but I was talking this way to her since way before she could say anything. A lot of my kids' differences in language skills will have to do with individual differences, but I know that H automatically has a one up thanks to being the second child (and a girl). I'm curious to see how her vocabulary takes off.

In the end I need to simply do the best I can and let the smaller matters go. Otherwise, I just feel anxious and that is definitely not good for me or my kids. I think having a sibling is a huge one up for both kids; much bigger than any negatives in my parenting that I can find. I like over analyzing some things everything though, so I'm sure I will always be noticing those small differences.

The scientist in me is really interested in what results from the differences in parenting, even though the results would only be anecdotal. It is funny how much more aware of my parenting I am as a mother of 2 versus a mother of 1. I guess that is a natural byproduct of repetition. I think that all my reflection on these issues helps me really gain perspective on what is most important. Instead of taking an hour of Sesame Street as a given for K, I make a much bigger effort to skip the TV all together now.


  1. Andi, you are an amazing mom! I can understand comparing the two experiences, but don't be hard on yourself. Your love for your kids really shines through.

  2. That means a lot to me :). I usually don't dwell on this stuff but sometimes the hormones still get to me. I wrote most of this last week sometime and almost just deleted it because I sound so negative but I decided that if it was in my mind even a little bit, that it was worth sharing. Thanks for your kind words.

  3. I think having two children we can realize these differences and feel guilty about them all the time. It has to be something about being a parent of two. We dont really know how to be a parent until we are one, it's a constant learning process. Imagine adding number 3.. I was so scared, guilty, and stressed about adding a second child. I think it's nature of parenting. So don't stress your babies are lucky to have you and each are different and will go through different things no matter what, it's what makes them individuals and unique. Btw, I love that picture of them watching tv. My kids love tv too, I don't feel guilty, j blows me away with the stuff he knows and picks up from tv shows. There are worse things in the world than tv.

  4. Robin - it really makes me wonder what 3 is like. Going from 1 to 2 was way harder than 0 to 1 for me. I hope 3 isn't as big of a transition whenever that comes around.


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