My daughter's first birthday is coming up, which is so hard to believe! Like many mothers, I have mixed emotions about this milestone. I love seeing her learn and grow into her own little person. I am excited for her to do little girl things and grow into a beautiful young woman. But that means that all of those little baby things that I love so much (like her sweet four-toothed smile peaking from behind the curtain as she plays peekaboo and her excited clap as she stands up on her own) will soon just be memories.
We are planning to celebrate her birthday (of course!) but not with a Pinterest worthy party or a big outing. A few gifts, some frozen yogurt, and a day playing at home with Mommy, Daddy, and her big brother will mark the occasion. This is not because we don't want her day to be special, but because it is the kind of day that she likes best.
For my son's first birthday, my husband and I took him to a little zoo about an hour from our home. He enjoyed seeing some of the animals and riding the train, but there were definitely some stressful moments. All we could get for him to eat was an overpriced yogurt tube and animal crackers (Mommy forgot the packed lunch at home! Oops!), and he was getting cranky after an hour or so. Overall we had a fun, but exhausting day.
This difference in birthday celebrations is only one of the many shifts that we have made with our second child. I'd love to assure all new moms that things are easier the second time around, but that's simply not true (at least for me!).
The illusion of ease is a reflection of a shift in attitude and expectations about motherhood.
With the first child, even the most level-headed woman, fantasizes about picture perfect moments of motherhood and a constant overflowing feeling of joy. We read baby and parenting books and plan (oh the planning!) how we will get our babies to sleep through the night and make the most nutritious baby food and teach them baby sign language. Then our precious angel is born and refuses to follow our carefully researched plans! Instead of joy and peace, there is anxiety and feelings of failure.
With the second child, expectations are more realistic and plans more flexible.
For instance, while I was pregnant with my son, I read at least 10 baby books in hopes of being prepared for anything and figuring out my parenting style. I spent my free time working on decorations for the nursery and driving all over town to yard sales to score baby clothes. I even considered cloth diapering and making my own baby food (things that do not fit with my personality and skills)!
While I did find some good deals and learn some valuable information, in all of my busyness I missed out on my chances to relax before the baby came. I was even out yardsaling when I went into labor! And of course, after he was born my son would only sleep in the bed with us so the nursery went unused. And forget about the cloth diapering and baby food!
With my daughter, I did buy her some cute baby things, but decided not to set up a nursery or her own room. We reused many of the baby things that we had saved and prepared by buying a twin sized bed to push up against our queen to allow for the inevitability of two kids and two parents in the same bed (and guess what...we’re still all in there together most nights). I did review one baby book that I have just as a refresher, but spent more time cherishing the alone time with my son. To prepare for the birth I bought snacks and set things up for my son to stay with his grandparents. I went to bed early and tried to take it easy for those last few weeks, as I exhausted myself the first time. However, my daughter came quickly on her due date, and even the few preparations that I had made went unused!
Another change that came with the second child was the attitude toward those oh-so-important first year milestones.
With my son, I was always looking ahead. What is the next thing he should be doing/learning? Is this behavior normal? When will he grow out of this irritating behavior (actually sleep through the night)? I did enjoy parts of his first year, but with a focus on the future, I am sure that I missed out on really enjoying some of those sweet moments and behaviors.
In contrast, my daughter’s changes and growth often take me by surprise! Is she really rolling over already?! Oh look at her figuring out how that toy works! Oh my, she stood up on her own and is trying to walk! Can she really be that old?!
Granted, I am often distracted by the antics of my 3 year old so the focus is not solely on the baby. But slowing down and not worrying about what my daughter should be doing next allows me to cherish the things that she is doing at the moment. Right now she is just beginning to take her first steps and learning how to put things into containers and take them out again. It is so fun to watch her little mind working!
With my daughter, I did not try to start baby food until she was about 8 months old, as opposed to 4 months with my son. She started reaching for things we were eating and staring at the food, so it finally occurred to me that she was ready to try some foods. I didn’t have much trouble trying to get her to eat or try new things because she was ready. Slowing down allowed me to watch for her cues instead of the timing of “experts.”
Every day with children brings new joys and challenges, so learning to relax and be flexible will go a long way toward contentment. I’m not saying I enjoy every moment. Cleaning up poop or dealing with tantrums is not fun, but if I accept and expect these challenges then they don’t have to ruin the day! They can make the moments of peace and happiness even more special.