When The Age Gap Is Small The Days Can Be Long
When I had one baby, I deviated between intense happiness and unexpected loneliness, but I didn’t feel cross or impatient – at least not regularly. Then, when my baby was 20 months old, her new sister arrived, and overnight, my eldest had to grow up.
Except of course, she didn’t. Because for her, nothing had changed. She was still finding her way, finding her feet, finding her words. She didn’t understand who this interloper was, or why she was in the house day after day. My toddler still wanted to be held and carried and cuddled and cared for, exactly as she had been before. But of course, I had two to look after, and couldn’t give her the same attention as I had previously done. So she cried – she cried when I couldn’t pick her up, she cried when I was holding her baby sister, and sometimes she just cried. And that’s when I began to experience real parenting stress.
She seemed shy of her sister, unsure, reluctant to approach
I’d heard lovely stories from friends and work colleagues who’d had two children close in age – toddlers who loved their new baby siblings unconditionally it seemed, and had adapted easily to the new family structure. And I’d hoped it would be the same for us. And when it wasn’t, this further added to my stress – why wasn’t my 20-month-old just as in love with our new addition as everyone else was?
Why wasn’t she kissing and cuddling the baby like other siblings were doing? She seemed shy of her new sister, unsure, reluctant to approach. There are no photos of the two of them together, because my toddler was too apprehensive to come close enough to be in shot.
And people asked questions – “Is she good with her? Does she love her new baby sister?”
I couldn’t bring myself to fib, though perhaps that’s what people do.
“Em….she’s still getting used to her,” I’d say, “She’ll get there in the end.”
Which sometimes led to “Oh, is she jealous?”
She was at sea. And I was at sea too
But I just can’t use the word “jealous” in relation to how a toddler is feeling about her world being changed overnight; about no longer being the sole focus of her parents’ attention. Jealousy means feeling resentful or bitter towards a rival. It’s a negative word, being applied to a little girl who doesn’t know the meaning of negativity. A child isn’t capable of feeling bitter. She wasn’t jealous – she was confused, she was at sea. And I was at sea too.
We muddled through. My older daughter went into crèche every day initially so that I could have time with my newborn and, after six weeks, she went down to a three-day-week. I’d love to tell you that those Thursdays and Fridays at home looking after two under-two were wonderful, but that would make this a fairy-tale.
‘She just has two small babies, it’s hard’
There were some great moments, and some really stressful ones. Like the time we were running late (for a playdate – why that mattered so much now I don’t know) and the electricity went while I was making lunch, and the two kids were crying at the same time while I tried to speak to the ESB engineer, who then couldn’t hear me. Let’s just say a third person was crying by the end of the unsuccessful phone-call.
Or the time I arrived to meet some friends, late again, and promptly burst into tears – one friend asked if something terrible had happened, but another put her arm around me and said “No, she just has two small babies, it’s hard.”
And she was right, it was hard. But there were lovely times too; times that made me think “I can do this”. The confidence gained after a first successful supermarket trip with two in the trolley. The small successes like figuring out how to unfold the giant double buggy. The elation I felt on the one and only day that the two of them napped at the same time. The realisation that I was starting to enjoy my time off with two under-two.
And eventually, my oldest child crept just close enough to rub her sister’s head, and I got to take my photo.