The famous book What to Expect When You’re Expecting is a classic guide for new parents. It answers all those big questions about pregnancy and the early months. We didn’t need to review it, though. We already had one kid, we knew exactly what to expect. In fact, we were quite convinced Kid No. 2 was going to be simple compared to Kid No. 1.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
Every child is unique. It took time to adapt to my son’s unique interests and acknowledge that he wasn’t, in fact, a Mini-Me. Yet, the things that make him unique are worth cherishing. In a similar vein, my daughter is not Kid No. 2. She’s not a book we’re re-reading or the second season of a show we’ve already started. She definitely isn’t her big brother. She’s her own unique self, with her own joys and challenges. She is not what we expected. The entire act of parenting multiple children is different than we expected as well.
Different right from the start
When kids are born, they are blobs capable of three things: eating, going in their diapers, and sleeping. Don’t get me wrong, they’re adorable little blobs. To their sleep-deprived, often-struggling parents, those blobs are pure perfection. But again, we knew exactly what to expect with our second one … or did we?
My son was easy to feed, but impossible to get to sleep. I fed him bottles in the middle of the night, and he downed them. I’d also drive him for hours in circles hoping the car would lull him into slumber. My daughter, however, was a great sleeper. She laid down and slept. But feeding … Well, for the first six months of her life my daughter wanted nothing to do with me. To use a quote from the old show Dinosaurs, I was “not-the-Mama.” Never mind that I was the stay-at-home parent, and in charge of feedings and keeping her happy. If I was around there were tears and yells. No bottles. Ever. Especially from that bearded non-the-Mama guy.
Fast forward a bit, and the differences continue. Every time we think we know what’s next, we’re wrong. My son was an early speaker. He was forming entire sentences and stories before age 2. He wasn’t as physically curious, however, especially with things like climbing. My daughter is a climber and a daredevil. She sees a ledge and she instantly jumps. Daddy — who is tolerable now, I’m happy to say, though still apparently less fun than Mom — will catch her. That’s the belief. Sometimes she leaps with eyes closed, saying “Dad.” Just a literal leap of faith. They’re quite terrifying. She sees a ledge and jumps. She spies something small and completely inedible — into the mouth it goes. Why are toddlers so darned self-destructive? On the other hand, she’s only just talking now, at nearly 3. Completely unlike my son. Doctors told us there’s nothing wrong with this at all, she just developed differently.
There’s another dynamic to the entire “what to expect when we clearly don’t know what the heck we’re expecting” phase of our life. We spent months preparing our son for his sister’s arrival. We may have watched the show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood a bit too much. There’s a season about the arrival of Daniel’s baby sister and how he copes with it emotionally. Of course, by the time we were ready to go to the hospital, my son told me how excited he was to meet the new baby tiger our family was having. We did explain that his sister would, in fact, be human.
Unique unto themselves but bonded together
The sibling dynamic is unpredictable and remains so in my family. My daughter idolizes her big brother. Even in her not-fond-of-me-the-Dad phase, she worshiped her brother. She imitates him and laughs when he’s around and always wants to be near him. As for my son, it goes in waves. Sometimes she’s OK, sometimes a friend, but often she’s an obstacle. Jealousy and even cruelty towards her appear from time to time, and they create challenges all their own. Even now, we’re never 100 percent sure what to expect on a day-to-day basis, although we always hope that it’ll be a day when the kids get along. When they do get along, it’s the best. There’s no greater image than the two kids hugging and smiling.
If I had a time machine, and could go back to try and explain to myself what to expect with my second child, I’d start by saying: lose all your expectations. I’d tell myself it’s going to be different than it was the first time. My daughter is unique. She’s an individual, and that’s a wonder in itself. I’d also emphasize to past-me that parenting two is different than parenting one, and a heck of a lot more tiring. There’s more to learn, just when you think you’re finally starting to “get” this parenting deal.
A few weeks ago, I finally broke out of the not-the-Mama phase. My daughter wrapped her arms around my neck and gave me a big kiss on my cheek. She told me she loved me. And my son ran over and hugged us both. One thing I knew to expect, and was right — the good times can be twice as good, and filled with twice the love.