momready archives

First Child/Second Child

Posted by Elisa Taub
First Child/Second Child

by Rachel Lipman Mostow

At my baby shower, my experienced mom friend (she had a 6 month old) told me that when she had her baby, her mother-in-law came over to ooh and ahh, and left her with one piece of advice: Try to treat him like he’s your second child. That’s the most sage advice I could have ever wished to hear before I had my first baby, and the hardest to understand until I had my second.

When I had my first baby, a beautiful boy, I defined being a good mother in the same terms I had defined being good at the job I had quit in order to raise this amazing child: Be efficient, be the best, make sure you know what you’ve accomplished by the end of every day. I measured my success by how early he rolled over (must be a result of my giving him enough muscle stimulation and tummy time,) how many spoonfuls of baby food he ate that day, how well he napped, how many times he got up during the night. I took it all very personally. I talked about him ad nauseum.

I wonder now how my childless friends managed to tolerate endless stories about how clever my four-month-old was. I shudder with embarrassment at the memory of wondering aloud at preschool whether I should get an IQ test to verify his genius, after watching him line up blocks in rows of threes. I felt sure that the school I chose for kindergarten would directly affect his college chances, tilting him down a path of either sure success or sad disadvantage.

Recently I found an old file on my computer that I had typed up for my parents, my own parents, who managed to raise me and two younger siblings with no help. It was two single-spaced pages instructing them on how to feed my son and exactly what time his nap should start (10:15 a.m. exactly – 10:30 is too late!) No wonder they weren’t so keen to babysit in those days.

Then I got a reality check: My second son was born only 18 months after my first little prince. Suddenly, I realized that life was about getting through the day in one piece. I don’t have a lot of photos of my second child as an infant – mainly because he never let me put him down and I just didn’t have enough hands for both of them. The first day he sat up, he grabbed for the older one’s toy and the older one pushed him down. That firmly established their competitive dynamic. Instead of strolling through the supermarket with my only child calmly buckled into the shopping cart, perhaps educating him about counting while dropping apples into a bag, I learned to map out the aisles in advance, and speed-sprint for milk and bread before my two toddler boys destroyed every display and did unsanitary things to the bulk bins.

My second child didn’t have every bottle nipple sterilized, or every meal from a jar of perfectly heated organic baby food. He basically got whatever we were eating, ground up in the portable food grinder I carted around. And today, guess which child will only eat certain foods of certain brands, prepared in certain ways, and guess which child will happily accept whatever we’ve got in the refrigerator?

My second son didn’t have a sacred naptime with two stories, a lullaby, his pacifier in his mouth and every chink of light blocked from peeking around the edges of his window shades. He didn’t even get to nap in his own home – he usually had to collapse on my shoulder or in a stroller while I rushed my older one back and forth from preschool or playdates. Guess which child now has to have his door opened just right, his hallway light shining in, his music playing at just the right volume, three magic kisses, two trips to the bathroom and a big cup of water before bed, and which child says, “Goodnight, Mom” and turns over and goes to sleep?

Our family has now expanded to four children (all in the span of six and a half years,) and there’s still only one of me. I’m glad I learned about how flexible babies can be. What do they really need besides good milk, a clean diaper, your enveloping arms, and a lot of love? And what do we really want for our children? The insecurity of dependence on ritual or the trust in themselves to adapt to any situation? We want resilient children, and that means we have to let them solve some of their own problems in terms of finding their place in the family and in the world.

We can’t be so afraid of missing a moment to stimulate, educate and entertain that we lose perspective about what is most valuable to our children -- the chance to explore and adapt to the world on their own terms, in the safety of a loving family environment. They will become the wonderful beings they were destined to become even if we don’t hover and fuss over everything they do. Beethoven’s mother had eight other children, and most of them had special needs. Plus, she had no washing machine. Einstein probably didn’t have flash cards. Certainly, he didn’t have those Baby Einstein videos.

My fourth child never had the entire day scheduled around her naps, meals and floor-play time. She did have two relaxed parents and three loving older siblings to turn to when she wanted stimulation. And now, turning two next month, she is a very happy, outgoing, busy little toddler, who certainly hasn’t suffered from not being my one and only.

No matter whether you’re on your first, your fourth, or even more, what we moms all know is that you might treat your second child with a little less fussiness, but your love doesn’t diminish with the addition of more children. That expands as big as your family gets.

If you have more than one child, you don’t need this column to tell you that you can’t make everything perfect, because you already know you can’t, and you probably realize that you shouldn’t even have that as your goal. But if you have your first child, if you have an only child, think about it… treat them like your second. And above all, have fun and relax!

Rachel Lipman Mostow is a television writer and mother of four.