How is having a second child different from having the first?
June 10, 2010 11:42 AM   Subscribe

How is having a second child different from having the first?

Along the lines of this question, I'm wondering how the difficulty, expense, satisfaction, fun, mess, stress, effect on the parents' relationship, space needed, etc. compare.

In short, we both want to have another child, in the long run, but for various reasons - some changeable, some not - the idea of going through anything remotely like the first year of our daughter's life again makes me ill, as much as I adore her.

At the tougher moments, I often find myself thinking, Jesus, imagine if we had two!

Everyone says the second one is less stressful: you know what to expect, you're not as uptight. But, of course, you also have another kid to take care of at the same time.

What drops or doubles? What stays the same? Assume children born roughly 3 years apart.
posted by El Curioso to Human Relations (26 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Imagine that you want to shop at a store on the moon, all that is involved in getting there, then imagine leaving that store, walking next door and shopping at a second store, some effort but not double by far. That is how my second child seemed.
posted by InkaLomax at 11:59 AM on June 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

My two oldest are 2 1/2 years apart. My first born, a girl, almost did me in. Seriously, her first year is such a haze. I barely remember anything. Lack of sleep, postpartum depression, a baby that never slept, oh the horror.

Number 2 came along. I was scared. But knowing how tough it was with my first, I was prepared for the same thing to happen. I cleared my schedule for at least the first 6 months, took on no more responsibilities, stocked up on freezer meals, etc. And he was a breeze. Little dude slept ALL THE TIME. I thought there was something wrong with him, but I was told that's what babies do - they sleep a lot. I did not know this, my first never slept. She was the oddball, not Number 2.

Here's the thing with having a second child - you're halfway there, since you have one child already. Yes, there is some juggling and adjustments but it's nowhere near the adjustment of going from no baby to Baby 1. No baby to Baby 1 = hell. EVERYTHING changes. But going from Baby 1 to Baby 2 - a few things change but most of the change has already occurred when you had Baby 1.

As far as expenses . . . I've notice with each additional child, the expenses go down (for now). I learned with the first what stuff/equipment was really needed so that when the second baby came along I didn't waste my time/money on stuff that was essentially useless. I was also able to use a lot of the same clothes even though I had a girl and a boy, a lot of the clothes were gender-neutral enough.

So much of the adjustment, however, depends on the personalities and needs of your children. My first never slept. Seriously, that child never napped, was always wide awake and into things. It was really hard on me. Sleep when your baby sleeps. I hated hearing that. But then my second was really calm and slept so much that I sometimes forgot he was around.

Best of luck!
posted by Sassyfras at 11:59 AM on June 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Having the second baby is as big a life transition as having the first one. Any births after that are just gravy.

You have to learn to balance the needs of two small beings, not just one and sometimes when they both need something it gets a little noisy.

But it's doable.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:08 PM on June 10, 2010

No kids here, but my parents always said going from 1 to 2 was easy. It was going from 2 to 3, when the were suddenly outnumbered, that was as bananas as having 1.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:10 PM on June 10, 2010

What drops is the level of anxiety. I think you worry much less about all the little fevers and coughs and sneezes and bangs and scrapes. And if you were sucked into handing over of your money to the baby-industrial complex the first time, you'll know better in round two. And of course you've already made all the major life-changes involved in having a child. Having the second one is much easier in that respect. You don't have much of a social life to lose.

What stays the same is the sheer amount of time babies require. At least with the second one you won't go into it with any illusions of having copious spare time to indulge your hobbies while the little one gurgles peacefully in its little basket. Knowing how much work is involved is probably the thing putting you off right now.

We're at the fifth month of boy number two - they're three years apart. You see the new baby and fall immediately in love, just like you did the first time. And though you have serious doubts at four in the morning when the baby just won't settle, it'll be worth every moment of irritability and exhaustion. If you're anything like me, selective amnesia will settle in after a year or so and you'll only remember the good parts anyway.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:11 PM on June 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

After the first, you'll realize how hard they are to kill, and you'll relax quite a bit with the second.
posted by kjs3 at 12:13 PM on June 10, 2010 [20 favorites]

I'm not a parent yet, but I have two bits of advice for you that might be useful.

One--my mom just told me this the other day. She used to wake me up from my naps to play with me when I was a baby. I was the first child, and by all accounts very laid back, cheerful & easy. When she had my sister three years later, she definitely didn't wake us up from naps anymore. She needed the few moments of peace. My sister was a little more difficult. Not to scare you off of a second child, though! It sounds like many people have the experience of the second child being temperamentally different from the first, so it could go easier on you this time.

Two--check out Dooce for well-written accounts of the second child in the family. She documented her struggle with PPD and a difficult first baby on her blog, and has done the same with baby #2, which so far has been a much more pleasant experience for her.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 12:16 PM on June 10, 2010

My kids are 3 years apart. In my experience, the second kid is worlds easier than the first--and this is true for me even though in most ways #2 was not as easy a baby as #1 (#1 slept 9 hours a night at 7 weeks, for instance, whereas #2 didn't sleep through until just before his third birthday...and nursed around the clock for months on end...and was harder to get to sleep). I think the difference for me , as you mentioned, was that I was more experienced and more relaxed. I'd been through a million "OMG he just had diarrhea all over the car seat" kinds of experiences and everything had always been OK. With #1, taking him out of the house was such a big production, and with #2 I just assumed I could haul him anywhere. I also managed to have PPD with #1 but not to have it recur with #2, which was a big stroke of luck for me.

Expenses do go down in the sense that you have much of what you need and have learned what you don't need. We found that once our kids reached a certain age, though, that we had to cut back on things like eating out--#1 mostly foraged off our plates for years, so wasn't an additional expense, but having to pay for 2 (and now 3) to have their own food means we just don't do it as often. For us, having more babies didn't seem to up the costs, but having more kids definitely has.

I have a friend whose second child was the kind of challenge sassyfras talks about her #1 being. She wanted another but wasn't sure she could live through another 18 months like the first 18 months of her son's life, because of the exhaustion his not-sleeping caused her. When her #3 came along, he was a much easier baby and it turned out to be OK. Regression to the mean can be your friend, I guess is the lesson there.

Three years turned out to be a great ratio. Our kids are now 9, 6, and almost-3 and IME (yours may vary) 3 has been a pretty easy age for the older kids to accept a baby, to be able to wait a couple of minutes while a baby is changed, or nursed, or put down for a nap. We may just have lucked out but both of our older kids have liked babies and been excited to have a new one, and I do think some of it is that 3 is an easier age than, say, 2, to share a mama. I have been really happy with the spacing of our kids.

That said, we adopted #3 because I couldn't face another pregnancy, and both my partner and I feel really clear that 3 is enough for us. I am very happy to be done with the baby thing, even though I really loved having and caring for babies. But once in awhile I can just barely imagine myself with one more kid, adopted as a toddler. That certainly has its own downsides, but if I ever were to have another (and it's pretty clear I'm not), that's the road I would take.

Finally, to counter all my sunniness, not long after our second was born, I read about a study that found that the year after the birth of the second child is the most common time for men to begin affairs. So apparently for some couples it's a time of great strain.
posted by not that girl at 12:19 PM on June 10, 2010

With the first kid you'll boil everything within touching distance, swath the kid in bubble wrap and set up early-warning radar arrays.

With the second, you'll pick the binky up off the dirt give it a wipe on your shirt and shove it back into his mouth.
posted by lpsguy at 12:19 PM on June 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Some of this will depend on your circumstances, and whether they have changed since you had your first child. I have been a stay at home mom since my first was born, and my husband works from home. That means I have a lot of help at the drop of a hat when I need it. I'm still the primary throughout the day, though.

That said, the second one is/was (she's 7 months old now; first is just shy of 3) SO MUCH easier. She's a very normal child as far as health/schedule/attitude goes. Taking care of her has been a breeze. We know all the tricks, we have all the gear, it's just a matter of responding to her needs.

Our toddler just recently took more interest in the baby. Before now she'd kiss her now and then, but she's starting to interact with her more now, and not necessarily in a good way. She takes toys away from the baby, is a little rough with her sometimes, etc. Typical, and nothing over the top, but it's a new scenario for us as parents.

Of course, you have to learn to juggle the needs of both kids, how to run errands with them both when you're on your own, how to entertain a toddler while trying to put the baby down for a nap, etc. That stuff is the most difficult, but it's also manageable because I think the issues are more similar to other juggling acts that I've had to perform in my day to day life. (Note on the running errands thing: only do it if you have to, otherwise wait for your partner to be home to take care of at least one of them. Also, put the toddler in the car seat first, then the baby. And TV is your friend.)

Expenses? We've got two in diapers, which kind of sucks. But the older is in pull-ups and uses the potty most of the time, so it's not horrible. You'll be paying for formula again, perhaps, and baby food when that stage comes. But that's temporary. We obviously don't put our kids in day care, but that would be huge.

Satisfaction? It was hard to imagine not having my older child all to myself anymore, and I thought maybe I wouldn't bond quite as well with the baby. Not true. The toddler is wanting to stretch her wings more and more, which leaves room for me to spend more time with the baby. And the baby's needs demand more time anyway, so you couldn't help it if you tried. It is SO awesome to see the two of them interacting!

Fun? Not right away, because you're so tired when the baby is new, and the baby can't interact much anyway. But it is nice to see the older one care for the baby :)

Mess & Stress: You've got a little less time on your hands, so things may be a little messier for awhile around your house. Juggling two kids can be stressful, but just remember to give yourself (and them!) a timeout if you need it.

Effect on the parents' relationship? Emotionally stronger as the bond between us as parents grows. The sex is less frequent, though.

Space needed? Not sure if you mean physical or emotional. Physically, you might take up a little bit more room, but nothing to worry about. Just keep a check on the number of toys and you should be fine. Emotionally, take as much time for yourself as you can. It can be stressful, and I find I need some time each week to chill and regain my balance, and my partner is great at providing that.

Just go for it. I think it's better to have them 3 years apart or less because they'll be closer developmentally. My sister and I are 4 years apart, and never really became friends until she left for college.

loving InkaLomax's response :)
posted by wwartorff at 12:30 PM on June 10, 2010

You know what else is fun about #2? He turns out to be a whole different person than #1. This can be a challenge, in that what you think you know about babies may not apply, but mostly it's just fascinating, and it gives you an experience of parenting you'd never have gotten with just one kid. It also saves you from "My kid was potty-trained at 18 months, so I just don't understand why everyone doesn't potty-train their kids at 18 months" hubris.

Also, they have their own relationship, and that's really cool to watch too.
posted by not that girl at 12:31 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

We were almost exactly the same as you describe in your question. Without a doubt the second was much easier: we were less stressed about things because we had a model of what was normal from the first one. We had routines for what to do with a small baby. Of course, the second one is a different person and not everything that worked for no.1 worked for no.2 (e.g. sleeping routines) but it was like making adjustments to a pattern rather than making the pattern up from whole cloth.

Now they're 5 and 8 I'm really glad we did it because they get so much out of having each other to play with and talk to. And although it's less fun, the fact they have to argue and fight with each other is valuable too.
posted by crocomancer at 12:42 PM on June 10, 2010

I don't have any kids. But my mother says, a lot, that having the 2nd kid is when your life, and your relationship, *really* change.
She says that with one child, you're still essentially a 'couple with a baby'; it's when the second one comes along that you become a family and everything is different. However much you thought things had changed when the first one was born, you ain't seen nothing til you have two.

To qualify this: my parents divorced when baby #1 (me) was 10 and baby #2 was 6. Their marriage may have been in trouble before baby #2 was born - I really don't know.
Also, I think I was quite an easygoing baby and my younger sibling was sick for the first year, which I'm sure didn't help.
But anyway, my (or my mom's) 2 cents... something she VERY strongly believes
posted by cmarie at 1:05 PM on June 10, 2010

oh and as far as spacing goes, me and my sister are three and a half years apart, and really, really close, and always have been. I can't imagine not having a sibling... I know not everyone gets on with theirs as well as I do mine but we ALWAYS have each other's back and that's very good to know :)
posted by cmarie at 1:11 PM on June 10, 2010

You know what else is fun about #2? He turns out to be a whole different person than #1. This can be a challenge, in that what you think you know about babies may not apply, but mostly it's just fascinating, and it gives you an experience of parenting you'd never have gotten with just one kid. It also saves you from "My kid was potty-trained at 18 months, so I just don't understand why everyone doesn't potty-train their kids at 18 months" hubris.

I am not a parent, but this seems to have been the big adjustment for my parents between myself and my 8-years-younger brother. They still are kinda amazed at how different our personalities and approaches to life are (maybe because our baby behavior was similar). Basically the differences between spawn 1 and spawn 2 that you should be ready to accept don't stop after babyhood.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:15 PM on June 10, 2010

My parents have told me that they didn't really feel like a family until the second kid came along. Everything just naturally fell into place then.
posted by halogen at 1:20 PM on June 10, 2010

Two kids is like 1.2 times the work of just one kid. With the second kid you are already in a routine, with baths and playtime etc. We have two kids and it's a piece of cake.

Going to three kids on the other hand, I have no idea, and only two arms...
posted by axismundi at 1:51 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Perspective. I have twins, but they go through different phases at different times, and whichever kid goes through a given phase first makes it a huge trial, and the second one to go through it, we're very relaxed. The known is much easier to deal with than the unknown.
posted by davejay at 2:15 PM on June 10, 2010

After our first child was born, one of the big mysteries was what on earth we did with all that free time we once had. Did we squander it? Where did it go? And why didn't we miss it? After our second child was born, we immediately wondered what on earth we did with all that spare time we had back when we only had one child....
posted by jonathanbell at 3:09 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Think about it this way: given the opportunity to reset and avoid that terrible first year, would you choose life without your daughter? As shown in this thread, you may have a more difficult baby or he/she may be a breeze. You get what you get.

I have found that the "miraculous" moments seem a lot less miraculous the second time around (smiling, walking, talking). What has replaced that is seeing the kids together, making each other laugh, tender moments. I agree that the best gift you can give your child is a sibling.
posted by huckit at 3:57 PM on June 10, 2010

The second one is actually harder in a way. With the first one you really pump yourself for 9 months and get mentally and physically prepared. And when the baby comes it's really not as hard as you thought. And you're prepared to give yourself up completely for the baby.

By the time the second one comes you've probably carved yourself some free time and you've got a set schedule and things seem very stable. And you're not that worried because you feel like you've been through the worst.

But that second one sneaks up on you. You think it will be way easier than the first. But just the fact that there's two really stresses you out. You don't worry about stuff like does the baby have some weird disease. or it's already one month old and it hasn't smiled yet. You worry about I'm holding one in my arms right now, where the fuck is the other one? Or Jesus, they're both crying at the same time, won't one of you shut for a second or at least take turns crying?

And while your friends and family really rallied around you and supported you for that first one, they tend to disappear for the second one. Because they figure you got it under control.

Anyway, I'm glad we had two because it pays off in the future.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 4:18 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had three when the first one was 2 and a half, and going from 2 to 3 was WAY easier than going from 1 to 2.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:27 PM on June 10, 2010

My kids are almost three and almost 3 months. Like others above, my experience has been that the second is easier. I am more relaxed and more capable of enjoying the infant period. I had a hard time with my first and really dreaded the first year, but it has been a breeze. Everything feels less do-or-die. If the baby doesn't feel like napping right now, we try again later. I really do understand this time that nothing is forever, and it will all be different in two weeks.

One thing that I haven't seen mentioned is how much easier the actual birth is with a second child. My first wasn't bad, and my recovery was fine, well within the range of normal, but it was 6 weeks or so before I started to feel physically good again. I was surprised by how quickly my body bounced back after the second birth. I felt back to normal within two weeks. That is, of course, assuming normal vaginal deliveries both times.

There is a lot more mess in the house, and errands to the grocery store are more difficult. I met my partner for lunch with the infant while my oldest was in preschool a few weeks ago. We laughed, wondering when a meal out with only an infant became a treat. I will say that my partner seems to be having some trouble reorganizing his life around having a new baby. He misses his old life, when he had a few hours each weekend for gaming. I remind him that after the birth of our first he missed the few hours of gaming he did each day.

So, the long and short of it is that you figure it out. Having two is more of everything, the good and the bad. Remember how you couldn't imagine having to take a baby to the store with you? And now you do it with no problem. Same with two.
posted by Hushpuppy at 6:41 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by jasondigitized at 9:58 AM on June 11, 2010

I agree with cmarie's mom. The second child will completely alter your lifestyle. We have lots of friends with a single child, and they participate in zillions of activities with the child as a miniature adult. They eat in restaurants, travel internationally, attend the opera, etc.

But once you have that second child, it's all about the kids. It's diaper bags, double strollers, naps, pacifiers. Forget restaurants, unless the server brings a handful of saltine crackers the second you sit down. And that cultural, outward facing life? Try creeping up the aisle with a noisy toddler, while hundreds of reproving eyes roll over you.

There are nice, family centered activities where the kids won't spoil other people's fun. But that's what I meant, alter your lifestyle.
posted by ohshenandoah at 4:40 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

My parents went out a lot more and spent a lot more time with other adults before my little brother was born. Once they had two kids, partly because of time and energy and partly because of money, they became a lot less social.
posted by mai at 6:36 PM on June 11, 2010

« Older Help Me Build a Custom FriendFeed   |   What are some good gifts for a first father's day? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.