When I became a stay at home mom 5 years ago, I knew it was the right decision for me. I had been working in a recruiter role with a heavy sales component and worked around the clock. I am the type of person who gets totally engrossed in her work. I also am kind of a perfectionist control freak. So I knew once I had a child, I would want to be able to focus 100% of my time and attention at home and not feel pulled in multiple directions with work. With how I am wired up, I had a hunch I would make myself miserable if I felt like I was always only giving partial attention to work and partial attention to my baby.
As I settled into my role during the first years of my son’s life, it was a good fit. I was glad to plan my days around whatever seemed appropriate for me and my boy. I was able to let my baby follow his natural schedule without duress, and I was able to fit in work outs and naps for myself occasionally. On days when I was dragging, I was thankful to not have to be out of the house looking presentable at any specific time (kudos to working moms who balance it all! I don’t know how you do it!). Most of all, I just enjoyed all the quality time I had with my son through his earliest years.
As he grew into a bright, intense chatterbox with limitless energy, I was thrilled to spend days reading books, doing art projects, taking kiddie classes, building forts, having picnics, taking hikes, visiting all our favorites places in the city, and even traveling back and forth to see family on the East Coast. We were a supercharged pair who experienced the world together, which my son thrived on. He seems the type of kid who needs to be challenged and channeled constantly, and I felt so good being able to give limitless time and attention to him.
A few years passed, and my husband and I decided to try for child #2. We have been blessed with a second beautiful boy (now 9 months old), and I am still happy to be at home. However, I find myself entering a new territory of guilt and fatigue as I feel continually stretched in multiple directions. With my grand plan of focusing all my time and attention at home, I did realize that with more than one child I would be constantly divided. However, thus far I feel like that my divided time is not always spent effectively or intentionally.
We spend a lot of time together, me and my two boys, and the time is wonderful. It is so great to see my sons start to play together. We are still active and get out together regularly. Yet, when it comes to one on one time with each of my kids, I feel like I am falling short. My older son is in preschool part-time in the mornings, so he gets academic and social stimulation, but I am not as on top of these things at home. My older son is very social and enjoys activities most when with another person, so he is less motivated to do the reading, writing, or drawing work that we used to do daily together on his own. And I find it challenging to sit uninterrupted with him. My baby is not a great sleeper, and he cat naps during the day. So if I can get him down, my older boy and I have maybe 20 minutes before the baby is up.
And as for the baby, he is completely along for the ride. I mean that literally, as he is in the car commuting with me to take my older son to and from preschool each day. We recently moved about 40 minutes from my son’s preschool, but it is such a great fit that we are committed to letting him finish out the school year there. Add to this my older son’s hockey classes, play dates, birthday parties, etc., and the baby is on the road constantly. Our one on one time is spent looking at the greater Seattle eastside out the car window. And while he is still just a baby, I am not offering him nearly the same type of quality time and stimulation I provided for my older son. Not even close!
And if I expect to get any aspect of household chores done or have dinner ready at a reasonable hour, then I feel like my boys are truly left to their own devices all day. Plus with all this juggling, I am more sleep deprived and not eating well. Add in the general stress of life, and I do not always maintain the best temperament and patience when dealing with my kids in those fleeting free moments.
So as much as I am enjoying the hustle and bustle with my two little buddies, the perfectionist control freak in me can’t help but feel like I am not giving them my personal best. I know I am a good mom. I know that both my boys are doing great. They are loved, they are happy, and they enjoy each other immensely! They are getting so much from each other, as well as from my husband and me. But some days I feel like I am just coasting through and not stopping to intentionally spend any kind of quality time with either of them. They get all my attention and yet not my best focused attention. I am constantly dividing myself between them, but I don’t know that the two halves ever add up to a cohesive, effective whole.
Do you have any suggestions for Tara on balancing the attention of more than one child?
This has been an original post to World Moms Blog by Tara B. of Washington, USA.
Photo credit to http://www.flickr.com/photos/lorenkerns/4810154623/. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.
I just wanted to follow up and say that I, myself, am the youngest of five, so I know that there are rewards that come from being part of a larger family even if the trade off is less personal attention from mom and dad. And there is great value in kids playing independently and making their own fun. I just want to make sure I am doing my best for my boys each day without over thinking it too much. Since writing this, I am making some schedule changes with my oldest’s school and utilizing our awesome new sitter to carve out some personal time with each kiddo, recognizing that my sons can also get so much from the wonderful community of caretakers around them as well as from me. And no matter what the day holds, if it ends with “I love you’s,” big smiles, and long hugs, the time was well spent.
Thank you, Tara, for sharing your story. I often worry that our little one is not getting the same quality time with me as her sister did at that age. She, too, is along for the ride! But then I remind myself as I see her watching her sister intensely, how much more she is learning from her than I can ever teach her. For example, this morning big girl set up a “tea party” and little girl took a seat!
Tara ~ thanks for sharing your story. You are not alone in your worries. I think any mother of more than one child worries if they are giving their best effort to their children. I am sure a mother of only one child has the exact same worries!
I am currently reading a book called “The Well-Trained Mind” by Susan Wise Bauer. I home-schooling my 5-year-old daughter for Kindergarten this year. My youngest daughter, who is 2-years-old, sits in with us during our morning home-school lessons. “The Well-Trained Mind” is an enlightening book that is helping me adjust to setting a schedule for my children.
Last night while I was at the hair salon (the one place where I get done most of my reading!), I read a chapter about the early childhood years. It stated the best early teaching you can give your child is to immerse her(him) in language from birth. It suggests to talk, talk, talk to your baby… adult talk. Talk when you are walking in the park, while you are riding in the car, while you are fixing dinner. Tell your baby what you’re doing and how you are doing it. Also, of course, read, read, read to your baby.
The book suggests singing the alphabet song whenever you change a diaper (which we both now with a baby is quite often!) The other area the book suggests to focus on is math. Count fingers, toes, eyes, ears, toys and treasures; rocks and sticks. Play hide-and-seek, counting to five and then to ten, fifteen, or twenty.
Your baby is so young, just sitting down with him and stretching his legs and reading him a book is perfect one-on-one time!
As for your older son, the chapter I read last night suggested starting with five minutes f reading in an easy book every day. Work up to fifteen minutes. It said, don’t ask your child if he/she wants to read, as most likely they’ll always say no. Plan it as matter-of-factly as you would plan tooth-brushing and bed-making.
My five-year-old completed the Kindergarten Level of Hooked on Phonics back in September. She had started it in March. I continued to “school” her two days a week over the summer and I attribute her rapid growth in reading from not taking a summer off. We started the Hooked on Phonics First Grade Level back in September, she is 3/4 of the way done the program. The three main things we focus on right now are reading, math and writing/grammar and learning Spanish as a 2nd language. Part of our nighttime routine is that she reads my husband and I a book before we read her a book. She loves “Bob Books.” They are really great for beginning readers.
I love the Hooked on Phonics programs and highly recommend it. She and I do the school work which requires more focus while my 2-year-old takes her afternoon nap.
Being that your baby is not napping for a long period of time just make the most of the moments you do have. AND, try not to put pressure on yourself. If your boys are happy then everything else really doesn’t matter!!
Thanks for the feedback and support!
A. Roslyn – you are right that kiddo #2 gets alot from #1, and that IS so valuable! My eldest is the chattiest chatterbox to ever chat. I know some people say their kids are nonstop talkers, but I think my son sets the standard, and I know several seasoned moms who would agree with me. So my baby is absorbing so much just from him every day!
Courtney – I so appreciate all of your ideas! I will definitely check out Hooked on Phonics. And you are so right about routine being important (which also makes things easier). We read with my older son every night before bed, and recently made sure at least one of the books is one that he reads to us (Bob books have been great for this!). If he wants to read more than 1 to me, I just let him go until he is done. But the expectation is 1 read by him, and then he can pick out whatever he wants me to read. Thinking about your advice of talking aloud to the baby, as I noted already, this is where my older son helps me inadvertantly to an amazing degree 😉 And I need to remember that just sitting together on the floor with a board book for 2 minutes is still quality time.
I completely relate with the whole struggle of balancing and doing your best for both your kids. I wish I had the answer for you, as to how to do it all and stay sane, but I don’t. ;D
I’m glad you brought this up — something I’m going to have to start to think about once my second child arrives in March! Great post!
Veronica Samuels 🙂
Oh sweet lady! This is a T O U G H one! My best words (Not advice. That I have none of!) is that it does get easier– the juggle, the balance, the bandwidth–it really does come together.
I remember feeling so much GUILT when Chloe (My middle child) was born and being reminded by an extremely wise, extremely seasoned Mama that younger children do have less time with you, but they all get the gift of each other. Aww- right? For now, hang in there and bring on the coffee! 🙂