Hey there, mom of two. It's me, a fellow mom of two. I just want you to know that I see you. I see how your heart has grown bigger than you ever thought it could. I see you experiencing moments when you're legitimately overwhelmed by love. I also see how hard this whole "mom of two" thing is, and how hard you're working. I know that, sometimes, you feel as though there isn't enough of you for two children, and I see the guilt and the sadness and the struggle that goes along with that feeling. Hey, I've been there and I get it and I'm here to help.
Maureen Healy, expert at Growing Happy Kids and author of The Emotionally Healthy Child, spoke to Romper via phone to help us all sort through these very common feelings of guilt and overwhelm, so we can figure out what this all means for ourselves and our children.
But let's start with the basics: you are enough, the guilt is bullsh*t, and as a parent of two children you are doing your best. Hey, we all are. Just remember that if our children know they are loved, they're going to be OK. And I think, honestly, we all know that: some version of that very philosophy is on countless t-shirts and mugs and highly shareable internet memes. But it's one thing to know, intellectually, that society has unrealistic expectations of mothers, and it's another thing to buck those expectations completely. We know the fact that we're expected to be everything to everyone, and practically perfect along the way, is ridiculous, but damned if we don't feel the pressure to adhere to that expectation regardless.
The way I see it, the problem is this: we want to give as big as our love, which sounds corny but I feel like I'm past the point of pretending that parenting isn't corny AF. And our love for our children is immeasurable. It's boundless and ever-growing. But what doesn't grow is the length of a day or a bank account (that, unjustly, shrinks the more kids you have), or the number of hands he have. So, more kids equals more pressure to physically compete with infinity. As Maureen Healy told Romper, "Sometimes the demand outstrips the supply ... you can't be everything to everyone."
So, while "not feeling like you're enough" can be more of a general malaise, how we handle the individual moments that create that feeling (not being able to play with your toddler because you're feeding your baby, for example, or not being able to pay the same undivided attention to your baby as you did to their older sibling) can make a difference. It can be very easy to get frazzled in the phase of a whining toddler and a needy baby (or a crying toddler and a salty preschooler, or literally any combination of children you have because, I'm sorry to say, this problem appears to be ongoing, at least from my perspective). "It's in our best interest as parents to do our best to be calm and reserved in those moments," Healy says. "It's not easy: it's a practice."
Once we're able to establish a sense of calm and practice that calmness in the face of our guilt or when we're feeling like we're not enough, Healy says it's important to start communicating. "Validate what the child is experiencing," she says. A simple, "I hear you and you want to play. I can't do that right now because I have to take care of your younger sibling, but maybe you can help me and then I'd love to build that Lego set with you" will do.
Even if, physically, you're spread a little thin, there will be endless ways to show them that they matter to you as an individual and also as a member of your family.
When you're communicating, it helps to remember who you're talking to. "Your brain isn't fully developed until you're 26," Healy says. "So it's important to remember you're not even dealing with another being who's fully developed. ... If a child is behaving badly, it's because they don't have the skills [to cope] yet."
In other words, your child may not like what you have to say, but they still hear it. "They may not be totally reasonable," Healy explains, "but that doesn't mean you can't begin to plant those seeds. ... They're never too young [for you] to start talking to them like intelligent beings."
Honestly, this can go both ways. When you can tend to your older child first, go ahead and do so and explain what you're doing "to the baby." No, your baby doesn't know they have toes yet, let alone the nuances of you explaining why they have to wait for your completely undivided attention. But communicating what you're doing and why you're doing it gets you in the habit of talking to your child as an intelligent being, while simultaneously allowing your older child to see that they're still important and that everyone is part of Team Family.
This is actually a really big "plus" to having to divide your attention. Healy explains that by having to "share" a parent with a sibling, your children learn that they're part of the family and that everyone is on the same team. "[They learn that] we're all in this together," she says. "That interdependence and interconnectedness is an important lesson in life."
Not only is that lesson a beautiful one to learn, but hopefully knowing that you're imparting that knowledge on your children will ease the ol' mom guilt! No, you can't give each of your children 100 percent of your undivided attention at all times, but you can show them that you are just one person in a family of people who adore them, and that every member of that family can be there for one another.
Besides, according to Healy not getting everything you want, at least not right away, is ultimately beneficial, too. "When a child has delayed gratification, they're learning impulse control," she says. "And a lot of big mental and emotional healthy issues in children — and eventually young adults and adults — is about impulse control." So, if you think about it that way, leaning in to your limitations can ultimately lead to some pretty great results.
Of course, when it comes down to it, the love you feel for your child is never limited. Even if, physically, you're spread a little thin, there will be endless ways to show them that they matter to you as an individual and also as a member of your family. Combating the internal desire to match our physical capability with our emotional capability (as well as that pesky social pressure to be more magician than mother) can be hard. But, as Healy says, it's a practice, and we — ourselves and our children — have time.