Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hand-me-down Mama

When I was pregnant with my second child, I worried that I would resent him.

I worried that he'd interfere with the little life we had built with our first son. It almost felt as if we were betraying Ben. I felt actual guilt about wanting another baby.

As a result, I was incredibly overprotective of Ben at first. In fact, when I went in to the hospital for Aidan Kai's birth, my biggest worry was Ben. Would he be okay without us? Would he be confused by this new person in the house? How would he react to seeing me in the hospital? How would he feel about his new baby brother? How could we make sure he still felt really, truly loved while we were tending to the endless needs of a newborn?

I never thought that what would actually happen was that I would sometimes resent Ben for not allowing me to be the kind of mother to Aidan Kai that I was to him.

When it was "just Ben," I would come home from work, plop myself down on the floor, and spend time with him, one-on-one, uninterrupted. We'd play ball, we'd read books, we'd laugh and tickle and sing and play.
When it was "just Ben," bath time was unhurried, fun, and even educational. I would play float and sink games with him, pop bubbles, and narrate everything that I was doing (just as the parenting books told me I should).
When it was "just Ben," meal times were calm and simple and organized. I'd prepare healthy meals for him, with lots of variety, and I'd take the time to feed him (or help him feed himself).
When it was "just Ben," time in the car was quality time. I'd play Baby Mozart (just as the parenting books told me I should), I would talk to him, responding to his coos and gurgles at first, then his words, and eventually his frighteningly well-developed sentences.

Now when I get home from work, I am bombarded by the squeals of two very happy boys. They both want to play with Mama. They both want attention. And inevitably, Ben wins. He is bigger. He is louder. He is demanding. So when I plop down on the floor to play, it is usually Ben that commandeers the whole thing. He is the one who dictates what game we play. Aidan Kai just ends up following along.
Bath time now usually consists of trying to keep Aidan off of "Ben's side" of the bathtub, and trying to get the baby done and out of there as quickly as possible so a war does not break out over the toys floating around.
Meals now are whatever we can scrounge together, and Aidan is often on his own, which means more of the spaghetti ends up in his lap than in his mouth.
And car rides are now spent listening to one of Ben's dissertations on superheroes and classmates and dragons and dinosaurs, during which I inevitably have to try to come up with some really good answers to some really good questions ("Mama, is it dark inside our bodies, or light?")...all this while Aidan Kai either sits quietly listening or shrieks "Mama!" repeatedly, trying to get his share of the attention.

When it was "just Ben," he didn't have to share me. He had me all to himself.

All the time.

Aidan Kai has to share me.

All the time.

Granted, Aidan doesn't seem to mind. He seems happy just to be with us, hanging out, being included. He's so damned easy-going, so easily pleased, that it makes me feel even worse.

There is almost never undivided attention for "just him." Sometimes, in fact, I feel like there is nothing that is Just His.

This week, he got his First Official blood-pouring-from-his-mouth-busted-lip...a gift from big brother Ben. Just like all his other firsts: Aidan Kai's first shoes, first rocking horse, first bike...all his important firsts have been hand-me-downs from Ben. There has been nothing of great importance that I can say has been all his own, just for Aidan.

I realize there are pros and cons to everything. I realize that, sometimes, by giving your first child your undivided attention, he can grow up to be...well, let's just say "difficult." I know that second (or third or fourth!) babies can grow up to be more resilient, more easy-going, tougher...I see that already in Aidan. And I wonder often if this is all actually good for him...

But it still frustrates--and saddens--me that by being the second child, Aidan often gets a harried, exhausted, multi-tasking mother, another hand-me-down.


  1. Well said. I think you're right, though. The subsequent babies have a unique advantage in that they learn to make the best of what's available to them.

  2. Bravo.. Well said !1 As a mom of 3 boys I can attest to that!!! hugs

  3. Maybe you & Aidan need to spend some time together just the two of you. I think he's fine - he doesn't know any different - this is they way it's always been for him. But maybe some time for just the two of you will make you feel better.

  4. It's funny-I want my daughter to have "second child" qualities. These children do seem more independent, easy-going, etc. I wonder if all of this attention she receives now will kill us when she's a teenager. But this is life. You do your best and you know what? I bet when Aidan is older he will say he had an amazing and loving childhood.

  5. As we prepare for number three's arrival, I'm having so many of the same emotions. How will there ever be enough of me to go around?? I figure I'll do my best, just as you are, and (try to) find some contentment in that.

  6. It is hard to juggle so many bodies, with so many different demands and requirements. With each one, you are a little more frayed, tired, older; but also wiser, more appreciative, more able to really enjoy and recognize the moments that keep us coming back for more.

    You are not alone. I have always felt this, yet never had the words to explain it. Thanks for putting into words what I have been struggling to name.

  7. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. You've just described absolutely perfectly the way I feel so much of the time about my little one.

    I am a second child myself, so I try to remind myself that it all balances out somehow. But it is very difficult to feel that when I'm living it from a protective mother's perspective.

    Thank you so much, Liz, for showing me that I am not alone in this complex set of feelings.

  8. Hand-me-down mama. Oh what a wonderful way to put it. I feel like each subsequent child gets a little less of me, less of me, less of me. And these days, I am worried that there is so very little mama left in me that none of the three are getting anything at all.

    Thankfully, though, they have each other. And I presume that they see very little of what I see.

    One happy thought is that all the boys--first, middle, baby--are learning from each other in ways that I could never teach them if it were just me with one boy all the time. It's that sibling thing that keeps me knowing I'm making the right decisions, even if I feel like I'm just in survival mode most of the time.

    This is one of my favorites, Liz. So incredibly thoughtful. So incredibly fluid. Thank you.

  9. This is brilliant and so very true, at least in my house. Miss M. gets the scraps. And, like your child, she doesn't seem to mind because it's all she's ever known.

    But *I* know. And I do feel guilty.

    I loved this post.

  10. Wow. I just finished writing my post and came over here to find you have written so many thoughts that I had as I wrote my post. I could highlite this entire thing and say, Ditto. I feel so guilty how often I resent Hannah sometimes. That she doesn't allow me to give ANY of myself wholly to Luke. I try to put him to give him a good night routine alone where I read him some books and sing him some songs as I always did with her but she always finds a way to butt in and "need" me for something. None of his toys can be just his (even though really, she has no interest in cars and trucks... she just doesn't want him to have anything for himself). I can rarely even give him a hug without her pushing her way between us. But as you say, the second child doesn't really seem to care. They just roll with it. They just want to be a part of the group. Sad but true.

    Great post!

  11. I've been thinking a lot about this too with my two. My littlest just was sick the last week and I got to spend some quality time with him and it was wonderful to connect with him one on one. Those moments are so much more precious with him than they were with my daughter. Thanks for sharing this. Stopping by from SITS!

  12. It is hard with multiple children in the home, particularly when they are close in age AND of the same sex. It causes them to vie for resources (aka toys, clothes, similarly mom themed time) more intensely than children who are not the same sex or in the same age group. I have 3. 3 strapping boys and in our case #1 has been pushed to the side, I think it's largely a personality thing. Long story short, in our house we carve out alone time for each of the boys. It doesn't happen daily and sometimes not even weekly, but we make sure that there are things that just #1, or just #2, or just #3 get to do with their father or myself. Even if it's just going grocery shopping (#2 is my side kick for that), or watching American Idol (that's #3's thing), or playing a video game (#1 and Dumb Dad do this every Saturday while the younger boys sleep). We have noticed that it makes a HUGE difference. It helps us feel more connected and less frustrated and it has done wonders for their behavior (particularly #2 who tends to act out if not receiving enough attention). Plus, they always seem to feel so special after their alone time that it makes letting the laundry pile up (as if I need an excuse) worth it. Good luck. Maybe I'll write a Mom Tip about this...I think you've inspired me:)

  13. I love your sweet honesty! I bet you are a really wonderful mommy! I have 3....there is always room in your heart for more!
    Please stop by and see me! I am giving away a pretty rose teapot for April,

  14. Wow, I can so relate. Now that my eldest is at nursery, I do get a little alone time with my 14-month-old, but he's definitely short-changed. I notice the resilient second child syndrome in him and I value it. But it's definitely tricky to find that balance.

    Maybe try and find different times when you can be alone with each of them, if dad takes one for instance? Easier said than done. Great post.

  15. I understand completely what you are saying. I have 3 kiddos and when I had my second I always felt like he got the short end of the stick. Now that he is 3 and considered the "middle" child he is our most easy going, laid back, independent child. I LOVE that about him. Our oldest, is by far my most high maintenance child I love his spirit but he can wear me out. Hang in there. It is so much fun to watch their personalities grow and develop and most importantly how they interact together. Nothing is better than those (rare) times when my kids are playing together!



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