Questions Parents Frequently Ask as the Family Grows

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As the author of the award-winning book, Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life, Jennifer Hull regularly answers questions about family life. See the exchanges below for her advice on deciding to have the second child, timing the next baby, weighing the sibling factor, confronting second-child fears and more.

(The following information has been condensed and edited, with identifying details changed to protect confidentiality.)

Q: I want to have a second child, but feel conflicted. I worry that having another child will make it difficult to stay close to my firstborn, who is two years old. We have a very special relationship. I’m also concerned that having a sibling will make life difficult for her.

A: Your concerns are legitimate. Deciding to have a second child is a big deal! Having one child may be just the right choice for you. But given that you are writing to the author of a book on having two, there is obviously part of you that very much wants a second child. Also, something in your email struck me very hard. So I’m going to do something I never would normally do: make the sibling argument.

I am the older sister to two brothers – one three years younger and one 14 years younger. I cannot tell you how much it has meant to me to have siblings. I understand that this is not your experience. Having a sibling, for you, appears to have had a cost. That’s unfortunate. However, your child wouldn’t necessarily experience the same problems. Instead, she could reap significant benefits from having a sibling.

My girls are very close. I expect that they will be lifelong buddies. Seeing them play together and having our outings as a threesome is wonderful. One time I had to pull a thorn out of my younger girl’s foot. My older child, then about four years old, jumped up and screamed, “No, no!” and tried to defend her. This is pretty sweet stuff. It warms a mom’s heart as much as any special one-on-one mommy-daughter outing. I count on my girls to support each other in the future.

You have a special sensitivity that would allow you to make sure that your older daughter was not neglected if she had a baby sister or brother. I can see that. And there are things you can do to make sure that she will be okay.

Some are simple: like walking in a room and greeting her first before tending to the baby. Others are more complex: like putting her in preschool so she has her own world after baby comes. You can leave the baby with dad for a few hours on the weekends and go on errands with your firstborn – take her out for an ice cream, whatever.

And as for “falling off the pedestal,” well . . . personally I think that has been good for my older girl. Having a sister has taught her to share, live with some choices she doesn’t want (like watching the movie her sister wants and she doesn’t), etc. She knows how fiercely I love her. She has also learned that sometimes she has to wait for my attention. This has been a good thing. Our outings as a threesome or – when my husband is along as a foursome – are wonderful.

You fear losing closeness with your daughter. I suggest that if you decide to have a second you commit to doing everything you can to preserve that special relationship.

You know that the second child would give you a whole new person to love. What you may not realize, given your background, is that the second would give your daughter a whole new person to love as well. Isabelle was so happy when her baby sister came home. She helped me bathe the baby (she washed the feet). Jessica was our little joint project. We shared the experience.

I am close to both of my girls. I put a lot of time into that. I don’t see friends as much as I would like. This has been the big cost of having the second. But then, like you, I wanted to stay close to my firstborn. So, instead of seeing a girlfriend for dinner I’ll take Isabelle out.

Enough said. Boy, I hate to write an email making such a pitch. Believe me, if you decide to stop with one I’ll be the first to say bravo. Having one child has its own special advantages and is the best choice for many people. However, if you end up having a second, I’ll pass on more tips for staying close to the first!

I hope this helps. Your daughter is lucky to have such a sensitive, intelligent mom. Whatever happens, she’s already blessed.

Best wishes,
Author, Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life

(The mom above gave birth to a second baby less than a year after this exchange. Congratulations!)

Q: I have a very demanding job, working the night shift. We have a 13-month-old child and want to have a second, but I really don’t feel I can handle another right now. However, I also want to have my children grow up together and be close. Should I wait or start trying to conceive the second baby now?

A: You are smart to think carefully about when to have the second child and what age gap to aim for with your kids.

I think you would be wise to wait until your son is at least two before trying for a second. Having kids who are less than three years apart in age is considered “close spacing.” Most experts say having closely spaced kids is very stressful and difficult in the early years. It’s hard to deal with two children who are in diapers!

But if you can space them farther apart with an age gap of three years or more, it will be easier for you and they can still be close and grow up together.

Nobody does well if mom is exhausted. It must be very difficult as it is to be working the night shift and dealing with a toddler! So, unless you are over 35 and fertility is a concern, I would advise waiting.

Having more time will also allow you to recover more from that first challenging year of motherhood and better prepare for your second child.

I hope this helps!

Best wishes,
Author, Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life

Q: I’m a grandmother. My daughter has a new baby and a toddler. Since having her second child, she’s been overwhelmed.

Her firstborn is acting out. The new baby is time consuming. Her husband feels ignored. My daughter is stretched thin, trying to please everybody.

I’ve told her she needs to relax and lower her standards some now that her family has grown. What other advice can I give her that will help?

A: Well, at least your daughter has a mother who cares about her!

You’re not the first grandmother who’s expressed this concern to me. The second child can be challenging for lots of reasons. Doing the research for Beyond One made me aware of how many issues the second raises in women’s lives. Your daughter might find comfort in knowing that she’s not alone in finding the transition from one child to two difficult at times. That way she won’t blame herself for any problems she’s facing (something we mothers often do.)

With time I imagine your daughter will do what all second-time moms do: lower her standards. I encourage this in my book. But then, it takes time to get there. She’s very new in the game.

The best thing you can do is just to listen and tell her that she’s doing a great job. The power of listening and validating whatever she has to say cannot be underestimated. Anyway, you and I both know that no one wants advice from her own mother!

You might also point out that things get much easier with time. Many women appreciate knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Finally, I suggest sending her my tips on sharing parenting. Dad is especially important the second time around and this column includes some ideas that can help your daughter get the breaks she needs. The more your son-in-law can do, the better off everybody will be.

Best wishes,
Author, Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life

Q: I have a little girl who is a year old. I’m due to have another baby shortly by c-section. My husband helps on the weekends but is busy with work during the week. I worry how I’ll manage after the second baby arrives. Any advice?

A: Your situation sounds difficult so I understand your concerns. The best thing would be if you could arrange in advance to have some help immediately after your second baby arrives so you can recover from your surgery.

Do you have a relative who can lend a hand? Can your husband take some time off work to support you while you recover from the c-section? Can you afford to hire some help? Or schedule a neighbor or friend to take your firstborn out a few times during your recovery period?

The other piece of advice I’ll pass along is this: don’t worry about keeping the house clean. It’s not important. It would be much better if you could rest while your husband is with children on the weekends.

Encourage your husband to take the kids out of the house so you can get a real break. Take a nap while he is gone or put your feet up. Again, try not to use all the “free” time he gives you to do housework.

The most important thing you can do for your family is to find some way to take care of yourself. Even small breaks can really help a new mother of two.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

Best wishes,
Author, Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life

Q: I have a young toddler and am expecting my second child. I recently read your book, Beyond One. I was already nervous about having the second child and your book made me more fearful. I appreciated your humor, but how will I handle everything that you describe?

A: Thanks for your honesty! I appreciate your concerns, especially given that you are expecting a second so soon after your first.

One thing you should remember is that while having two small kids can be difficult early on, the second child really makes you realize how much you learned about baby care with the first. So the good news is that you’ll be competent and confident caring for your new baby. In that sense, having the second child is much easier than having the first.

Finally, I want to highlight some positive aspects of the book, in the hope of leaving you with a more balanced picture – after all, you’re expecting! Beyond One notes that siblings often have great relationships (contrary to what you often hear.) One of the great joys you will experience as your children grow is listening to your kids play imaginary games together.

Two can challenge a marriage but they can also make it more equal: men tend to get more involved with the family after the arrival of a second. There’s a tremendous sense of partnership you experience when your husband’s got one kid and you’re tending the other. In my own family, the second child really balanced things out.

Finally, with closely spaced kids there’s a big payoff down the road: they play together, enjoy the same activities and are on the same schedule.

Thanks for getting in touch and good luck. My guess is that you will handle it all better than I have!

Best wishes,
Author, Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life

Q: My husband and I have a 15-month-old son. I want to have another baby. However, my husband says no.

His reasoning . . . our son is a handful right now and he is just not  ready to do this again. How do I convince him that having another baby  would be a great thing for our family, not a tragedy?

Any words of wisdom? And how far apart are your daughters?

A: I sympathize with your situation. It’s hard when you want to have a  second child and your husband doesn’t. Let me provide some advice.

First, given that your son is only 15 months old, I understand your  husband’s concerns. If you got pregnant now your kids would be 2 years  apart. All the experts say that closely spaced kids are really challenging the first few years. My girls are 2 years and 4 months  apart in age so I can vouch for that!

So if you’re not in a hurry, put the second-child decision on the  backburner. Your husband may come around on his own as your son gets  easier.

But if you want to persuade your spouse now, encourage him to take the  long view. When you have a toddler, it’s easy to forget that life  stabilizes. Try to get your partner to talk to parents of older kids  for perspective. Ask what size family he wants to have in 10 years.

If he wants a one-child family that’s one thing. But he may just be  feeling overwhelmed by the craziness a toddler brings. Make it clear  to him that the toddler phase is super difficult for everybody and is going to pass in a few years. This is one of the most intense times.

Show your husband that his own needs won’t be neglected in a family of  four. Do you have a date night? If not, set one up. It’s a lot easier  to talk about family size and future plans without a toddler interrupting.

Also, going out alone may give your spouse more confidence that your  relationship will endure as your family grows. My best conversations with my mate are always out of the house – especially out of the  kitchen!

Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and try to understand his  concerns. Is he worried about finances? Something else? What do you  need to address to make him feel more comfortable about having a second child?

You may find that the reasons you want another child don’t resonate  with him but that others do. My husband wasn’t interested in having a second initially either. When I said it would be fun he thought I was out of my mind. We were already struggling with our one-year-old.

But after he thought about his long-term goals, he decided that children would be his greatest legacy, worth any short-term tradeoffs. I hadn’t even thought to make the legacy argument! Anyway, eight years later, he’s glad we’re a family of four.

I know many couples who are happy with one child so I can’t say what is right for your family. The most important thing is to air all the  issues.

If you can’t work it out, consider therapy – it would be money well spent and might help you both find common ground. I found therapy incredibly helpful in deciding to have my first child. When I brought my husband to a few sessions I heard all sorts of stuff from him that I didn’t even know he felt.

I hope this helps. You might also check out my Parenting Tips.

Finally, get this — I’m now trying to convince my husband to get a dog!

Best wishes,
Author, Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life

Q: I’m so glad I found your website.  I just wish I had found it much,  much sooner.

I am mom to a 2-year-old boy and we just had our second son 2 weeks ago.  I was afraid that I was crazy for the feelings I’ve been having – a huge sadness has overwhelmed me ever since coming home from the hospital . . .

I have been mourning the life we had when it was just the three of us and feeling regret at having the second baby.  Then of course I feel terrible for having those thoughts & feelings, just making the depression worse.

I do realize a lot of my weepiness is due to the “baby blues” and will hopefully pass.  But I’m not sure how to get over this feeling of wishing we had stuck with one.  Another thing that makes it  (ironically) hard is that our new baby is an angel – he’s so sweet and  good, it makes it even tougher to have these thoughts & feelings!

Anyway, after reading your site (and soon the book), I realize I am not alone.  It really helped me to know that you had a tough time making the decision, but that your girls are close to each other now.

My husband and I talked it through and I was very concerned about being able to love another one the way I love my first son.  But he (and everyone else) kept telling me what a big heart I have and how  there is surely room to love another one.

Plus I guess we fell into the common thinking that only children are lonely or spoiled, etc., which I don’t think has to be true.  And we  wanted him to have a playmate – now I realize a bad reason.  I so wish I had seen your list to consider before having another one!

It’s all moot now since the deed is done and there is no going back. I guess I wonder how you grew to love your second one without her being “second best” to the first. I’m so afraid that the second one  won’t ever be as special to me.  And of course I have all the fears you address about staying really close to our first.

I so hope that they will be close buddies, which will make it all  worth it in the end – I just couldn’t see not giving our son a  sibling.  I have 2 sisters and I think adult life especially would be so lonely without them.

Finally, will I ever get any time back for me as well as for my husband & me?  Life had become SO manageable with one and then we went and had a baby!  LOL.

I love being a mom but I would like some sort of identity beyond just

I so appreciate your time reading this and appreciate any additional words of wisdom or advice you have.

Mary Jo

A: First, you need not feel guilty. Your feelings are perfectly normal. Any woman with an infant and toddler feels crazy about 50 percent of the time!

If you weren’t concerned about loving your second child, it would be something else – frustration with your husband, irritation with your  firstborn or whatever. The transition from one kid to two is a major leap!

Your email made me think of a friend who found that the hardest issue with the second child was coming to love him as much as she did her first. She felt terribly guilty about this and the love really did not kick in for about a year. She’s a great mom and a perfectly adjusted person. That’s just the way she felt.

But eventually, she did grow to love the second. My guess is that this will happen to you too. So don’t worry about it. Let time work its  magic. I seriously doubt he’ll end up being second best.

Your feelings about the second seem mainly to reflect your sense of  loss at being a family of three. There is a loss there. I’m not going to sugarcoat it.

You have given up some freedom. It will not be as easy to travel for a while. Your time will be scarce. Your energy will be taxed. The fact that your kids are closely spaced will make life harder early on than it would have been if you’d spaced them three years or more apart.

But my experience as the mother of two girls spaced two years apart is that it’s all totally worth it. And close spacing eventually has some big advantages. Your kids will probably be great playmates. In the long run, that really helps mom. You won’t have to get on the floor and play trucks with your firstborn. Little brother will entertain him. You won’t have to constantly track down a friend to take on outings. You’ll just climb in your car with your two boys and be off on your little adventure.

My favorite threesome right now is me and my two girls heading out for fun on Saturday morning. (They go out with Dad on Sunday morning.) The girls entertain each other so well that I don’t have to invite other kids unless I want to.

Also, it’s thrilling to see the sibling relationship develop. Given  that you’re close to your sisters, that will likely mean a lot. The boys will fight. You should expect that. But most siblings get along well. Eventually you might read a book called Siblings Without Rivalry to help foster that special relationship.

While close spacing is hard early on, as time passes it allows you to manage them as one unit – reading them the same books, taking them to the same events, putting them in the same activities, etc. I have found this a godsend. This weekend, for instance, I’m taking them to a book fair. I won’t have to dash between the big kid and little kids’ tents. My girls are into the same things.

If you read my book, Beyond One, you’ll see that it took me some time to feel like a competent mother of two. It’s hard just to get out the door with the kids at the beginning! Actually – it’s a major accomplishment! But with time you learn some survival tactics. You will grow into the role. It doesn’t happen overnight. How could it? But it does happen. In the meantime, you might read my second-child survival tips.

My main advice is to get as much help as you can early on – whether it  means asking your husband to do more, hiring a regular babysitter or  getting relatives involved. Leave Dad alone with them. Do it early so he gets used to it.

Set up some support that will allow you alone time. Little breaks can  go a long way. Make sure that you get them. Actually – try to get major breaks! It’s not good for anyone to be around small children 24/7!

Life will not go back to what it was before. It’s okay to feel that loss – maybe essential so that you can move on. However, for every  loss the second child brings there is a gain. Despite increasing the workload, our second daughter has really strengthened my partnership with my husband, balancing out our family.

The second helps keep the first from getting spoiled. The second  brings out managerial qualities you don’t even know you have! And of  course, the second gives you a whole new person to love, even if that love is slow to develop.

I am very happy with two and I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids initially! The early years are challenging but they’re an investment that pays off. To get through it you need to lower your standards, know that your firstborn will be okay without your laser-like  attention, have faith that you’ll grow into a role that now feels overwhelming and let the house go. Luckily, some of the hardest issues also tend to be short-term problems. Everything gets easier with time.

As for wanting an identity beyond being a mom – yes! Absolutely! That is so important! I wrote at a snail’s pace after having each of my kids but my writing definitely kept me sane.

Try to stay connected to whatever work or interests are important to  you, even is it’s a minimal connection. Push some little project forward with baby steps. Talk to your husband about how you can create a family life in which you can express other parts of yourself. Everybody will be happier if you do.

Here’s an example of keeping an interest alive in those crazy, early years with two little ones. After having my second, I found it hard to write much. So I ordered tapes from a professional writers conference.  Just listening to them while watching baby and toddler made me feel connected and provided ideas for future writing projects.

Also, look for other mothers of two who can provide some inspiration. Now that you are in a new role you may need some new models. It’s  helped me to emulate a friend with two kids slightly older than mine.

When I’m down about something I always think the problem will last  forever – that it won’t change. This will change! I’m sure you will  come to love your second child as much as your first, if differently. Also, you may not have been quite ready for him. Most likely, though, you’ll look back years from now and say the timing was perfect. When  little brother starts playing with big brother, you may even get to  sleep in!

You’re in a major life transition. I wrote Beyond One because not enough had been written about it. But if the depression continues get some professional help. I’m in no position to counsel about post- partum blues that persist and there’s no reason you should continue to suffer.

Meanwhile, congratulations! It’s going to be crazy for a while but you  made a great decision and have lots to look forward to – even if it’s hard to see while doing double diaper duty!

Best wishes,
Author, Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life

Q: I am based in India. I am a mother of a 10-year-old girl and I am  unable to take a decision on my second child for just one reason.

The reason is the age gap that the siblings would have. I curse myself for not having thought about the second child a few years later and am  feeling a bit low due to that.

Any advice would help me at this point.

A: How nice to get an email from India! Thank you for writing to me.

I think you are being a bit hard on yourself.

There is no “right” spacing between siblings. Many of the happiest  parents I know have kids with a very big age gap.

The age difference between their children allows them to focus more individual attention on each child in his or her early years. That’s hard to do when you have two kids in diapers. The parents I know with widely spaced kids have told me that they wouldn’t have it any other way!

Obviously, if you have a second child now, your kids will not be playmates. But they can still be very close siblings.

My two younger brothers have a 10 year age difference and they are extremely close and always have been. With widely spaced kids, it can be very touching to see how much the younger child looks up to the  older one.

My guess is that you are smarter than you think and have waited to have a second child for some very good reasons. Trust your instincts.  Everything may work out far better than you ever imagined!

Let me know what you decide to do and good luck!

Best wishes,
Author, Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life

(Two years later, the mother above wrote to say she was expecting her  second child.)

Check back soon for more advice on life with a growing family.

Got a question? Contact Jennifer! She will do her best to answer it and will keep your identity confidential. No medical queries please.

About Jennifer

A former journalist for The Wall Street Journal and Time, Jennifer is the award-winning author of Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life and pens the MidAge Mom blog.

She’s profiled exceptional women from the Middle East to Latin America. Widely published, her essays have been included in two anthologies.

Jennifer is also a frequent radio and TV guest. Full Bio

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In Beyond One, Jennifer chronicles her leap from one child to two, describing the enormous impact the second child has on a woman’s body, marriage, family life, friendships and work.

"Hull is the kind of woman many moms long to be friends with. . ." -The Cleveland Plain Dealer.


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