Just Say No to Second Child Guilt

Just Say No to Second Child Guilt | Reining in Mom

Just Say No to Second Child Guilt | Reining in Mom

When I first drafted this post about my feelings leading up to my second child’s first birthday, I drafted an indictment. I listed all the ways I had fallen short with him as opposed to with my first child. I tried to soften it with self deprecation and explanations but really, the mom guilt was hitting hard.

As a former criminal defense attorney, I am quite familiar with indictments: a litany of wrongful actions culminating in a seemingly undeniable criminal act. I knew no one else would charge me for my wrongs as a mother to a second child. So I did it myself.

Just to get it out of the way, Here are all the things I felt I did wrong by my son over the last year:

No mommy and me classes or even a storytime at the library.

No consistency with reading books to him.

He plays too independently so he must have gotten used to being ignored.

Inconsistently attending playgroups and not being focused on him when we do because his older sister demands so much attention.

Having a very small invite list for his first birthday party and making it a low key celebration (his older sister had a party with 50+ people…and she hated it).

It all went by so fast so I must not have been savouring the moment like everyone keeps telling me to do.

Letting him cry more because I just can’t run to him right away (this one is huge on the mommy guilt scale).

So I wrote a huge long post about all these things I did wrong, all the ways I had underserved my son because he has my divided attention as opposed to my daughter who had my undivided attention for the first two years of her life. And then I went to bed and when I woke up, I said no, I’m not going to indict myself. I’m going to defend myself from this stupid mommy guilt because it does not reflect reality but still so many of us struggle with it. After all, I am also aware that indictments are just allegations, showing just one, rather biased, perspective.

So here’s what I did to feel better and be kinder to myself.

Kick Second Child Guilt to the Curb

I reminded myself that he’s a happy joyful baby

My mom always says she doesn’t take credit for her kids’ accomplishments because she doesn’t want the blame for their challenges. I agree but I also think that if your kid is happy, you are probably doing something right.  

My baby boy is exceedingly happy. Strangers comment on it within 10 seconds of seeing him. His favorite thing to do is to wave at strangers, grinning when they notice him. He laughs at running water, snuggles us constantly, and feels safe and confident enough to try all of his daredevil moves, knowing we’ve never let him fall.

He is loved beyond compare, and he knows it. I (along with my husband) will take credit for that.

I reminded myself that I love him just as much as I love my daughter. It’s just that my love is shown differently because circumstances are different.

I want my joyful, happy, sweet funny baby to know how cherished he is and how much we love him just as much as we love our daughter, even if he doesn’t get the exact same treatment as she did at his age. I know that can be such a point of contention with siblings, who got what, who was paid more attention to by their parents, who was loved more. I don’t want that to ever be a question in my kids’ minds. They are loved exactly the same amount. It’s just that our circumstances have changed so maybe our love won’t be shown in the exact same way.

So he gets read books, it’s just that he is usually looking at the back of the book while I read to my daughter. And no, “mommy and me” didn’t happen because mommy has another me to take care of who’s not into learning how to clap gently to the beat, or lying there while mom does yoga over her. He’s just not going to get the one on one attention that my daughter got, it’s not possible. He’ll get a little, but to pretend like I can divide myself in two and give one half to my daughter and one to my son is ridiculous, and to be mad at myself that I can’t do that is pretty silly too.

It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. So what did he get? Lots of belly rubs and cheek kisses, time to explore the world on his own, a more relaxed mom who wasn’t so worried that he would break. He has had much less exposure to my anxiety than my daughter had, and that might be a contributor to how relaxed and outgoing he is now. I’m wiser and more sure of myself as a mother now, and he reaps the benefit of that.

I remembered that displays of love are about quality rather than quantity.

Just Say No to Second Child Guilt | Reining in Mom

The simplest parties can be the most fun.

Both of my kids get the full beam of my love turned on them regularly throughout the day. I do my best to put down my phone or devices and play with them together or separately for most of the day. I take them both on outings. I tend to their boo boos and wipe their bums. I worry into the night about whether I’m doing it right, and I read during the day about how to do it better. This is my job right now and I work really hard to do it well. I am blessed that I don’t have to work two jobs like many of you working mamas, but I’ve been there too and I want to assure you that your kids appreciate the quality of your love, and aren’t tallying up the quantity of time spent with them.

I took care of myself

Just Say No to Second Child Guilt | Reining in Mom

My happy place. Did I mention my gym has daycare?

I went for a swim. I took deep breaths. I talked to friends and my husband. I wrote about my second child guilt. I felt better.

I took action.

Sometimes even a thoughtful examining can’t cure the feeling that you’re coming up short. I want to accept myself as well as expect more from myself (thank you Gretchen Rubin!). It’s the only way for me to grow. I can handle more. My kids are older and my daughter is starting preschool next month. She doesn’t need as much of Mama so maybe I can rethink how much solo time I can give to my son.

So I worked it out and I’m going to take a baby music class with my son once a week. That’s his birthday present since gawd knows he doesn’t need anymore stuff! I am also going to commit to reading to him before bed. Like actually read to him, not just read at him. Finally, I changed his party date so that more people can attend. No, he won’t remember it, but I want him to feel that encompassing joy that comes from a bunch of people you love surrounding you and celebrating you. I think we are formed by feeling those wonderful feelings, even if we don’t remember the event. Plus, there will always be pictures to remind him.

What do you all do to stem the flood of parenting guilt? Do you find this crops up more around birthdays too? Let me know in the comments!

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12 Comments

  1. Remember that (1) your kids are very different people in terms of their needs and wants, and usually (2) boys tend to entertain themselves more than girls … zooming trucks around the floor, for example, rather than needing help with art projects. Usually boys are much more physical. Obviously these are generalizations. Also, you’ve not mentioned that your son gets stimulation from watching his sister, and learns from her and your interactions with her. Second children have, in a sense, 3 parents, so you don’t need to focus as much direct attention on him as you did with #1.

    1. Thanks Naomi. I know, he gets lots of different interaction than my daughter got which is great. And they are different, that’s for sure! Thanks for your support ?

  2. Awh, mommy guilt can be such a pain, can’t it? I’m sorry you’re finding yourself feeling a bit down, but know that even I feel this way with my one. My son is 16 months old, an only child, and I stay home with him. Still, I find things to feel guilty about. We always will-I think it’s in our DNA or something ha.
    Writing out your feelings is a great idea, I think, even if you don’t post it Hang in there, mama <3 And a very Happy Birthday to your boy!

  3. Older mom here. I think we have all been there. We second guess what we do because there is on “one” right way of doing things. Working our of the home moms have fabulous kids, stay-at-home moms also have fabulous kids so who knows why this happens other than we must be doing something right. I felt that guilt for many years because I had two children with special needs and my baby was the only one that didn’t have them (She turned out to be brilliant but that is another story) so I did blame myself for having to do so much for two kids and not have enough time for the other one. Her and I talk about this and she knows she is loved and understands now, but she does remember times when she wished I would had been there more for her. No time to be guilty, just enjoy what you have and know you are doing it with love.

    1. Thanks Luz. It’s nice to get the long view from someone who’s been through it. That’s why I try to remember that I have a happy baby so hopefully he knows he’s loved too. Thanks for commenting!

  4. I only have one child right now, but my sister-in-law is going through some mommy guilt herself. I can feel the pain in her voice as she tells me what she wanted to do differently for the second and third child, so it wasn’t exactly the same as yours. Not breastfeeding is the #1 regret I hear from moms I know. I struggled with that myself for so long. I was exclusively pumping, but thankfully, things got better through time.
    Great post and reminder!

    1. Oh Rachel, EP moms deserve a medal! That is so hard. I have several friends who did EP and I was just in awe of their dedication. It’s true, we will all do anything to do the best by our babies but we still feel guilty when we can’t do it all. Thanks for commenting!

  5. This is a great post! There are so many things we have mommy guilt about and it’s hard because, you can’t treat every kid, in every situation the same but, what matters is that we do the best we can as we know we love them all equally!

    1. Yes Jehava, I agree! Even if equal doesn’t mean they get exactly the same experience. And different kids do need different things. Maybe my son needs less interaction than my daughter did, and maybe he’ll need more of something else. He definitely needs more food than she did / does!! ?thanks for commenting.

  6. Wow. Everything you listed happened to me with my 2nd baby. I think this is normal, even if we try not to… Two children are more demanding and by the second one, we are already exhausted. I like that you remind us of the importance of quality over quantity! That’s comforting and good for alleviating mom guilt.

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