When one becomes two or three…
Families are getting smaller, the Office for National Statistics tells us that that the average family size is shrinking, reaching the lowest levels last year, since records began. From generational shifts that have seen women choosing to delay having children into their 30’s to the economic worries of credit-crunched Millennials, whatever the macro-factors, the decision whether to grow your family is a very personal one.
Growing up I was really close to my brother, I still am; in fact we’ve worked together our whole adult lives! My wife also came from a family of three so, for us, the idea of having a second child felt inevitable. We wanted our eldest, Maya, to have a brother or sister to share the world with. Having one child was life-changing, little did we know that in adding a second, we were about to learn so much more.
When my wife became pregnant, we talked about how we would make sure that Maya would feel part of the process, it was definitely one of our biggest fears. It’s hard as a parent to do anything that might rock the world and routine of your happy little child. Just like with every milestone from starting nursery, to potty training to moving her from a cot to a cot bed, we took her role as a big sister seriously and thought about how best to involve her before she was even here. There’s loads of great books out there that help prepare siblings for the new arrival and we made good use of them right up to the birth.
When Marnie came along we very quickly remembered the ‘beautiful mess’ that comes with a baby. Unlike your first child, there’s no room for pause. I remember the days after Maya was born walking on eggshells around the house in awe of our daughter, trying to process this life changing moment. Within two hours of returning home with Marnie, I was out the door and off to the park with our eldest. The next day, I was making lunch sandwiches and doing the school run, all the while snatching cuddles with Marnie.
When you already have one child, you’re lulled into a false sense of confidence, that you’re now a fully qualified parent. You’ve changed a thousand nappies, been vomited on a hundred times and made it through countless sleepless nights. You know the local play groups, playgrounds and activities and, equipped with this mighty experience, a second child will be plain sailing. What nobody tells you is having a second child is a different form of algebra. How can the addition of a second little person make it five times harder to leave the house, or make bedtime ten times more difficult. Equipped with a healthy bout of humility, we took all the help we were offered from friends and grandparents, from extra babysitting to extended playdates.
And the nights are no easier. All that sleep deprived training from round one counts for nothing. Just to up the stakes, with a second child, you’ll find they are rarely in sync. While your baby may have finally settled at 4am for blissful four hour sleep, your eldest is still raring to go at 5.45am!
We made sure that whilst Marnie, so small and precious, was doing well, we knew it was important not to take our focus of Maya too. We made sure that we involved her in everything, from changing nappies to pushing the buggy around the park; Maya was part of the team caring for her little sister.
With a new arrival, my wife and I also needed to rebuild our routines to help and support each other. It can be easy as parents to feel like you had a turn, and now it’s the other ones turn to do X. We always make an effort to talk to one another and constantly checking in on how we’re getting on, how knackered we feel and making sure that we support each other after a tough day or night.
As our children have grown older together I’ve watched them become the best of friends, in the way that only siblings can. They play together and support each other and look out for each other - we’ve been very lucky - they care about one another as best friends and siblings. They are now both at school, and whilst it’s terrifying to see them growing up so fast, I’m so pleased that they are going through this journey together.
And my biggest learning? I have developed the utmost respect for families with three or more children...how do they do it?!
Max Jennings is father to two daughters aged 4 and 7, and one of the founders of family activity app Hoop
Hoop exists to help families find activities locally for the age of their children, bringing everything happening across the UK for kids into one app. Started by a group of parents that regularly found themselves wading through parenting forums, local notice boards and websites to see what’s on for their kids locally, Hoop is now the UK’s #1 place to uncover new family activities.