Just as I think I’ve finally gotten the chance to check my e-mail, the sedated look on my infant daughter’ s face dissolves into a pre-cry crumple and her limbs go from limp to flailing. I try offering her a top-up but my two-year-old, who until then had seemed absurdly intent on placing as many blocks as she possibly could under the seat cover of her Winnie the Pooh riding toy, decides that she is hungry too — and makes it clear that I had better put down that baby and hoof it over to the fridge. Pronto.
It’s the kind of scenario that can make parents of a toddler and an infant toss down their burp cloths in despair and think, as they narrowly avoid tripping over the musical truck, that having two young kids means no one’s ever satisfied.
But while you can’t keep ’em both happy all of the time, here are a few tricks to keep them (and you) from pitching a fit most of the time.
It Takes Three To Tango (And Eat…And Change A Diaper)
When the latest arrival needs to be held or fed your primary interest may be baby’s basic needs, but just about any infant-centered activity can become fun for the kid who might be feeling displaced. The baby’s gassy? Hold her while dancing and singing silly songs with your older kid. (Our favorite made-up ditty includes the line “Don’t drink beer in my ear, it makes it hard to hear.”) The baby’s gotta eat? Whether you’re nursing or bottle-feeding, extend your limited lap space by grabbing a spot where you can put up your legs and ask your toddler if she wants to sit on you (even better if you have toys or books nearby). As for the diaper change, lots of toddlers like being, er, helpful, and handing you a diaper is one of the least calamitous forms of help a toddler can offer.
Find The Pattern
It’s always a good idea to pay attention to what sets off your kid, and that’s all the more true when monitoring the way the former center of attention reacts to the cause of her reduction in star status. Maybe there’s something about the time of day or the way you relate to your infant that sparks a meltdown in your toddler. Whatever it is, pay attention; you may be able to head off an ear-numbing exercise of the will. I noticed that my oldest would get upset if I tried to feed the baby at a time when big sis was usually hungry. Now I grab some food, get my toddler into the high chair and sit next to her while feeding both of them. Which brings us to the next point…
Don’t Paint Yourself Into A Nursing Corner
Some moms like settling in with baby in the same comfy feeding spot every time, but while that can be great at the right moment, be open to feeding the baby wherever your toddler is. The same holds for other necessaries — especially if you’ve got multiple rooms, or floors, you hang out in. If you have diaper-changing basics or safe baby-dumping spots (even just a blanket or towel spread out on the floor) in a few strategic locations, it’ll be easier to stay with both kids. And if you do have to, or want to, go somewhere else with the little one, try asking your toddler if she wants to sit on the couch with mommy too.
View Your Home As A Kid Lab
Don’t keep doing something just because it’s what you started off doing; your kids are changing every day, so if something isn’t working right now (even if it used to), modify it. The trickiest time in our house is my toddler’s bath-and-bed time, because I need to give her my attention when the baby is likely to be hungry or kvetchy. I tried sticking to our old routine, but got too stressed if I could hear crying in the other room. I tried simultaneous bath-giving and baby-wearing, but found it too cumbersome. I tried giving big sis an earlier bath if the baby was calm, and that worked well until I started hitting resistance. I ultimately settled on putting the baby in her car seat and bringing her into the bathroom with us, but I’m up for figuring out something else if this doesn’t pan out either. There’s no way of knowing what will work best for you at any given time other than by trial and error, so try, try, try again.
I’ll Take Two
Keep spares of baby stuff in stock, ready to offer to your toddler if she expresses interest. Mine hadn’t used a bottle in nearly a year, but as soon as she saw the baby getting one, it became the hottest item of the season. Instead of saying, “No, that’s for the baby,” we gave her a bottle of her own that looks different from the others. She also adores having her own blanket spread out on the floor, right next to the baby mat; when I first put it down she stalked around the perimeter with this huge proprietary grin, proud to have her own territory to stake out.
Make Some One-On-)ne
No matter how well you manage to incorporate both kids into your daily tasks, at some point you’ll probably feel like you’re shortchanging at least one of them. So before you rush off on the never-ending quest to cross off everything on your to-do list when one of them falls asleep, take a few minutes to let your toddler swing like a monkey from your neck or to have a staring contest with your baby while speaking in a ridiculously high-pitched voice. It’s worth building up a bank of one-on-one time, both for your kids’ sense of security and so that the next time one or both of them is too tired, hungry or sick for any of these tricks to work, at least you’ll know in your heart that — despite the surround-sound crying you’re sure will have the neighbors calling social services — you’ve been doing your darndest.