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Why I’m a different parent to my second child than my first

November 13, 2013

My son was born three months ago, and already I’m amazed how different the experience has been with my second child than it was with my first. The first time around, I don’t think I could reliably recite my own name and address for the first few months. Much of that first year my brain felt like a mess of scrambled eggs- like someone had shaken up my whole life until I no longer could tell which way was up. I went to work, I took care of my family and life went on, but I lived in a fog of emotions and exhaustion.

The thing is, though, I never realized it until my second child was born and the experience felt completely different. It took me perhaps a full two years after the birth of my daughter to really feel like myself again- mentally, emotionally and physically. But, when my son was born three and a half years after my daughter, I just felt like me.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering, what has made the second time so different?

Many people will say it’s the kids: some babies are easy and some are more difficult. Some babies sleep well, and some don’t. Some are fussy and some are just more content. I do believe that babies have innate differences, and I’m sure as time goes on I’ll see a more pronounced distinction in personality between my boy and my girl.

But I’ve come to another conclusion: it’s me. I’m different the second time around.

My two children were born to the same parents, have lived in the same home and been surrounded by the same amount of love and affection. However, even though I still look the same, talk the same and to the outside observer appear to be the same person I was, I’m not. Motherhood has changed me so profoundly that, for better or worse, I’m not the same parent to my second as I was to my first.

Many parents will balk at that admission and swear that they have parented their children exactly the same way, but it’s not possible. Although we love each of our children with the same fervor, children change us and we can’t help but be affected.

Much of the frustration I experienced in my first year of parenting came from my own understanding of what belonged to me and what didn’t. I used to feel like it was my inalienable right to sleep an entire night uninterrupted. When a baby came along, that little person stole away my right to peaceful sleep, and it was a tough adjustment. The second child, though, can’t take away something that isn’t yours, and I had long since relinquished my “right” to uninterrupted sleep (and time alone in the bathroom, adult TV shows and the list goes on) by the time my second came along.

I’ve also come to understand that some of what I thought was love for my oldest was, in fact, my own emotional neediness. The guilt I felt at going back to work, my reluctance to admit that I was exhausted and needed a break, my need for reassurance that I was a good mother: all of these things were affecting the decisions I made as a parent. My oldest carried that burden, but my second doesn’t have to.

My son is a better sleeper than my daughter because I learned better ways to teach him to sleep. I’m not overcome with paralyzing guilt when he cries because, now I know that he won’t be permanently scarred if I can’t fulfill all of his needs immediately. I am not wracked with guilt every time I leave for work because I know that my time spent away from my children makes me a better mother when I’m with them. I don’t have to question myself because I’ve lived this once before, and that provides immense comfort for each of those fears and insecurities.

While my second child may not be the beneficiary of my undivided attention all of the time like my first, I am comfortable with the fact that I’ve learned a lot from my experience.

I’m a better parent now than I was four years ago, and that’s good for both of my kids.