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Does Two Under Two Shortchange the One?

By Amalah

smackdown_siblings.jpg

Dear Amy,

When my daughter is 21 months old, she will be joined by a sibling. Of course, my husband and I are beyond thrilled. We want lots of kids, and we wanted them relatively close in age…. but not that close. We planned to wait until our daughter was pre-school-aged, but oops… accidents happen! I love being pregnant and I so want to enjoy this pregnancy. Physically, I feel great but I’m feeling huge, huge amounts of guilt. Guilt for not being careful, and guilt for springing this on a 21 month old. It seems so young to me, it *is* young. A 21-month-old is still so needy, isn’t she? My rationale for waiting until she was in pre-school was that she’d have her own thing to do, without me, and hopefully, she wouldn’t notice so much that there was a new sib sucking up huge amounts of attention. Intellectually, I know it’ll be fine, and I know that people have kids much closer in age! After all, my sister and I are only 18 months apart but I can’t shake this guilt and also, some fear that my daughter will totally resent me.

Will the guilt go away? Can I MAKE it go away?
~N

You know what I hated — like hated hated HATED — during my pregnancies? I hated people who blamed every little weird emotion or worry or fear I had on the hormones. I remember talking to my doctor about…oh, I don’t really remember THAT PART, but I do remember him saying something about the hormones while I stared REALLY HARD at his cup of Ortho Tri-Cyclen pens and visualized stabbing him in the neck with one.

Anyway. Hold the phone and put down the pen, because I am TOTALLY about to pull that crap on you right now.

IT’S THE HORMONES.

Sort of, anyway. You know how those buggers work: they magnify valid-yet-small concerns into gigantic issues that you cannot let go of. So you worry and fret and there’s guilt and sleepless nights over something that just sort of is what it is. What if the baby doesn’t like me, what if there’s something wrong, what if our marriage changes, what if I poop during labor, on and on your brain goes around in the hamster wheel.

Just because you’re HAPPY about an unexpected pregnancy doesn’t mean that it’s not jarring, or that you won’t need some time to adjust and really accept the new and coming reality. We had a scare that really wasn’t a scare a few months ago — both of us admitted that actually, we’d be more than happy to have another baby, but whenever I did that math and realized that Ezra would be only 18 months old when Ol’ Hypothetical Sibling arrived…HOLY CRAP. Suddenly, I wasn’t “more than happy” anymore. I was TERRIFIED.

And yeah, I also definitely felt a little of what you’re now REALLY feeling: guilt. Guilt over denying Ezra a chance to be “the baby,” for not being careful, because oh, goodness, I’m going to be in so far over my head and I won’t be able to take care of him and I’ll expect too much of him and…hmm. You know, I am pretty sure these were the exact same thoughts I had during my very planned, very much further-spaced-out second pregnancy.

And I managed to work myself up into this state WITHOUT the hormones, all in under two weeks before the peesticks starting showing up negative.

When I am ACTUALLY pregnant, I have two predominant symptoms: puking and nerve-wracking anxiety. Even though Noah was going to be three years old by the time his sibling arrived, I struggled with all of the same worries. Was a sibling really a good idea? Were we underestimating Noah’s special needs and the impact those needs would have on a sibling? And vice versa? And he’ll be just starting preschool and then everything changes all over again and how will I coordinate getting him to and from school with a newborn in the cold weather and WHAT IF HE HATES THE BABY AND/OR US and WHAT HAVE WE DOOOOOONE?

So, look. What you are feeling is totally normal, parentally speaking, and your excessive worrying about it is also completely normal, hormonally speaking. Even in your question, you’re admitting that it’s not a super-rational fear, given your sister’s age. (Somehow I’m guessing whichever one of you is older has never wept on a therapist’s couch, tracing all of your life’s problems and parental resentment back to the birth of The Other One at a mere 18 months old. ) Maybe you’re projecting your own fears about your ability to mother two-under-two onto your daughter. “I’m not prepared for this, I’m not going to be able to handle it, thus short-changing them both and she will notice and hate me for it.”

But really, you’ll be able to handle it. 21 months old is actually pretty close to 24 months old, the exact age a lot of parents aim for when spacing their children. (Honestly, I’d recommend your spacing WAY MORE than ours: three-year-olds are gigantic pains in the butt.) At 24 months — just three months after the baby arrives — she CAN start preschool. Plenty of two-year-olds attend two or even three days a week. If you look at it like that, well, you actually aren’t *that* premature on your original plan. 21-month-olds *are* needy, but also terrifically independent and curious and can say stuff like “baybee” and oh, it’s really a great age.

So. I don’t expect that reading MY rambling thoughts about your child-spacing choices is going to really be enough to soothe your guilt and anxiety for the remainder of your pregnancy. (Pesky hormones.) I would definitely recommend keeping a journal or blog and work through your fears. Write your daughter letters. Write the baby letters. Get it out of your brain, so to speak. Plan plenty of special mommy/daughter time and fun activities…while also taking time to spend time alone, bonding with (gag, I know) your belly. I found that my fears about a second baby would fade when I took the time to revel in my pregnancy — a bubble bath, listening to the heartbeat via a doppler, prenatal yoga. Then I’d take Noah on an extra-long nature walk and revel in him. Finding the balance between the two helped boost my confidence that this was a Good Thing, and that I really could care for and love them both, separate yet equal.

I suspect your worries will not really extend past the birth, at least not at their current levels: There’s something downright magical about seeing your firstborn meet and interact with a newborn sibling that just melts everything else away. Even though there were times when Noah was clearly REALLY HOPPING MAD at us for dropping the Ezra bombshell on him, I was okay with that. It was perfectly understandable that he would be mad at us. (I preferred that he turn his anger on us, instead of Ezra.) He loved the baby, he really still loved us. We didn’t ruin his life, even if he occasionally felt that way.

Your children won’t remember a time when the other WASN’T a part of their lives. Right now, that might seem like a negative, or a loss for your daughter. Once her sibling arrives, I think you’ll find that it’s actually pretty damn cool.

Photo by Fanny

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Debbie
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Debbie

I totally agree with Amalah’s suggestion of taking time to revel in your daughter and in your pregnancy, and also in scheduling one on one time with your daughter once baby arrives. I have nannied for a family in which your worst fear came true- a 22 month old big sis and a new baby and lots of resentment and hurt. Big sis never really got over it, there is still rivalry now and she’s 8. I think the problem there is that the mom didn’t recognize how much the big sis needed her, and when big sis would act… Read more »

Brenda
Guest

I totally understand that fear — it seems like one kid takes everything you have, so two will mean that kid one gets shortchanged, right? But somehow, through some miracle, it works. My baby is nearly a year old, and his older brother will beg to play with him. Listening to them laugh together, in a lifelong relationship of mutual support, joy and annoyance, and I really don’t think Grey will ever regret that Thane exists, regardless of how old Grey was when his brother arrived.

nora
Guest

I have been a long time reader, but never commented, but felt I should share the only experience that I may be qualified to comment on. I have a 1 a 2 and a 3 1/2 year old. My two year old and 3 1/2 year old daughters are 18 months apart (biological siblings adopted at seperate times) and then we had a surprise belly baby who was born just 4 months after my second daughter arrived at our family. All that is to say, we went from a family of 3 to a family of 5 in 4 short… Read more »

hydrogeek
Guest

My kids are 23 months apart, also not planned that way, and as I’m planning a 1 year old and a 3 year old birthday party, I can tell you it has worked out just fine. Like Amalah says, watching the two of them interact has been witnessing the awesome! Good luck, and do whatever it takes to get your anxiety level down, because that is not a fun way to spend a pregnancy. (Yes, I felt that way too, especially at the first of the pregnancy,)

DeAun
Guest
DeAun

You are giving your daughter the very best gift a mother can give her children – a sibling. Someone to play and imagine with when they are young and someone to call and complain about Mom when they are middle age! There is no “perfect” spacing. So, congrats! I hope your pregnancy is joyful.

Cindy
Guest
Cindy

I agree with everything said above. But I have one more thing to add – no matter what the age spacing is, you will worry that the older one will feel jealous, jilted, left out, etc. My daughters are 4 years apart, almost to the day. They are now 5 and 1 and 1 – yes, twins the 2nd time around. I was worried, so very worried, about how K would react to a new baby – let alone 2 babies. She was an only child for so long, she had so much attention, she was the center of our… Read more »

Muirnait
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Muirnait

My older sister and I are the “ideal” 2 and a half years apart, but we’re just not that close. My little sisters – five and six years younger than me (Oh, let’s have one more! Or, uh, I guess….too) are only fourteen months apart (surprise!) and they are super close and sometimes I really envy them that relationship. So there’s a little anecdotal happy thought for you! Also, so many factors that are out of your control, like temperament, will probably have a lot more effect on your children’s relationship, IMHO. Either way, it’s clear that you love them… Read more »

Elaine
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Elaine

I don’t have kids, so I can’t offer any support from that perspective. But I thought I’d chime in and tell you that my parents had 4 kids in 6 years. I’m the oldest, and my next brother are 14 months apart. Then a four year gap, and the youngest two boys are 15 months apart. We’re all in our twenties now and have great relationships with our parents and with each other. We did tend to fight a lot as kids (all within the realm of normal, I think) but we took turns getting mad at each other. So… Read more »

Allison
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Allison

My sons are almost exactly 24 months apart. It was a bit bumpy when his little brother came home, and just to prepare you, I did feel even guiltier then. Again, not to freak you out, but to be honest and prepare you, the brunt of that force was towards me and not his new little brother. (Which I guess is ultimately a good thing.) But now five months on my boys are the picture of loving and happy brothers. My 2yo wakes up every morning and asks where his brother is so he can sit and talk and play… Read more »

Someone Being Me
Guest

Mine are 26 months apart and it is a huge adjustment. I bumped my 2 1/2 year old up to two days a week at Mother’s Day Out this fall and we are both happier. I do feel like I place pressure on my oldest to be more mature than a 2 1/2 year old can be because he is the oldest. I have to remind myself that he is still a baby too even if he is way bigger than his little brother. When I brought the baby home from the hospital he was excited. We had been talking… Read more »

Kim
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Kim

While I’m reading this, I’m watching my 16 month old kiss my 2 week old. Yep, I’m that crazy to have them that close together and yes, it was planned. Since the baby is only 2 weeks, I don’t have that much advice. All I am hoping for is that my girls will be best friends when they get older (isn’t that every parent’s wish). I’m hoping that being close in age will help that. I think 21 months is a great age spacing. Not too close and not too spread out. Like Amy said, they won’t remember a time… Read more »

Bitts
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Bitts

My children are 21 months apart, so I had many of the same feelings as Nancy. The thing I kept repeating to myself when I’d get worked up about it is: If giving her a younger sibling is the WORST thing I ever do to her, then that’s not too bad. Even so, we had no problems with resentment or jealousy — I think she was just too young to take it very personally! Our baby just turned one last week and they are so very different and special and amazing little snowflakes … It’s SO TRUE that your love… Read more »

Joceline
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Joceline

On one hand, I do agree with Amy that hormones are making this fear worse, on the other hand, I know what you are going through in that you are LOOKING AT YOUR BABY and wondering how you will handle ANOTHER ONE. That adds another huge level of anxiety over looking at a two year old and wondering how you will handle a baby. But it will be okay. I have two kids who are 15 months apart (now 24 months and 9 months), and when my son was 7 months, I found out I was pregnant again. I was… Read more »

T
Guest
T

My kids are 21 months apart, and our second child was also an “uh-oh”. I think you’d be feeling this to some extent whether your kids were 21 months or 21 years apart. It just is the way we feel about #1 when we know #2 is on the way. Also, I think it is impossible to be as happy about pregnancy the second time around: you know what you’re in for! There is no right or wrong time to have #2, and #1 will react the way she or he chooses to react. My first has been (mostly) totally… Read more »

Missie
Guest

What Amy Said. I worried about just such things but in a different way during my second pregnancy. Our kids are 9.5 years apart (yes, same dad, same marriage, no divorce or separation involved…just stupidity) and how was my daughter going to affect my son who’s been the only game in town for about a decade and blahblahblah. Seriously. After you get the new baby home, it all becomes blahblahblah. Your first child may have some adjusting to do, but guess what? So will you and Daddy. It will all be fine. You’ll do fine. Your Number One Child will… Read more »

Nancy
Guest

Hey, thanks, everyone! I do feel tons better! I’m okay with chalking it up to hormones. Also, my older sister gave my daughter a baby doll, with a bottle and a bib and everything. Watching her play with the doll, wierdly enough, has assuaged some of my fears. And Joceline, I FINALLY came around to the realization last week that right now I’m looking at a 15 month old and forgetting that 21 months is a whole hell of a lot different. So, thanks for saying that. Several moms told me this week that once you get past 18 months,… Read more »

SupahMama
Guest

my two are 18 months a part, and you better believe during that homestretch of my pregnancy i was freaking the EFF OUT. the morning i went into the hospital i received a call from my midwife saying i could come in earlier… like 6 am earlier and i ignored her call because my 18 month old was still asleep, and oh my god did i want to have just one more morning with my baby boy while he was still my baby, my one and only. it was really hard the first month because he wanted NOTHING to do… Read more »

wallydraigle
Guest

How timely! I’m expecting our second at the beginning of March. They’ll be 17 months apart. Egad! When our daughter was about 6 months old, I was suddenly struck with ravening baby fever. She was starting to turn into a little girl, and she is one of the easiest babies ever, and I missed that newbornness. We knew better than to try to have another, but, oh, the thought of waiting another year just killed me. And then, surprise! Hello, seven positive pregnancy tests! We were thrilled of course, but also terrified. When my daughter is in one of her… Read more »

Della
Guest

I can’t report yet (first hand) whether it works out all okay — We’re at 20 months and 1 month currently, and after having felt all the things everyone here was describing, the whole time I was pregnant (compounded by the fact we only got 2 ultrasounds this time, the 8 wk one and a 16wk one, compared to 5 with the first kid)… right now I’m way more concerned about, you know, my sleep levels. The big one is doing ok. Yeah, there are some nights where I go “dang it, I didn’t give him as much attention as… Read more »

Danielle
Guest
Danielle

My son was only 15 months old when my daughter was born. And while having them that close together was tiring, it was GREAT. I wouldn’t change a thing. They are now 8 and 6 (almost 7!) and it’s like having twins. They do everything together. The only thing that’s difficult is that I have to remember my daughter is still younger, and even though she can do a lot of the things her brother can, she can’t do EVERYTHING he can. And emotionally she is still younger. We also have a 4 year old and a 2 year old.… Read more »

laziza
Guest
laziza

My younger brothers and I are all about 18 months apart, and I’m so grateful to my parents for that. We couldn’t be closer. Your daughter will be fine and will be an awesome big sister!

Bethany
Guest
Bethany

My younger sister and I are 18 months apart. Neither of us remembers not having the other around. We grew up together, had a lot of the same friends, participated many of the same activities, and have been best friends for as long as I can remember. This is still the case even though we are 24 and 26. I think your spacing is perfect and your children will thank you for it. It’s pretty special to have a best friend who also has to love you unconditionally.

Monica
Guest
Monica

My kids are 19 months apart and they just moved out to attend university. They chose to rent a house together. There were definitely some challenging years but they are very close.

Mary
Guest
Mary

I recommend the book “Siblings Without Rivalry.” I checked out from the library after my 22 month old kicked his new brother in the head. Twice. It’s meant more for older kids but really the book is about seeing your kids as individuals and treating them as such which isn’t something you can start too soon as a mom.
My boys are the absolute best of friends now and I wouldn’t change their spacing for the world.

LauraP
Guest
LauraP

I can’t tell you how happy I am to read this right now. I’m convinced that I’m pregnant, but can’t bite the bullet and actually take a pregnancy test. That might actually make it real! My daughter just turned 9 months. I am feeling all the same emotions. I suppose though that it is all hypothetical until I take the test. I think this post is the nudge that I need.

sandra
Guest
sandra

Hi:)My first two are 13 months apart and between my second and third there are 19 months. I love it this way. It’s busy but I love spending time with all of them. They’re 4.5,3.5 and 2:):)

Frema
Guest

You all will really think I’m crazy when I tell you that my daughter and son are 13 months apart. Egads! Yes, it was unplanned, and yes, I felt terribly guilty about Kara losing one-on-one time with Mommy and Daddy at such a young age. Plus, the first few months were very, very hard. But now Kara is 22 months and Nathan is 8 months and everything is finally settling down. And I mean it when I say I am so grateful that they are this closely spaced, because we will be more portable and more on-the-go as a family… Read more »

Allison
Guest
Allison

I just found this post. THANK YOU! for these words (and all the comments) They are exactly what I needed to hear right now. In 6 weeks I’ll be going in for a c-section and will suddenly be the mommy of an 11 month old and a newborn. I’m kinda freaking out about it, (have been since we found out when my daughter was 14 weeks old – and yes, I was breastfeeding) but know that ultimately it will be ok.