The wisdom that comes with the second child

When my first daughter was born, it felt like the world changed; the sun shone more brightly, and there was a spring in my step. Despite my unimaginable happiness at becoming a new mom, I was overwhelmed with fear. What if I didn’t know how to be a mom? I mean, sure, I had baby dolls like everyone else, but I had never been truly responsible for keeping someone alive. In fact, I remember cutting the hair off many of my dolls and drawing on their faces. How was I supposed to take care of this new, precious, perfect little being when I had never done anything like that before? I had never even had a dog. Yet, as I brought my little girl home from the hospital, she became my everything. I surrounded her with every educational toy imaginable, hoping to ensure she would grow up to be a genius.

Whenever we went outside, I made sure she was covered from head to toe, fearing even the slightest exposure to the elements. I would worry endlessly about whether she was too hot or too cold, constantly undressing and redressing her until I felt we had achieved the perfect balance. As she grew older, my overprotective instincts only intensified. If she cut her finger, I would agonize over whether she needed stitches. If she bumped her arm, I would debate whether to rush her to the emergency room for x-rays. Even a simple sniffle would send me into a panic, fearing she might have pneumonia. Yet, despite all my fretting, she always turned out to be just fine.

When she started school, my anxiety only increased. I would sit in the parking lot for at least 30 minutes after drop-off, reassuring myself that she was OK. I would tell the director that I was nearby if she needed me, ready to return at a moment’s notice. I would frequently check in during her playtime, always arriving early to pick her up because I knew she would need me.

Then, something unexpected happened; I became pregnant with my second daughter. I thought I would simply extend my overprotective tendencies to both of them, dividing my time to ensure they were both perfectly cared for and watched over. However, as my younger daughter entered the world, and the years went by, I began to realize that she was doing just fine. She didn’t need me to be so overprotective; she was actually quite self-sufficient. She could go to a playdate without me hovering nearby, and if she got a minor injury, she could easily brush it off. I found myself answering her in ways I had never answered my first daughter. Once she came to me and said, “Mom, my arm hurts.” I looked at her, assessing the situation and when she looked fine to me, I told her to use the other arm. And shockingly, and I say that with a touch of sarcasm, she was fine.

With my first daughter, I laid out her clothes and made sure her outfits were perfectly matching every time because God forbid she should go to school with polka dot pants and a striped shirt. But with my younger daughter, as long as she was dressed, I was happy. She had her own ideas of what was fashionable, and I frankly was really OK with her going to school with whatever style she preferred as long as she had pants and a shirt on, of course. I guess that turned out to be a good thing because as she grew up, she became quite the fashionista. As my second daughter grew up, I found myself acting differently than I had with my first. If she went on a playdate and assured me that she was fine, I would trust her judgment without hesitation. She would confidently walk into her classroom without needing me to wait in the parking lot.

Both of my daughters grew up to be confident, intelligent and self-sufficient adults, but my younger daughter seemed to reach that independence much earlier. With that realization, I offer this advice to parents who are considering (or awaiting) their second child.

  • First-time moms are almost always going to be nervous and feel like they are never going to know how to do this thing called parenting. But 98 percent of the time it magically falls into place. You rise to the occasion, instinct kicks in, and you know just what to do.
  • Try treating your first child like the second. Trust yourself more right out of the gate. Trust them more. Give them the space to discover themselves and become the little person they were meant to be.
  • Don’t take life too seriously. There is plenty in life to be worried about, but fighting over clothing or wearing that hat they keep throwing on the floor isn’t worth it.
  • Enjoy your child or children and embrace their wonder of the world around them. And if you find yourself making chicken soup or zipping up their coat to drive away their sniffles, that’s okay too. Sometimes innately, we just feel and know what our kids need.  Showing your kids you will take care of them and love them is more than just ok, it’s being a mom.

Perhaps there is something transformative about having a second child — a shift in perspective that allows us to loosen our grip and trust in our children’s resilience and abilities from the start.

About Danielle Lindner
Danielle Lindner is an educator and author. As an educator, Danielle is noted for having founded London Day School and recently published Parent’s Pocket Guide to Surviving the Preschool Years. To learn more, visit daniellelindner.com.