The joys of growing your family are often tempered with well-meaning (albeit unsolicited) advice. One phrase I routinely heard throughout my second pregnancy sounded something like this: “The transition from one to two children was tough! You better start getting ready now!” Mothers of three or more often told me that adding the third or fourth baby was easier than the initial transition from one to two.
While I mentally braced myself to have our little world completely rocked, I started planning to make the transition as easy as possible — not just for my husband and myself, but for our two-year-old son. Now that I’m thirteen months removed from our major family transition, I wanted to look back and inventory our most helpful preparations. Please know that I did not and do not have it all together. Making plans helps me combat stress and anxiety, so I put these things in place for my own mental health…not because I am Supermom.
For those who like timeframes, these things are best accomplished beginning in your second trimester (or whenever you feel up to it). Depending on the situation, adoptive mommies may not have several months to prepare — just do what you can when you can, every little bit helps! Some of these things I figured out before Baby #2 arrived, and others came together in the months soon after his birth.
I took my pantry from crazy-town to a regimented, compartmentalized system. I decided on a rotational meal system, and created space in my pantry for each meal. In an effort to keep it simple, I chose about seven meals. A few of my tried and true favorites were Chipotle-style rice and bean bowls, loaded baked potatoes, chicken and veggies, crockpot roast and veggies, and pizza. We’re a gluten-free and (mostly) dairy-free family, and I have a host of food allergies, so I knew that no one would be jumping at the chance to bring us dinner. (I don’t blame them — my extensive list of food allergies still freaks me out.) I chose easy-to-prepare meals so that my husband (or any other visiting family member) could help without feeling overwhelmed. The idea of eating the same things over and over again may sound boring, but didn’t bother us one bit. Stocking your freezer is also helpful…but our freezer is particularly small, so I couldn’t hoard.
Painters tape and labels helped keep things tidy and made it easy for my husband to put groceries away. I put my toddler’s healthy snacks on a lower level so he could forage as needed. I spent countless hours in the rocking chair nursing baby brother, so this kept him from waiting (and waiting and waiting) until little brother was finished.
2. Implement a routine!
Scheduling with a toddler and newborn can be a double-edged sword, so I prefer predictable routines over strict schedules. I wanted my older son to have an established routine so he would have some semblance of normalcy in the midst of change. It was important for him to have ownership of his routine, so we came up with a chart to keep us all on track. It didn’t take long before he was reminding Mommy and Daddy that his teeth needed brushing and he needed to clean up his toys.
Creating an environment that allowed his autonomy to flourish helped quell outbursts and meltdowns. We still had (and have) our fair share of epic fits, but they aren’t nearly as bad when he follows a predictable routine.
3. Guilt-free entertainment!
I am not one to use technology as a babysitter, but the first few postpartum months often looked like survival mode. It’s nice to have educational shows that teach while they engage — after sleepless nights and growth-spurt-nurse-a-thons, popping in a DVD can be an absolute lifesaver. Now, at three years old, my son knows all of his letters, numbers up to thirty, ridiculous amounts of sign language, a handful of Latin phrases, and has fistfuls of knowledge that rival seasoned kindergarteners. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, but to show that purposeful “edu-tainment” is a better option than mindless cartoons.
This area proved to be a huge mental struggle for me. I felt so guilty about Asher sitting in front of the TV and iPad more than usual, but I was on my own within four days of Keane’s birth. The majority of the time, it was just me and the boys from 8:00am until 6:00pm, five days a week. (Thankfully, my in-laws were quick to take Asher to their house for a few hours each week.) During the early days of our transition, I lamented the TV issue to my trusted mommy group; a wise friend told me to give myself lots of grace and 100 days of guilt-free technology use. I chose to use technology as an ally from that point forward. My favorites are Signing Times, Preschool Prep, and Song School Latin.
A note about potty training: I’m of the mindset that it’s never too early to start teaching toddlers how to potty. Cultures around the world begin potty training much earlier than we do in America — and it all works out just fine. Grandmothers and great-grandmothers today will happily tell you that it was almost unheard of for a walking, talking toddler to be in diapers fulltime. I know not everyone can pull it off, but having one child in diapers is more manageable than two. I started potty training Asher when he was 20 months old — he was diaper-free by the time he was 25 months old. It takes effort, but it’s totally worth it!
4. Cut corners!
Whether your second bundle of joy is blessed with a full-fledged baby shower or just a sprinkling, don’t lose sleep over thank you cards. During your third trimester, design a ready-to-go thank you card (use a sonogram picture or a maternity photo), print a handful of them, and address the envelopes as needed.
I didn’t anticipate many gifts this go-around, so I didn’t do this beforehand. I did, however, print out generic thank you cards that showcased my adorable newborn. This proved to be a timesaver and a stress-reducer. Win-win! (You can also prepare birth announcements in advance — just go back and add photos to the saved announcement.)
I care about the environment, but I also care about my sanity. It was my sanity that led me to buy paper plates in bulk…I haven’t looked back! It’s nice to have the option to throw the dinner dishes in the trash instead of loading and unloading the dishwasher one more time.
Beyond disposable dishes, line up people to help with laundry and/or cleaning. Save up a few extra dollars to have someone come clean for the first couple of months. If you can afford it, get $10 to $20 cashback each time you get groceries during your last trimester. Stash away the cash to help pay for housekeeping. If you’re involved in a church, ask the youth minister if there are any teenagers who are looking to earn money for summer camps or mission trips — you may find yourself a reliable mother’s helper! If neither of those avenues is an option, check out the Fly Lady’s website for help managing household chores.
Bringing sweet Keane into our lives has been absolutely phenomenal, but the early transition period was not without its challenges. I had no control over my lack of sleep and utter exhaustion, but I could control the state of my pantry, a responsibility chart, and a handful of DVDs!