The Endless Guilt Of A Second-Time Mom
It’s dinnertime, my husband is out of town and my two-year-old is asking me over and over to go get him another piece of corn (which involves pulling said corn out of boiling water, running it under cold water and then possibly cutting it off the cob, depending on his palate). My three-month-old, however, is happily drinking milk – you know, the kind that comes out of me. Apologizing profusely, I pull the baby off me and put her in a bouncy chair while I go get the corn. She starts screaming. I come back with the corn but it’s too late. I have missed my son’s corn window – he has suddenly remembers that he is a terrible eater who prefers to play rather than eat during dinnertime.
I feel guilty, but not just regular guilt – we’re talking two-baby guilt.
What’s the difference between two-baby guilt and one-baby guilt, you might be wondering? Basically, it’s the difference between worrying that you are letting down two children as opposed to just one.
I long for the days when the only things I had to feel guilty about were not working, taking my baby with me to get my hair/eyebrows/nails done on occasion instead of to the library/art gallery/museum, and serving eggs for dinner a little more often than I should.
When my son was a baby, he spent his days being read to, sung to and going to baby-centered activities. My daughter, on the other hand, gets read to by default as she’s stuck listening to her brother’s books, is sung to when my son wants to sing (even when she is trying to sleep), and goes to activities aimed at two-year-olds (with the exception of a weekly mom-and-baby massage class that she generally sleeps through as she’s finally far enough away from her brother’s singing that she can get some peace and quiet). Even her bath time tends to be weirdly focused on trying to include my son and letting him “help.”
Because I don’t want my son to resent my daughter, I’ve tried to keep his life pretty much the same (well, if you don’t count the fact that I recently convinced him that a group cuddle in mommy’s bed would be a fun activity for the three of us after a particularly trying night with the baby. Or that he is occasionally stuck talking to himself in his crib long after he wakes up from his nap while I finish feeding his sister). While I understand that feelings of resentment after the birth of a sibling are generally temporary – I got over the resentment I felt after the birth of my brother within 17 or 18 years – I am also worried, selfishly, that my own relationship with my son will change. But then, of course, I feel guilty that my daughter and I might never have that same bond – the one that my son and I forged as a result of him being the single most important person in my life until just after his second birthday.
I keep telling myself that having a sibling is good for both kids, that forcing my son to sit and do a puzzle at the museum while I nurse his sister for half an hour builds patience (and puzzle-solving skills), and that even though she gets very little alone time, watching my son and listening to him talk and learn is just as enriching for my daughter as having my undivided attention all day long. But sometimes I have trouble believing it. I do know, however, that in the long run they will be happy to have each other. They will know how to share. They will have less parental pressure to procreate (provided one of them steps up within a reasonable amount of time) and they will have someone who shares their history.
The cat, on the other hand – well, she got screwed. Don’t get me wrong, I do feel very guilty for ignoring her ever since I started making human babies. The problem is that I don’t feel guilty enough to do anything about it.