Sometimes, I look back on life 21 months ago and cannot believe how far we have come. I love the newborn stage. There is so much sweetness, so many cuddles, and it is a precious, albeit sleep deprived, time of life that is fleeting that is gone in a blink.
I exclusively breastfed both of our children until they were a year old. Once I returned to work we started incorporating bottles of pumped milk, but on both of my maternity leaves, I was essentially the sole caretaker of the baby, because, let’s be honest, newborns eat, sleep, and get their diapers changed. I always laugh when I see those memes where the new mother is staring at her peacefully sleeping husband with rage in her eyes while she is up feeding the baby for the fourth time that night. I was there. Those middle of the night moments can be so sweet, but man are they exhausting, and when you breastfeed, you can’t ask for help, even if you want to. Even if my husband took a turn and did a bottle feeding, I would have to wake up and pump anyway. I am getting tired just thinking about it.
We live in our hometown. Both sets of our parents are within five minutes of us. And they are both incredibly helpful and willing to step up with our kids whenever we need them. When I had our first baby, any time we had the offer of a babysitter, that meant some me time. I could go for a run, or get some errands in, or just enjoy a little bit of peace and quiet.
Things were very different when we had our second baby. To say he was a difficult baby would be an understatement. He cried constantly. He hated to be cuddled, but he also hated to be set down. We lived in a constant state of walking around with him in our arms, facing outwards, and bouncing. The second I tried to sit down on the couch, he would scream. I am being real here, the first five months of life with two were h.a.r.d.
I was so grateful for all of the help I received. But here is the thing. When I was offered help, the majority of the time, it was this:
“Let me take Jackson outside to play”
“Here, let me put Jackson down for a nap”
“Oh, we will watch Jackson if you want to run errands with just the baby!”
Now, this isn’t word for word how it went down every single time, but it is pretty close to how it felt. I remember so often sitting inside with a screaming, fussy baby, while I watched my family play outside with my fun, precious 21 month old. I so often felt that everyone assumed that when I needed a break, it would be most helpful to take my toddler off of my hands. My silly, fun loving toddler who was easy and fun to read bedtime stories to, who loved to play in the sunshine and was learning new games and who I already felt so much guilt towards because my time was so focused on his little brother.
I don’t say this to knock my family, because again, they are amazing. But more than once I felt as though when people offered to help, they took the easy option. Maybe that isn’t even the right way to say it. They took the option that on the surface made the most sense. I get it. I would choose to take the silly two year old over the colicky two month old, too. Because a newborn needs their mama much more than the older sibling, right? But that wasn’t what I needed. I loved my baby, but there were so many times where that was the break that I needed most.
I will never remember the one day of my maternity leave where my mom told me to take my oldest out on a little lunch date, and she kept the baby. I took my sweet boy to a local ice cream place, and we had hot dogs and potato chips while sitting outside at a picnic table. After we ate our food, he had his very first ice cream cone, and it was one of those sweet memories that I know I am going to remember forever. Sure, I had almost two years of time where my attention was solely dedicated to my big boy, but finding that one on one time with each of my children became so much more desperately important during those hard months where I felt so helpless sometimes.
So family and friends, if you are able to help out, take the baby. Trust me, if a mama doesn’t want to share her baby, I promise she will find an excuse to not hand them over. But don’t assume she doesn’t want (or need) some time and space. Offer to babysit the child that is a bit scarier, a bit more fragile, so mom can enjoy those fun moments with her older, easier child. Mothers of young children appreciate every ounce of help that they can get, but take a moment and think of what that mama truly needs the most. If she has been up all night feeding the baby, chances are some quality time with that oldest child is exactly what she is looking for.