There is a cute commercial that shows a mom holding her baby. A little girl asks if she can hold the woman’s baby. The mother hesitates and then pulls out a huge bottle of hand sanitizer and instructs the girl to use it liberally. The caption says, “First Kid.”
The next scene is the mom holding a baby with a toddler standing next to her waiting for the mechanic to finish working on their car. The woman hands the baby to the mechanic and says, “Here, hold this.” The caption says, “Second Kid.”
It always cracks me up because having four children quite close in age, we certainly experienced this truth in parenting. I call this “parenting evolution.”
Our first two children were 13 months apart, so in many ways it felt like two first children. Certainly, during that year before his sister was born, our oldest was raised strictly “by the book.”
I think most of us do learn on that first one. We are so overprotective and terrified of doing something wrong. I child-proofed our house before he was born.
Even when he seemed really hungry after his bottle and my mother suggested I give him a little cereal, I was mortified. Never mind that she had raised my three brothers and me. The “modern” baby books were clear that giving a baby cereal before a certain age was a big no-no.
I was definitely going to side with someone with a medical degree or Ph.D. after their names before listening to my mother.
With our second child, a girl, I still lacked that relaxed mothering confidence. It began surfacing when our third child, also a girl, was born.
I remember Thing 3 — we playfully referred to our kids this way, an ode to Dr. Suess — used to nap in her playpen right in the middle of the family room, despite her brother and sister playing, crying, screaming, laughing, or whatever other noise they might be making.
Our third baby was definitely “easy.” She was happy, a fast learner and a trooper when it came to chaos.
I remember watching her crawl around “playing” with her older sister, who would ask her, “When are you going to know how to talk and play?” So cute.
Her older sister (by two and a half years) loved to “read” to her baby sister. And that was long before she really could read.
I videotaped her saying, with her sweet little lisp at the time, “Thif is the stowy of Cindawella.”
Most parents are just more laid back by the time that third baby is born. After all, you have been in the trenches. So doing without sleep or being thrown up on (even in public) is just not that big of a deal.
Children who throw tantrums in the grocery store don’t freak you out. You just hand them candy or a cookie, something you never would have done with those first two.
Third and fourth children must have flexible napping schedules. When you have other little ones, there is no way a routine can be the same every day.
You are also more forgiving of yourself when things don’t go according to plan. Indeed, plans are more the exception than the rule.
By the time our fourth was born, I won’t say I was an expert at parenting, but I was an expert at letting things go or overlooking things. Like his older sister, our fourth was a laid-back baby who, from the beginning, just didn’t let much bother him.
Remember that old saying about the first child? If the pacifier drops on the ground you boil it; for the second child, you rinse it off; and for the third, you blow on it and hand it back?
Well, I think that is true. And by the time you get to the fourth, you are pretty much just asking another child to pick it up and hand it to the baby.
Our oldest two didn’t have soda or a Happy Meal until they were in elementary school. Our youngest was enjoying his first french fry before he could talk.
The oldest two had strict television and video schedules, which were adhered to fairly well. Computer time was limited and there was absolutely no gaming system in our home.
The younger two children learned how to operate remote controls by themselves. Our youngest, at age 2, was navigating the family computer with more ease than his mother.
I am not confessing because I’m proud of it all, just telling the reality of families with multiple children.
I have noticed that older generations always look at the one on the rise and say things like, “I’m sure glad I’m not having to raise kids in today’s environment.”
As I walked past a mother of three the other day at my favorite super store, I had to silently chuckle. She looked frazzled, of course.
Her 5- or 6-year-old son was talking incessantly about why he needed the latest game. The middle child, 3-year-old little girl wearing a tutu, was in her own little world talking to her doll.
I had to steal a glance at the baby in the stroller. He was perfectly content holding his iPad watching a cartoon.
Considering today’s social media and technology, I couldn’t help but think I’m glad I’m not raising young children right now.
Good luck to all of my friends who are parenting young ones. Just remember there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.