When I was pregnant with Alfie, a fair few people asked me ‘How will you cope?!’. I wasn’t fond of being asked that question, because I had no idea how I would cope. But I knew that I would, somehow. It was a more regular occurrence that I would be met with ‘Such a small age gap! I had mine close together too and it was wonderful..’ I heard stories from people I met who had three under three, and four under four, and were standing in front of me with a smile on their face having lived to tell the tale.
Alfie turned 12 weeks old this week. And while I may be absolutely worn out, I can’t remember the last time I had a proper shower rather than the quickest wash I can (how I dream of a long hot bath..) and my living room looks like a toy jungle, I am smiling, and I have two babies who are smiling too. So far.. so good.
If this is the first post of mine you’ve read, I have two boys, Frey who is currently 21 months, and Alfie who is nearly 3 months.
So, here are my tips so far..
Hopsital is a good place for a rest
No no, nothing drastic. I’m talking about staying in hospital after I’d given birth to Alfie. I was so lucky with Alfie’s birth, it was a dream compared to Frey’s. I know every birth is different, and every circumstance is different, but my point here is if you have the chance to spend a couple of nights in hospital after your second baby is born, then take it. I remember with Frey I was desperate to get home. With Alfie I admit I was a little nervous of coming home. Whilst I missed my biggest boy a lot, I did spend a night in hospital, which helped me have an extra day of bonding with Alfie, just me and him, before I introduced the two brothers. The night Alfie was born Frey went to a friend’s house, and the second night I gave my house keys to his Dad who took him home, and then came to get me the next day. I know some single mothers of two will need to jump right in the deep end with two babies, but I was very lucky that their Dad took paternity leave and was so incredibly helpful for those first two weeks, so my ‘coping’ strategies didn’t really need to come into force until Alfie was two weeks old.
Bath and bedtime
I’m going to go straight in with one of the tricker ones. I really could not get my head around how I was going to manage Frey’s bath and bedtime when I had Alfie to look after as well, and there were some tough nights where it all went horribly wrong! I admit that poor Frey went without a bath on a few too many occasions in those early days. One night I made the mistake of putting Alfie down in my room while I put Frey to bed, and Alfie started crying. So I rushed through Frey’s bedtime and went to see to Alfie, which was a big mistake. I then had two inconsolable babies in two different rooms and I spent a whole hour rushing in between the two of them. Now, we do have a bit of a routine. I put Alfie in his bouncy chair and he comes into the bathroom while I give his big brother a bath. At bedtime, Alfie sits in Frey’s room with us in his bouncy chair and I read them both a story while I’m giving Frey his bedtime cuddles. Often, Alfie will still get upset while I’m doing this, so I can be found bouncing his chair with my foot whilst cuddling Frey until he’s dozy. I think the key for this time of day is to give your toddler the main focus of your attention. I sometimes whisper to Frey, ‘Alfie’s a bit upset, shall I go and see if he wants his dummy?’ and Frey will say ‘Yes’, meaning he’s still involved in the whole thing and I’m not abandoning him to see to his brother. Then as soon as your toddler is settled you’re free to give your baby your full attention, and I spend the rest of the evening giving Alfie cuddles, milk, bath, baby massage etc, until he settles for the night (well, for a few hours at least!)
Structure your day
I remember when Frey was very little and we could have whole days with no plans at all, a bit of playing, a nap together on the sofa, maybe a trip out to the shops. Not any more. Now, I need to have a plan for each day, for my own sanity more than anything else! There’s no way I can stay in the house all day with both babies, Frey would be climbing the walls by mid afternoon! So a more structured day could mean a lazy morning playing, followed by a trip out for a walk in the afternoon. Or a visit to a playgroup where I can take both babies. Or a trip to the park. If we have something on in the morning and the afternoon free, I try to give a bit of structure to Frey’s play time now. Recently we made some Christmas cards and pictures to send to members of the family. I’m planning on making him some play doh soon, and we have thank you cards to make for all of the lovely Christmas presents he received. The whole aim of this is to stop my toddler getting bored, and of course spend some quality time with him – then when I do need to feed or change the baby, he’s happy to let me.
Another question I was asked quite often when I was pregnant, was if I was planning on taking Frey out of nursery when the new baby arrived and I was on maternity leave again. My answer was absolutely not! Frey attends nursery for two days a week, and it’s brilliant for him. He eats well there, gets to play with his friends, plays in the garden, plays with different toys than he has at home.. its wonderful. These two days also give me quality time with my littlest baby – and time to attempt to tidy up the house! Hopefully I’ll be able to take Alfie to do the sort of things I did with Frey when he was tiny on these nursery days, such as swimming. We’ve already completed a baby massage course which was lovely for bonding, and it’s not something I would have been able to do with Alfie if I had both babies for 7 days a week.
Hire a cleaner
I always thought that having a cleaner was so extravagant. And it does feel very indulgent. If I could afford it, I’d have a regular weekly clean, but as it is I have a wonderful lady who comes over every 6 weeks or so and does a proper clean for me. It costs me £30, so I can break that down to an investment of £5 per week, and it’s worth every penny as it makes it so much easier to keep on top of things!
While it’s so tempting to say, ‘I’m fine, I can cope’, and I can, and I do, it’s also wonderful to have a bit of help. My Mum has been to stay for a couple of weekends. I think I’ve mentioned before that we went out to soft play. This is something that Frey loves but not something I feel I can do on my own with him and Alfie until Frey is a bit bigger and happy to go off and play on his own. With Mum there to look after Alfie I could run around the soft play with Frey, which was so much fun. I’m lucky that their Dad also helps me a lot, he comes to visit on his days off and has even taken Frey to stay with him for a few weekends.
This is SO important. You’re not going to get out of the house quickly. It’s going to be difficult to get anywhere on time. Bedtime might be pushed back by half an hour while you feed the baby. Your house will be a tip. You’re not going to get a chance to shower, you’re not going to get a chance to cook yourself a proper meal. There’s nothing you can do about it, and there’s no point getting cross because the babies will pick up on it and everything will get even harder. So relax, and go with the flow. The washing will still be there tomorrow, and it doesn’t really matter if you’re half an hour late for nursery. You’ll get there. So just relax.
Seriously, baby brain is real. It’s scientifically proven apparently. I have to talk to myself like a crazy lady as I walk around the house, ‘I’m going to get some nappies and a change of clothes, nappies and a change of clothes’, otherwise, I’ll without a doubt walk into the bedroom and not have a clue what I’m doing there. As for Siri, what a brilliant invention! I don’t know how I’d get anything done without him. The other day a letter arrived with an appointment for Alfie’s immunisations. I immediately asked Siri to add it to my calendar. The nursery bill arrived this month but when I went to pay it I realised that I hadn’t been paid yet so needed to wait a few more days.. I asked Siri to remind me. You can come up with your own system if you don’t have an iPhone of course, but this has been amazing for me!
Take time for yourself
Ok, this is one I’m still working on. I eat Frey’s leftovers for tea and if I get peckish later after eating half a toddler meal then I’ll have a packet of crisps. Or if I’m pushing the boat out, maybe some toast. I really wish someone would open up a drive through that serves healthy fast food, juices and all that. That would be ideal. However, I’m only three months into this, there’s still so much I need to work out, and I’m learning as I go along.
Another thing I’ve been doing, is giving myself small projects to do that don’t have anything to do with being ‘Mama’. I think I’ve mentioned this before too, that I put together a little care package to send to a friend who had just had an operation. I also baked cookies to give to my neighbours as Christmas presents. Tiny little things, but they made me feel proud of myself, as as if I had achieved something.
Talk to people
Keep in touch with friends and family. Send emails with pictures of the children. Chat to other Mums on Facebook and Twitter. This thing can be lonely, but there are so many other people out there who are in similar situations. Even in the middle of the night. Try #nightfeednatter on Twitter.
So that is how, for the past nearly three months, I have coped with being a single mum of two babies under the age of two. It is the craziest thing I have ever done. Amazingly, another thing I had said to me when I was pregnant with number two was that things would get easier when the baby arrived, as looking after a little toddler on your own when heavily pregnant is really hard work. I didn’t believe it, but it was true.