Monday, November 1, 2010

Subsequent Children

I am a truly guilt-ridden person.  I feel guilt about almost every aspect of my life.  When I was a child stepping on an ant used to cause physical pain.  (What had I done to his parents?  I just crushed all the hopes and dreams from this little innocent creature.  Now he will never get into Harvard.) 

Now that I'm a parent, my need for self-flagellation comes mostly from my children.  Am I feeding them properly, or are they too chunky?  Am I giving them enough one-on-one attention, or too much?  Are they involved in the right extracurricular activities, or are they over-stimulated?

Most of the guilt, however, is saved for the second, and less demanding child.  From the moment of conception the second child is an afterthought as we are unable to attend to even their prenatal needs with a toddler in tow.  No more frequent rests, naps, pregnancy yoga, or a diet enriched with calcium, iron, and folic acid.   Second-time mommies are lucky to lie down for 15 minutes while the first born fights his nap with blood-curdling screams, let alone find an hour-and-a-half to join other round-bellied mamas in shavasana.  And, as for the pregnancy diet, unless Annie's Macaroni and Cheese and peanut butter & jelly complete the food pyramid, these fetuses are out of luck. 

With my first pregnancy I followed prenatal yoga like gospel.  Three times a week other expectant moms and I would gather to caress our bloated stomachs eager for the little demons to mark their arrival. The second time around I did go to prenatal yoga.  Exactly twice.  The first time I remember feeling very ashamed as we went around the room and introduced ourselves and said how far along we were.  I had no idea how many weeks pregnant, and could barely muster "I'm somewhere in my second trimester?" as if the other yogis could affirm this for me.  My second attempt had me leaving in tears, upset that all the other mommies-to-be carried so much joy and excitement with them while all I had was pregnancy insomnia and gas.

Once they are born the second children usually get a bit more attention than in utero, but this is purely out of luck.   When Maisy, my second, was born I was struck by how utterly amazing it was to have this little tiny creature in my arms- one that I never had to talk to, or talked back to me!  On the other hand, Elana, at two, required constant attention and constant reprimand.  For those first few months of Maisy's life I cherished the one-on-one time I had with her, when I could lie on the couch and watch The Real Housewives of New York City with Maisy hanging out in my arms.  Occasionally she would make a noise, but I could easily shush her back to sleep or turn up the volume on the TV so that I could hear what drama Jill and Bethany were stirring.

While I was treasuring Maisy's undemanding infanthood, I think that I forgot to interact with her.  Possibly the most words that she heard at this age were during the times I was speaking to Elana, and by "speaking" I mean yelling.  Now, as a toddler, Maisy plays well by herself, has shown very few signs of separation anxiety, and is, in general, a pretty independent, happy kid.
Visiting our new niece in the hospital.  That's Maisy, in the car seat, in the corner.
Of course I feel great guilt about this inattention, but should I?  Maisy is obviously flourishing and it is not a stretch of the imagination to say that she is the more "stable" child.  Now, I know that I am not supposed to label my children, but I do often refer to Maisy as "the child we bring out for company".

Researchers have found that, in general, first born children are more intelligent than their siblings, scoring around 3 points higher on IQ tests (second children also tend to score higher than third).  The first-borns also are higher achieving, more goal-oriented, and persistent (43% of CEO's are first-borns).  I attribute this to the patience I practiced with my first, spending hours helping her discover peg puzzles and what paint tastes like.  With Maisy I feel satisfied if I spend 5 minutes alone with her in the morning before jumping up to make breakfast and drag her lazy sister out of bed.

Second children are more likely to be impulsive, have a better-developed sense of humor, try harder to please, and try harder to provoke others.  Maybe this is why Maisy has developed a great talent for taunting Elana and friends.  At 18 months, Maisy practically places her finger an inch from Elana's face and teases "I'm not touching you!  I'm not touching you!"

So, what are all the ways that we as parents create this birth-order discrepancy?  I polled my friends for examples.

Maegan said that when her first child was about to be born, she lovingly and carefully set up an adorable nursery ready to welcome the baby on her first day back from the hospital.  However, when the second came along, he slept in a pack-n-play in the hallway for a good six months before he was able to call a room his own.

Elizabeth lamented over the love and attention she poured on her first born boy.  The next two strapping lads are not even called by the right names most of the time.

Based on my experience, and those of my friends, I put together a table of some of the services we provided for Baby #1 that we never considered for the subsequent children.

Baby #1
All Subsequent Children
First Bath
Fluff and warm a hooded baby towel in the dryer right before bath time.
All the towels are dirty so dry the baby off with an old t-shirt.
First Solids
Prep, steam, and puree homemade organic baby food.
Capturing Memories
The camera is ready for every first- first smile, first rollover, and first step.
In thirty years we will try to pass off some of their older sister’s baby photos as their own.
Commercialized Merchandise
This baby is sheltered from all things Elmo.
These children can’t sayMommy” yet, but they got Barbie, Ariel, Elmo, and Buzz Lightyear down pat.
Television Time
No TV until the child can learn how to sing the alphabet in English and Spanish.
Know how to use the remote control by 14 months.
All new clothing, and it is ALL new, is laundered in a dye-free, hypoallergenic baby detergent before warn by baby.
Anything that is dry and not tearing at the seams is perfectly acceptable.
Yes, when #1 isn’t around.


  1. First Child had a collection of 12 stuffed animals before she was born and now is up to somewhere over 50. Second Child has a total of 4 stuffed friends of her own at almost one year old, most of which are usually confiscated from her by First Child.

    First child had a close-to-sugar-free diet, such that her first ice cream at 9 months and the candy bar she accidentally got at Halloween were memorable occurrences. Second Child got dessert as soon as she started solids, and knows that if she looks around she'll find Halloween candy on the floor, dropped by First Child.


  2. this is awesome, and i can totally relate!

  3. 1st baby: I looked forward to her arrival, sang to her, played classical music, good nutrition, etc. 2nd baby: kept saying who cares, I already have a perfectly good one at home. 3rd baby, who is currently a 35 week fetus: I tried to convince people to deliver her 3 weeks ago - the other two have perfectly good brains, why does this one need one?

  4. HA! This is so funny! Lucky for us we had 2 at once, or surely our 2nd would have suffered even more than Maisy.