Both my husband and I are a second kids and when we found out we were having Elsie (our second) we immediately started to joke about the ‘hashtag second child’ syndrome. We’d use this in moments where it was blindingly obvious that the eldest was getting favoured or prioritised over our poor, deprived, second child. Even in the womb.
As middle children we were both aware of being victims of the dreaded ‘middle child syndrome’ and determined our second would not fall victim to this terrible fate (I jest a bit). And, alas, two years on, I’m sorry to say she has. ‘Parent fail’ or just ‘real parenting’? Today, as I scrubbed the felt pen off Levi’s bedroom bin which he had ‘decorated’ (he has been doing a lot of that lately, including my bathroom walls which were labelled ‘boring grey’) I pondered this. Elsie was enjoying her bath, but without any play from me. See; I had a plan to get all my jobs done while she bathed; clean around the bathroom, fix Levi’s bin, find his favourite toothbrush, fold some laundry. All before I got Elsie out.
The thing is that she was really very happy, but a guilt hung over me like a big grey rain cloud. It hangs over me often. When I look at her sparse baby book (yes, both the NHS one AND the beautiful bound one we were bought as a gift).
Second children just do not get the same attention from you that a first does. Fact. You can’t sugar coat it. For lots of reasons. Among others, I am not the same mother I was when our first was born, and this is not entirely a bad thing. It’s such a cliche, and it does irritate me to hear it sometimes; “you’re more relaxed with your second” strangers often say. Yes, through necessity (we actually wouldn’t survive if I was doing what I did first time around). But also through choice. So I’ve decided that it’s OK for her to learn to have time on her own while I multitask. These things will make her into a more rounded person. It’s OK for me to clean my bathroom at bath time. These will help me not to loose my mind. And it goes on.
Tonight as eldest demanded more time from me, saying he only wanted to read the Secret garden with me (not with his little sister too) because it was ‘our story’, I thought, this is OK. They are uniquely made. Their needs are different. Our bond is different. Not less, just different. I am a different person to who I was 4 years ago. Parenting changes you. His needs are so different, whether it’s nature or nurture we’ll never know, and that’s OK. Parenting is not about getting it right for us anymore. It’s more a constant re tuning of the system, little by little. One day you look back and you can’t believe how far you’ve moved in a new direction. And that has to be OK for us all because it’s how we manage.
Tonight I sat in Levi’s Sensory Tent on his bed and dutifully read him the Secret Garden, just us for that moment. Re tuning again in the hope that our ‘second child’ Elsie will know she too is loved immensely.