The Myth of Second-Time Parent Preparedness

Nope, we’re not pros—and the learning curve will continue.
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profile picture of Elizabeth Narins
Published November 3, 2022
pregnant mother sitting with toddler on couch at home
Image: Jennifer Bogle

My due date is 11 days away. I have no infant car seat, no double stroller, no childcare plan, no middle name picked out and, frankly, no idea how my husband and I are going to simultaneously keep two children alive—especially when I go back to work.

As I anticipate the birth of our second baby, I’ve realized there’s a common misconception that parents who already have a child have everything they need (hand-me-downs!) and are 100 percent ready to do it all over again (#wisdom!). I get it—it’s a myth I once believed myself. After all, as second-time expectant parents, we’ve done it before. We’ve sussed out the best swaddles and survived sleep training, tolerated teething and introduced first solids. We’ve figured out how to schlep our strollers through swinging doors, up steps and over curbs. We’re pros—except not really.

Yes, you heard it here first: The idea that second-time parents have everything under control couldn’t be further from the truth for so many reasons.

We Got It Wrong the First Time

Let the records show: We didn’t get it all right, and the learning curve continues. Despite Googling “how to bathe a newborn,” our collapsible bathtub, well, collapsed when we first tried to bathe our kid in the kitchen sink. We ordered the Mercedes of strollers days before UPPAbaby released a brand new model. We got the high chair that best matched our decor, rather than a comfortable, durable, adjustable one made for safe and supported infant feeding. We childproofed every corner of our apartment except for the inch of floor molding where our son bonked his forehead after slipping on a rug. Time after time, we missed the mark—in fact, our track record has been so lackluster that it’s a wonder we’re even allowed to have a second.

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New Parent Amnesia

While I can’t say whether this phenomenon has been documented by medical professionals, I remember surprisingly little from the early days with my first child. They were so wrought with exhaustion, uncertainty, pain, stress and—at the very same time—boundless joy that I honestly can’t remember how I managed to wrap a swaddle, avoid prematurely dislodging the umbilical cord stub or nail the number of layers a newborn needs under their sleep sack.

The same applies to labor: Sure, I’ve pushed a baby out my birth canal before, but I can’t tell you how far apart contractions should be before it’s time to head to the hospital, let alone which floor to go to. And, lately, I’m wondering whether I know the difference between a sharp kick and a labor contraction.

Grappling for Time

The first time I was pregnant, baby names, nursery decor, parenting approaches and labor logistics would slip into almost every conversation, whether I was talking to my husband, coworkers, friends or family. It’s easy to cover these topics when you’re expecting without the distraction of another little one.

This time around, my dog days of pregnancy have been consumed by potty training; playground runs; shuttling our toddler between meals, naps and nursery school and—oh yeah—work. We have had approximately zero seconds per day to ruminate on how significantly our lives are about to change, let alone brush up on the basics.

Just to put things into perspective: We’ve been so busy through this pregnancy that my husband would regularly forget that we were expecting until I’d slip into a belly-hugging workout top or swimsuit. (And, sometimes, I’d forget too.)

Scrounging Together Baby Stuff (and Space)

The first time around, friends and family gathered at a baby shower to equip my son with little socks and board books and bibs. This time, I’ve scrambled to collect clothes and shoes and crib sheets that my daughter can call her own—mostly on my own. And because we haven’t won the lottery, but, rather, incurred more costs in the past few years due to childcare, health insurance, and feeding an extra mouth who only likes string cheese every third time he asks for it, we haven’t been able to upsize our home to accommodate an extra human.

New Circumstances

While diapering my first child, I spent many months mastering the art of taking cover from his rogue streams of pee. As I anticipate the birth of my daughter, it feels as if all of this earned wisdom was for naught. I can’t remember changing the diaper of a kid with no penis, and have no idea what special care is required besides wiping from front to back. See, while I’ve been a mom for a bit, I’ve never been a girl mom; I don’t know which infant headbands stay on or leave a mark, which tights last and which hair bows hang onto baby little hairs without snagging.

To throw another wrench into my second-time parenting plans: Last time, I gave birth in the spring; this time, I’m due in the fall. So while I’ve nursed a baby on a blanket at the park, on a plane and, one time, whilst perched on a fire hydrant in a Brooklyn back alley, I’ve only breastfed on demand during warm months. I’ve never had to deal with securing a latch while wearing many layers or whipping a breast out in sub-zero temperatures. Plus, navigating sidewalks with a stroller is one thing; pushing a bulky double stroller with an itty-bitty baby and a toddler through snowy city streets will be brand spanking new.

Don’t get me wrong: There are significant perks of being a second-time parent. For instance, I already know that my body is capable of amazing things, and I’ve had the chance to come to terms with an entirely new identity as a mother—something that definitely didn’t happen overnight. I’ve both accepted and settled into a new lifestyle that revolves around someone besides me, learning to schedule outings around naps and pack snacks (and backup snacks!) before leaving the house.

At the same time? There’s novelty in new life, and no one is a pro. Even if I’ve been the parent of a newborn before, I’ve never been the parent of a 2.5-year-old and a newborn. I’ve never had to split my love and attention between two relatively helpless beings or decide whose needs to put first when both are in tears.

It’s why when people ask if we’re ready for two, the answer is: Honestly, no. My next kid could be delivered via c-section, have colic, struggle to latch or never asleep—and there’s no saying whether my current status as an “experienced” parent will remotely equip me for the unexpected. It’s why the only thing I feel ready for this time around is an entirely new adventure. I’m buckling up to feel a little lost, learn a lot and accept all the help I can get.

About the author:

Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and content strategist. She’s held staff positions at Women’s Health and Cosmopolitan, and was most recently the senior director of digital and social content at WW (formerly Weight Watchers).

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