If looking after one child, maintaining a house and working from home can be described as a juggle, then the arrival of my second child has turned it into a struggle!
Through interacting with other mothers, I am realising that my struggles are not unique. While there may not be an ideal solution to strike a perfect balance, I am tapping on their experiences to help me manage better.
Before my daughter was born, I had anticipated that caring for my newborn would take time away from my son. As he had been an only child for the past five years, I was concerned that he should not feel replaced by his sister.
In order to assure him that he had not been forgotten, I made him a badge which read “Dad and Mum’s special boy”, and presented it to him on his first visit to the hospital after my delivery.
I explained to my son that I needed uninterrupted time alone with Mei Mei (little sister) to settle her feeds and sleeping routine, and assured him that I would have time for him once she napped.
Unfortunately, Mei Mei’s sleeping and feeding patterns were erratic and unpredictable. She could nurse for up to an hour and take several hours to settle for a nap. This resulted in me disappearing to the room with Mei Mei and leaving Kor Kor to wait indefinitely outside for me to spend time with him.
I would fall asleep just waiting for my baby to nap. When I finally emerged from the room, I would be filled with guilt for having short-changed my son of his time with me. It broke my heart to find him often alone in his room, playing quietly and wearing his badge to remind himself that he was still special to me.
It was painful to concede that I was unable to give my boy the attention that he needed. I reluctantly accepted my in-laws’ help in entertaining him when I was busy. However, I couldn’t help feeling replaced when my son excitedly looked forward to crafting and playing with his grandparents every afternoon, just as he had done with me before Mei Mei’s arrival.
Mrs Y Lim, a working mum who entrusts her children, aged six and two, to the care of their grandparents, suggested that I change my perspective. “Rather than to feel jealous that the grandparents have more time with my children, I see it as a blessing that they have more people to love and care for them”, the healthcare worker said.
Because of my children’s age gap and differing needs, I have often felt as though I was meeting the needs of one at the expense of the other. Some mummy friends shared tips with me on how they worked towards a win-win situation.
One mother-of-two chose to stay at home most of the time in order to maintain her baby’s strict routine. Since she was unable to bring her two-year-old son out to attend playgroups, she invited friends over for play dates to give him opportunities to interact with children his age.
Another mum set up a small table next to the nursing area so that she could read or draw with her then four-year-old son while nursing her baby.
I have also found ways of involving Mei Mei in Kor Kor’s playtime by allowing each child to play with a similar set of toys in an age-appropriate way. For instance, I used pretend play to teach my then six-year-old son how to buy food from the canteen when he entered Primary One.
I gave Mei Mei a selection of soft toys to bring to Kor Kor’s “café” and order food. Kor Kor would then prepare the food, state the price and count the change after I had “paid” him. While my son busied himself inventing new dishes and counting “money”, my daughter was content to hug a soft toy and play with the toy food.
Spend Individual Time
While I was able to spend one-on-one time teaching my infant son, my daughter did not have such luxury. Since my day now revolved around Kor Kor’s school routine, Mei Mei was often just “dragged along”, and I felt that I had neglected her intellectual development.
Ms L Lee, a mother-of-two teenagers aged 16 and 14, shared a similar struggle when her children were young. Although the homemaker could not spend much structured learning time with her younger child, she made a conscious effort to keep up a conversation with him as she went through her daily routine. As a result, she was able to teach him “on-the-go”.
Looking back, she reflected, “These little pockets of time can be very useful. Keep talking to them, keep doing things with them, no matter how busy you are.”
Time with your kids, especially before they become teens, is to be guarded with loads of care. A short one-on-one time on a daily basis means a lot to them. Read to them, talk to them, play with them, work with them. Give them fond memories of their growing-up years with you.
Since I do not have a domestic helper, my son baby-sits his sister when I am cooking or doing housework. I have often felt bad leaving both kids alone, and wished that I could speed up and spend more time with them.
I was comforted when I came across some “SAHM (Stay-at-home-mum) Survival Tips” by Jus, a home-schooling mother of three pre-schoolers. She shared tips on how to cut down time spent in the kitchen. Best of all, I realised that it was okay to let the children entertain themselves, for it is during these unstructured playtimes that the children can exercise their creativity and imagination.
Let Housework Wait
Maintaining a clean home, providing meals and caring for two children single-handedly for most of the day can be demanding and stressful. Ms Lee suggested doing housework when the kids are asleep or cooking one-pot meals in order to free up more time for them.
She encouraged, “Housework can wait, the kids cannot. Put time aside for them when you have the opportunity to do so. Before you know it, they are out and have little time for you. As long as there is food for their tummies and the kids are healthy and happy, a not-so-clean house is fine. The kids can’t quite tell if the house is clean, but they can feel it when mummy is not too happy.”
We are not super mums and I don’t think our kids expect us to be one. We wouldn’t want our kids to remember mummy as a grouchy, unhappy monster who screamed and growled at them all the time. Make it a point to find time for them.