My Ten Best Tips for Surviving Two Under Two
Okay, so I may be a bit of an overachiever. Maybe downright cocky, too. I mean, two kids in two years? What was I thinking?
In all seriousness, I regret nothing. I love our two girls so much and know that the age gap between them is just right for our family. But after we got pregnant when our eldest Tessa was just ten months old, I maybe should’ve done a little more preparing for what life was going to be like with a one-and-a-half year old and a newborn… But then again, is there even really a way to prepare for that?
Now that our youngest, James, just celebrated her first birthday and Tessa is in the middle of her second year, it feels like we’ve gotten into a pretty great groove and it’s given me time to reflect on what that season of having two under two was really like and how on earth we survived it. After some consideration, I’ve boiled down my best wisdom on surviving two under two to my ten best tips.
If you are a mama of multiple little ones, my hope is that these things encourage you and perhaps even help you come up for air.
Without further adieu, here are…
My Ten Best Tips for Surviving Two Under Two
1. Don’t rush the milestones.
After James was born, I honestly can’t count the number of times I was asked if I was either going to start potty training Tessa or transitioning her out of her crib. My answer to both questions: “Why on earth would I do that?” If I maybe had TWO of me, then sure, I could feasibly see myself teaching my toddler how to wipe her butt while also being stuck on the couch with a hungry, breastfeeding baby. I could maybe even have imagined wrangling one back into their bed while rocking the other to sleep. But no. There’s only one of me, and if I’m going to do my job of keeping two kids alive day after day, you can bet I’m not about to make things harder on myself by introducing two more nightmares!
My tactful response to comments or questions about helping Tessa reach her next milestones was usually along the lines of, “I’m going to wait until I get my bearings here,” which was simply code for, "I don’t know and I can’t think about that right now because at the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter.” I trusted that whether potty training happens at two years old or close to three, my kid will be alright. And I knew that regardless of what all of her (and MY) peers were doing — yeah, I see you, Nancy, with your one-year-old already sleeping through the night in their toddler bed - I needed to do what would make me feel the least stressed and overwhelmed.
In all stages of parenthood, I think it’s safe to say that most milestones don’t need to be rushed. Everything will happen in due time when both you AND your child are ready.
By the way, we’ve just started potty-training Tessa this past month and I just go to say… I definitely made the right call.
2. Lower your expectations.
Ladies, ladies, ladies… please repeat after me: I do not have to do it all.
This was definitely one of my go-to mantras back during that season, and it’s even still a prominent one now.
I do not have to do it all.
That means I do not have to do all of the cooking and cleaning if it’s too much for me. I do not have to do ANY of the cooking and cleaning if it’s too much for me. I’ll never forget just how useless I was in the kitchen when Tessa was first born. In the first six months of her life, I can count the number of times I cooked dinner for the family on one hand. Why? Because I knew that if I was going to keep myself from drowning, I had to delegate the things that were most overwhelming me, and cooking was just one of them. You can bet that we relied heavily on freezer meals in those days and that my husband came out of that season as a master chef.
Whether I need to ask my husband or some helpful family members to carry more of my usual load or if I just need to let certain tasks and responsibilities go entirely (i.e. mopping the floors. Can we just agree that nobody has time for that?), I have every right to do what it takes to preserve my energy for what matters most, including loving on my little ones.
Sometimes in order to reach that point of wise prioritization, however, we first need to lower our expectations of ourselves. Because even if nobody is commenting on your dirty floors or lack of homemade meals, maybe there’s still that inner critic who just loves to try to convince you that you are Superwoman and can do ALL the things… and also that you’re worthless if you can’t.
When I was in that season of having two kids under the age of two, I had to have a good, hard look at all that I was trying to accomplish and I had to lower my expectations in so many areas. Rules on screen time quickly went out the window. Carefully prepared lunches were swapped for frozen Uncrustable PB&J sandwiches (hello, nostalgia!). Washing my hair every two days changed to washing my hair once a week (definitely not recommended for everyone). We were lucky if the toilets got cleaned twice a month.
Didn’t I wish I could’ve done better in these things? Wouldn’t I have rather been that amazing mom who’s playing on the floor and cutting sandwiches into stars? Wouldn’t I have rather had a sparkling clean house to live in, or at least a clean floor that isn’r covered with fifty billion toys I have to step over? Of course. But because I was willing to lower my expectations and let some things go, I was able to preserve my sanity. And I’m sure my kids — and my husband — much preferred a sane mom over pretty lunches and a tidy home, and so did I.
3. Get yourself a baby carrier and/or a double stroller.
You’re gonna need it when you’ve got your hands full plus a toddler to chase after, trust me.
Whether you’re into the wraps, slings, or full-on baby carriers, be sure you get yourself one.
And although I had a few friends in the same season who assured me they would do just fine without a double stroller (while I’m silently laughing in my head), I don’t recommend that you spare yourself the luxury just to save some money. Buy secondhand if you have to because I’m telling you, it’s worth the investment.
As far as practical items a person needs when they have two kids under two, either a baby carrier or a double stroller (or preferably BOTH) are my top recommendations.
4. Fight to make time for what makes you… YOU.
If you thought it was easy to lose yourself when you only had one kid, just wait until you have two. Between the feedings, the diaper changing, the shushing, entertaining, and whining, it’s not surprising that most of the day — if not ALL of the day — is spent showing up for your family, which begs the question, when is there time to show up for YOU?
When do you get to invest in yourself? When do you find the time to use your gifts or enjoy the hobbies that make you… you? How do you make sure you still get opportunities to come alive?
I’ll tell you the truth: you DON’T find the time. It just doesn’t happen. You have to MAKE it happen. And then you have to fight to make it keep happening.
You want to know how to protect yourself from bitterness and resentment towards motherhood? You want to know how to stay motivated enough to get out of bed each morning and give your all to these little people who demand so much from you? It starts with fighting for yourself. Because if you don’t, that woman will slip away and one day you’ll wake up to find you don’t even know who you are anymore. Maybe you already feel as though you’ve lost yourself.
Whether you have to use every bit of nap time to write to your soul’s content or hand off the kids to someone so you can go to your favorite yoga class, make it a priority to keep yourself in the equation. You don’t have to disappear just because your kids’ needs are so apparent and loud. YOU — and the uniqueness you bring to this family and world — matter, and you will be a far better mom when you are intentional in cultivating the things that most bring you joy.
Newsflash: none of us are solely meant to be mothers. We are also wives, friends, creators, thinkers, innovators, doers, cheerleaders, truth-tellers.
Show up for yourself and showing up for your kids will be ten times easier. Because you’ll be pouring out love out of the overflow of a heart that’s already filled up.
5. Have new kinds of quality time.
I’ll admit that when James was born, I was worried about how much quality time I’d actually get to have with Tessa. I knew that playtime with her would probably look very different, and I was right. But what I didn’t expect was just how capable and excited Tessa would be when it came to playing by herself.
When we started introducing more “quiet time” activities, things like play-doh, sticker books, coloring books, and puzzles, I was shocked to find that these weren’t nearly as stressful or required nearly as much of my help as I thought they would. And once I saw her enjoying these things for hours on end AND saw how calm and quiet the house was because of it, it was almost like a weight came off my shoulders.
I do not have to be responsible for entertaining my kids.
And furthermore, I do not have to be stretched out on the floor or be quite so “hands-on” in order to have quality time with my kids. Because even I was holding a baby or just so dead tired and the last thing I felt like doing was playing make-believe, I was still able to be what Tessa most needed me to be just by being there and helping her grow in confidence and independence.
In that season, quality time for us looked like me showing her how to roll out the play-doh and then taking a step back and cheering her on as she experiments and creates on her own. It looked like having her color in a coloring book on the floor next to me while I tell her which colors are which and feed her little sister. Heck, quality time even looked like snuggling on the couch and having a movie marathon day when I was just beyond exhausted from being up all night nursing a newborn. All of these were perfect for her and I, but I first needed to let go of this idea of being the greatest mom ever or having the “best quality time ever” in order to actually recognize it.
With Pinterest and its plethora of ideas on DIY kids activities, as well as the pressure from society to prove yourself as the perfect mom, I think it’s easy to get into the mindset that the only kind of quality time that’s worth anything is the kind where you’re giving 100% — all of your attention, all of your participation, and all of your best, brightest ideas. But really, nine times out of ten, our kids just don’t care as much as we think they do. They don’t care that we’re not sitting on the floor having a tea-party with them. They just want us to pretend to drink out of the tea cup when they bring it over to us. They don’t care that we’re not building a giant course for their race cars. They’re just happy to race the cars along our legs while we’re lying on the couch.
It’s not always about our participation; it’s actually more about our presence. An encouraging comment or laugh. Eyes that are watching and taking in each moment. Occasional suggestions or ideas on how to make things more fun. Realizing this helped ease some of the pressure I was putting on myself so that I could focus on caring for my newest little one without guilt or stress.
Because the truth is we can be “the supervisor” or “the cheerleader on the sidelines” and still be a great mom.
6. Have new kinds of outings.
Tessa was only a year and a half old when James was first born, which meant that most outings required constant vigilance. I couldn’t just let my toddler roam free and trust that she wouldn’t run away or get hurt. So because I’m the kind of person who just NEEDS to get out of the house most days, I had to come up with more simple, stress-free ideas on outings that would work for all of us.
Playgrounds, as much as I loved taking Tessa when it was just her and I, were now out of the question. The pool, even though we were in the heat of summer, was also a no-go. What did this leave us with? Below is my full list of the best places I found to take the girls to when we just needed to get out of the house:
Bookstores: Use discretion with this one. If you know your kid will rip dozens of books off the shelf, this one may not be for you. However, there are some bookstores, like the Barnes & Noble near us, that have their children’s section somewhat enclosed and have more than just books, such as train tables, puppets, or tables and chairs for coloring.
Story-time at the library: A lot of libraries do weekly story-times where babies and toddlers can go to listen to stories, sing songs, and dance on a carpet while a dozen or so moms sit cross-legged behind them and/or perform most of the hand motions and dances for them. Hey, it’s not perfect, but it’s something.
Pet store: Because sometimes you just got to go look at cute dogs!
Playdates at a friend’s house: If you’re a stay-at-home mom and are not part of a local Moms Club or group of any sort, I highly recommend you look for one. Joining a Moms Club when Tessa was little was one of the best things I did for myself in that first year of motherhood, and it’s a lifesaver for me even to this day!
The mall: Some malls, like the one near us, have a small and enclosed playground area for little kids that’s usually injury-free (although maybe germ-free). But even if I didn’t want to make a pit stop at the playground area, I would still sometimes just take the girls for a walk around the mall in the double stroller to escape the outdoor heat.
Tiny Tots at Sparkles: Tiny Tots is an event at our local Sparkles roller skating rink that takes place one morning a month where little kids are allowed to bring a push toy (like a walker or baby doll stroller) or ride-on toy (bike, car, scooter, etc.) into the rink and basically steal every other kid’s toys for an hour or two. I don’t know how nationwide this is, but it’s something to look into for sure!
Frozen yogurt: Because when it’s a rainy day and you’re going stir crazy and need to get out of the house, letting your kid sample every flavor of frozen yogurt suddenly sounds like a great idea.
Bounce house play place: If your kid enjoys bounce houses, a play place that has inflatables, such as Monkey Joes, is a great place to take your toddler to so they can bounce out all that energy!
The moral of the story is: you don’t have to spend a ton of money (or really, ANY money) or go on the craziest, most stressful outing ever in order to provide entertainment for your toddler.
Wherever you decide to go, even if you just want to run some errands and drag the kiddos along, allow yourself to relax and go with the flow. Odds are you’ll have to soothe and/or feed a crying baby, try to bargain with a one-year-old, and fish around in your diaper bag for the snacks you most definitely forgot at home. However, with proper mental preparation, outings do not have to be stressful and can actually be a fun way to break up the day and make some new memories which you’ll probably forget about soon enough anyway (because I’m telling you now that I can’t for the life of me remember what I did most days a year ago).
7. Rest when you need it and forget everything else.
Yeah, our lawn looks pretty bad, my car is past due for an oil change, and sometimes there are projects around the house that are left undone for months. But this is because I’ve learned to value my rest and sanity over making sure everything gets done. Especially during those first six months of having two babies, I found that I much preferred to have my husband play with the kids for an hour when he got home from work so that I could nap than have him go off to cross off a bunch of to-dos. So naturally, this meant some things just went undone.
When you are so worn down by the end of the day, you’ve got to eventually ask yourself, “What am I willing to give up?”
For me, it wasn’t just house projects or yard work. It was also sometimes Netflix. Instead of using nap times to catch up on shows, I’d catch up on sleep instead. Other times it was late nights with my husband. I had to come to terms with the fact that we just weren’t in a season where I could always stay up late to finish watching a movie with him. There were even times when I’d give up my time in the Word because I knew that filling up physically would better enable me to fill up spiritually. I’m telling you, having two under two definitely taught me a thing or two about the grace of God, which actually brings me to my next point…
8. Trust that God will get you through.
Through this season, through each rough day, through all those long nights. Even through your struggles in your marriage, your postpartum depression, or that scary diagnosis.
Trust that God will get you through — because he is, and you will. Day by day, moment by moment. His grace really is all-sufficient. And I’ll tell you how I know.
In my lowest of lows, I remember feeling so hopeless. Every morning when I woke up, all I could see ahead of me were the demands of two kids who needed me. I loved them and I knew nobody else would be there so I kept putting my two feet on the ground. But there were also times when that voice in my head — the enemy, intrusive thoughts, postpartum depression, or whatever you want to call it — would start to convince me that it’s all just too much and maybe, just maybe, I’m not strong enough for the job. Maybe I ought to pull the covers up over my head and see what happens if I leave two babies to fend for themselves. Maybe I ought to pack my bags and run away one of these days and just not come back. Maybe I ought to leave this world instead of keep fighting to hold on.
I can’t say with certainty when things got better. I think it was just little by little, with each milestone or passing month, until finally, to my surprise, I was out of the woods. What I do know, however, is that things got better every time I ran to God. Every time I cried out to the Lord for strength when I had no strength, every time I begged for mercy when I felt so low. Things got better with every baby step I took, with every minute I spent proving to myself that I could get through this day, and then the next and the next. And let me tell you, my friend, this IS enough. Because even when we are weak, especially when we are weak, we are not alone and the Lord is fighting for us.
Now that I’m on the other side of it all and motherhood is like a breath of fresh air again (most days, at least), I can see now just how beautiful of a season this whole “two under two” thing really was. Because in that season I was refined in ways I didn’t know I needed to be refined. I was given a new understanding of strength and endurance. And I was brought to my knees so that I could grow even more dependent on God.
If you are wondering how on earth you’re going to make it through these days, please believe me when I say that your Abba Father is present and he is listening and he is inviting you to see that HE really is enough.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29
9. Get real.
We’re all tired of facades these days. Nobody expects you to keep up appearances and always have a perfect smile. If you’re frustrated because your three-month-old is cluster feeding and your one year old is throwing tantrums or if you’re at your wit’s end because you were up all night with both babies, it’s okay to be real about it. In fact, it’s necessary to be real about it. Bottling things up inside or pretending you’re okay when you’re not has never done any good for anybody.
When Tessa was born, I struggled badly with postpartum rage, but I was too embarrassed to tell people about it. I’d laugh about how irritating babies are with my friends, but never admit that my irritation went so far as to make me fear for my kid’s safety. Nobody knew I was screaming in my newborn’s face at the top of my lungs day after day or that I was physically lashing out at my husband over the littlest things. Over time, my postpartum rage did mostly subside, but when it made its ugly reappearance after James was born, I knew I couldn’t hide it this time. I needed to be honest, even if just to give me some reassurance that I wasn’t a terrible person. So I was, and this time I actually did get help.
Serious and sometimes even scary things, like postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, are so tempting to hide and keep quiet, but if we would only be willing to reach out to trusted friends, family members, or professional counselors, we would quickly find that there IS hope for things to get better. We also find that we don’t have to carry these burdens alone.
When we took James to the doctor out of concern and discovered she had been seriously underweight for MONTHS, I was devastated. I had no idea my milk supply was so low. I felt like I had failed her. Supplementing with formula was so far off my radar that I remember spending an hour trying to pick out bottles and supplies and formula and just feeling absolutely lost. But in that very same day, I called up a good friend and shared every one of my fears and sorrows, and to say that that conversation encouraged me would be a huge understatement. I wasn’t just encouraged; I was affirmed and supported and lifted up during what was a really sad, confusing time for me. She offered to help me learn how to breast-pump. The next day she gave me samples of formula and food to help boost my supply. In fact, every time I shared with a friend what was going on and how discouraging it was for me, I was supported and reminded of just how good it feels to be seen and heard and known. Through something that made me feel so crummy, I actually came out on the other side feeling so very loved.
Here’s the thing. I could’ve minimized it by just casually bringing it up at one of my weekly playdates. I could’ve chosen to not say anything about it at all. But because I chose to be real with the people around me, I was supported in the way I most needed. And I like to think that my realness about this, as well as about all the other hard parts and raw emotions that arise in motherhood, has helped other moms and friends feel comfortable enough to be real with me, too. We need to have those people who we can share the most vulnerable parts of our soul with, even the parts that are scared to admit out loud to ourselves. I believe this is one of the most beautiful and important parts of God’s design for community — but we only get to reap the benefits of it if we choose to be a part of it and that means being willing to be real.
10. Get help.
Sometimes we even need to be real about how much we need help.
I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to ask for much help from people, especially over something that I feel like I should be able to do myself. But I’ll never forget that when my husband got a new work schedule that meant there’d be one evening where I’d be doing dinner, bathtime, and bedtime with both girls alone, I was so overwhelmed and nervous that I finally got up the courage to ask my grandparents for help. For six months, they showed up every Tuesday to watch the kids while I prepare dinner and help with getting them ready for bed. It was a hard commitment for them at times, and I knew it. There were even days I beat myself up for not being stronger and more willing to handle things on my own. But for as long as they were willing to show up, I was happy to have them. Because there is no rule in the book that says you have to do all the things by yourself and that you don’t have the right to ask for help.
Asking for help might look like going to see a counselor (been there, did that). It might look like asking your parents to help you afford a counselor (did that, too). Asking for help might mean taking that friend up on their offer for babysitting or delegating more responsibilities around the house to your husband. It might look like getting on medication. It might even look like asking someone to take you in last-minute for dinner because your husband’s out of town and you can’t even fathom turning on the stove.
Whatever the case, I want you to know there is grace for you and that there is absolutely NO shame in asking for the help you need. Your need, or even just your DESIRE, for help doesn’t make you a failure and it doesn’t make you any less of a mom.
This season of having two under two, or really this season of mothering littles in general, may be one of the hardest seasons you’ve ever had to walk through. I know it was for me. But I also believe it can be the stepping stone for some of the most joyful seasons, too. Now that my girls are older, I am loving being a mom again. I can breathe. I can dream. Heck, I even want more! It’s so wild how something so challenging, sometimes even crippling, can be used to grow and shape us into the women we were always meant to be. And even though having two babies back-to-back may be borderline insane, I love that it also creates the families we were always meant to have.