I have the pleasure of caring for my friend’s two-year-old son. He is only a few weeks older than my daughter and the pairing is excellent. Both children have very similar dispositions and for the most part, get along well together and enjoy each other’s company.
I have practiced attachment parenting since the minute my daughter was placed in my arms. Translating this into caring for another child has been a learning experience, especially because both children are still breastfed. Since both children are two, I do not have to balance the baby-wearing piece of Attachment Parenting often, but I do have to strike a balance in the way I handle discipline, separation issues, general nurturing and peaceful, loving care.
It’s not easy. Not by a long shot.
My daughter is extremely bonded to me. There has been a learning curve as to how she has to share mommy. We still struggle on some days, but I have worked very hard at making sure that my daughter knows she is loved and that I am there for her when she needs me, but that at the same time, her little buddy may also need me.
Here is what I have incorporated into our daily rhythm so that I am effectively meeting the needs of both children:
- We always have snuggle time and a story with both children curled against me right after breakfast. Neither child HAS to be involved in this, but both have come to enjoy this quiet time of stories and snuggles.
- When one child “hurts” themselves, I include the other child in the consoling and nurturing process. This tends to A) Ensure that the non-injured child doesn’t join in on the crying just for the sake of crying and B) It helps teach empathy and an awareness of needs to both children.
- When we are out and about, I alternate between wearing one child on my back and pushing the other one in the stroller. This way, no one feels “left out.” My daughter knows she rides on my back on the way to our destination and that she rides in the stroller on the way home.
- If one child (usually my daughter) needs me to hold her or cuddle her, I will do so but will continue to verbally engage the other child, and if possible, will be in very near physical proximity to the other child. (i.e. I will snuggle one child on the floor where the other might be playing).
- I make sure that I take extra time changing each child’s diaper, getting them dressed, washing hands, etc. This allows me to give that child my direct attention, even if it’s only for five minutes. I sing a little song, tell a little story, or make up a goofy rhyme that is just for that one child. It shows them that I am present and completely engaged in their welfare.
- When my daughter needs to breastfeed (usually for comfort after a power struggle has occurred), I will do so but make sure that I tell my friend’s son that he is welcome to sit next to me. I will tell him a story, or he can continue with what he is doing. I will not leave him alone so we breastfeed in front of him (which always makes me feel guilty) but so far, he has handled it well.
- My friend provides discipline in a different manner than I do, so it has been a little challenging to transition her son to the way we do things in our household. It’s not that she is doing anything wrong in her home, but I tend to avoid giving the children choices, saying no, and giving time-outs. Instead, I model the type of behavior I want them to use; I guide them in making better decisions while allowing them the freedom to explore their own capabilities; I really pay attention to the circumstances surrounding “misbehaviors”; I remain calm and gentle even if I feel like pulling my hair out; I keep developmental stages and abilities in mind; and I make it clear to both children what they MAY do versus what they may not do. I find that this last piece works very well. Saying no all of the time in one way or another does not help a child develop an understanding of what is acceptable behavior. Giving them permission to do the appropriate thing in the appropriate way builds better skills. By consistently using these approaches, my friend’s son has made a decent transition into our household. There are still little issues here and there that pop up, but I warmly deal with them.
I have thoroughly enjoyed being a substitute mama to my friend’s son. I have avoided playing favorites, picking sides, upsetting our family’s rhythm and lifestyle, and have provided both children with a healthy, caring, positive experience together. If I needed care for my daughter, I would hope someone like me was available.