Second Child Syndrome

Victoria Wood does a joke about how with your first child you get a height chart and dutifully measure them at regular intervals, but with your second you know they've grown by the position of the snot mark on your coat. My standards are such that I wouldn't even notice a snot mark on my coat, but I totally get where she's coming from.

When my son Harry was born and the midwives wanted to take him to sleep in the nursery, I sobbed until I was almost sick and lay awake worrying that he'd died and they couldn't think of how to tell me. When the midwives offered to take my second, Joe, I was asleep before they'd got him out of his cot.

I spotted every one of Harry's teeth as they came through. Joe was laughing one day and I was genuinely surprised to see how many teeth he had.

I recently told Harry about the songs I sang him as a baby. He said, "And Joe!" But no. I used to walk Harry up and down his room, cuddling him and crooning. I put Joe in his cot and go downstairs for a glass of wine.


It's not that I don't love Joe just as much as I love Harry - of course I do - it's more that I'm so much more relaxed this time and also there's just less time with two children.


Although there are some areas that demand improvement. Harry noticed recently that there are 24 photos of him in our living room and, um, one of Joe. I'm sure we've taken just as many of Joe, we just haven't got round to printing them out yet.

I know I'm not the only one who let things slide with a second child, but when I asked my friends about it, they were actually much keener to tell me how their parents treated them differently from their siblings rather than how they do the same thing with their own children!

Alex Roumbas Goldstein said, "My sister got a half-filled baby book, I got nothing." Lucy San Ingham said "My mother told me that she'd get up with me in the night to feed and change me and sing to me until I fell asleep. With my younger sister, she got up, fed and changed her then put her down to sleep. And with my youngest sister, she'd pull her out of her cot, stick her on to feed and then wake up in the morning with the baby still there."

(Lucy's highlighted one of my worries about perhaps having another baby - if my attention levels dropped off so much between one and two, I dread to think how much worse it could be between two and three.)

Sarah Hague, mum to two boys, admitted, "With the first baby I sterilised the bottles, second baby I just shoved them straight away into the dish washer."

I was the same. With Harry I thought an unsterilised bottle would kill him and was paranoid to the point of almost making myself ill (I distinctly remember sitting on the kitchen floor crying after dropping a sterilised teat). By the time I had Joe I felt like it probably just wasn't that big of a deal (particularly when my midwife told me that any germs on the bottle "might just give him a bit of a runny tummy").

Rebecca Emin highlights a positive aspect of being more relaxed with a younger child: "With my first we watched her every tiny move and she was the centre of attention. When my son came along my daughter was 22 months and at the point where she was into everything so he did a lot of sitting around fiddling with soft toys while we kept her entertained. You can guess which of them is totally chilled out now and happy with his own company."

When we decided to have a second child, I worried terribly that he wouldn't get the same amount of attention Harry always had. And that turned out to be true, but I think this divided focus has actually worked out quite well for both of them - I'm not sure it was really healthy to be as fixated on Harry as we were.


We recently found a video tape we'd made of him just lying there. For 20 minutes. And then we'd filmed another 20 after he'd turned his head to look in the other direction.


(We do have videos of Joe just lying there, but they're more likely to be for two minutes rather than 20.)

While I can beat myself up about lots of parenting issues, I can't bring myself to feel too guilty about how differently my two sons have been treated. As much as people (and by "people", read "my mother-in-law") like to say they treat their children exactly the same, it's actually completely impossible.

You can give them the same things and experiences (although you probably don't), but simply by virtue of having an older brother, Joe's experience is completely different to Harry's. And that's okay.

As long as they both know they're loved - and I've no doubt that they do - that's fine with me. But I'll also be printing out 23 photos of Joe for our living room walls. Honest.

Do you look back at how anxious and attentive you were with your first baby, and realise how much you've all changed?