First-time parents obsess over everything, from which brand of bottles to use to the intricacies of their child’s bowel movements. As a new parent, the vast web of child-related details and choices can feel insurmountable, and whatever mental energy is left in the tank tends to be sucked up into obsessing over the minutiae.
The good news is that if you survive your first child and choose to have another, the mental game gets a lot easier. Possibly due to sheer exhaustion, second time parents are far less likely to sterilize the contents of their baby’s nursery in the middle of the night or come up with a nap schedule so rigid it makes the German train system look lackadaisical.
Here are six things you obsess over far less with subsequent children:
1. Where and how your kid sleeps
New parents obsess about sleep a lot more than is healthy or sane. It’s why there are hundreds of books about newborn sleep and why people spend large amounts of money on magic sleepsuits, sound machines, swings, and something called a SNOO. First-time parents make plans and spreadsheets when it comes to their child’s sleep. They rush home from wherever they are, even if it is mid-toast at the wedding of a family member, to get their kid to sleep in their crib. They do elaborate bedtime rituals that may or may not involve voodoo and the burning of sage.
But, by the time the second child rolls around, parents simply no longer have the energy or motivation left to care so deeply about anything, much less someone else’s sleep. Car and stroller naps are not only okay but encouraged. Second-time parents might sleep train, but they don’t plan it out for weeks in advance like they are preparing to invade Normandy. Basically, at this point everyone is sleep deprived, has been sleep deprived for years, and understands that this is the new way of life, at least until the kids go to college.
Baths are a big deal with first babies. Bathing a squirmy red newborn feels both daunting and hugely adult, and thus baths are treated with quiet reverence, like a trip to the Vatican. The heat is turned up in advance. Special soaps and lotions and oils are brought out. Plush little baby bathrobes are readied. Relaxing music is played. Soothing candles are lit. And the bath is always followed by a loving, quiet massage with the sweetest smelling baby lotion money can buy.
Second kids get bathed when and if the parents remember, which in all likelihood may only be every two weeks. It will usually be a hasty dunking in the kitchen sink while the older sibling is eating dinner, followed by a quick dry off with whatever bath or beach towel is closest.
3. Cute outfits
First children wear a lot of cute clothes. There’s an entire niche market of newborn clothing aimed at first-time parents. It’s the section of the store with separates, including tiny little baby jeans and tiny baby button downs, to be paired with the tiny baby shoes and tiny baby cardigans. And parents will give it a real go with kid #1, wrestle their flailing little limbs into the five-piece outfit, a half hours’ worth of work for the one hour he or she will inevitably wear it before having a massive blow-out.
The second child wears footie pajamas for the first 4-6 months of life, all day, every day. Basically, with your second kid, if it doesn’t have a giant zipper, it’s only to be brought out for special occasions.
4. Exposing the baby to germs
First-time parents are horrified at the thought of exposing their babies to germs, which is why they typically buy a giant vat of hand sanitizer and pointedly stare at it whenever someone comes over to their house. They also keep their infant locked up inside for up to several months, full on Howard Hughes style. If first-time parents do venture outdoors with their baby, they may as well dress the kid in a full-blown hazmat suit, because every inch of the environment they encounter will be scrubbed with sanitizer wipes and any stranger that dares to cough in the general direction of their kid will get a vicious stare down.
With the second child, parents soon realize there is little point in fighting it because the older sibling will wait about five minutes after the baby comes home from the hospital before shoving their fingers the newborn’s mouth. Second-time parents are also so desperate for adult company that they will literally toss their baby, football style, at whoever walks in the door, no questions asked, no hand sanitizer needed.
5. Hiring a babysitter
When first-time parents hire a babysitter, it is somewhat similar to the process of a CIA recruitment. There are background checks, intensive interviews, multiple reference checks, get-to-know-you meetings, and supervised play sessions. When these parents finally do leave their child with a sitter, there will be near constant phone and text check-ins and possibly a drive-by with binoculars, or at the very least a nanny cam.
With your second child, if someone has a pulse and looks objectionably non-serial killer-esque, he or she will be hired on the spot, holding your kids in polite bemusement while you run screaming with joy into the night.
6. Buying baby gear
First-time parents spend hours researching the pros and cons of strollers and swings, car seats, and play mats. They will read hundreds of reviews, check the products out in person, and generally put as much time and energy into these purchases as if they were buying a house. They also will, with few exceptions, buy new and stock their house with shiny, fancy, developmentally-appropriate, pediatrician- and physical therapist-approved (no exersaucers, walkers, or jumpers thank you very much) baby gear.
With the second kid, you take literally whatever anyone has to offer for free, be that a double stroller, baby monitor, or a case of formula. And if you can’t get it for free, you buy it either used or at Ikea because reason has kicked in and you no longer feel the need to own a $1,000 crib that is going to have poop smeared onto it like finger paint. As for the exersaucers, walkers, and jumpers, if they keep your baby happy for longer than five minutes, you want one of each.