How Much More Work Are Two Kids Compared To One?

by Mike Holman

My wife and I recently had our second child, a beautiful baby girl. When we had our son two years ago, it was quite an adjustment to having to be on someone else’s schedule instead of just doing whatever you want, whenever you want. Although I’ve been told that having two young kids can be more than twice the work of one child, I guess I didn’t really believe them. As it turns out, it’s been a huge amount of work!

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Which is more difficult?

I had a conversation with a friend several months ago before we had the new baby and I told him that I thought going from zero kids to one kid has to be a bigger adjustment than going from one kid to two kids. My logic was that with any number of kids, you have to plan around the kids, babysit them all the time etc, whereas before the kid arrived, you had unlimited freedom (relatively speaking). Since you are already committed to being a full-time parent with one child, adding a second child shouldn’t add to the responsibility level – even if it is more actual work. My friend told me that he had a similar conversation with his wife and another couple and the two women agreed with my idea that going from zero to one kid was a bigger jump than going from one to two kids. Much to my surprise, my friend told me that he and the other Dad thought it was much harder to go from one kid to two compared to zero to one kid.

I’ve thought about this quite a bit – on the one hand I just can’t get away from my original idea that going from childless to with child has to be the biggest jump but my own experience tells me that this wasn’t the case. I think I figured out the reason and I’d like to share it with you and hope that you can agree/disagree with it.

I believe that for the mother, it’s more difficult to go from zero to one kid than from one kid to two. For the father, it is the opposite – it is harder to go from one kid to two than from zero to one.

Why is this?

Typically when a new baby arrives on the scene, the mother does most of the parenting especially if she is breast feeding. Even if Dad is really keen to help, Mom probably does 80% of the work. So for the first child, the mother has a huge change to deal with because they spend a ridiculous amount of time dealing with the baby. Dad on the other hand will spend some time with the baby but will be occupied with other tasks like food shopping, cooking, basic chores etc. Most Dads take very little time off work so they get to escape to the office during the day. In my opinion, the arrival of the first child affects the mother a lot more than the father.

Number 2 arrives

When the second child arrives – the mother will spend the majority of her time looking after the new baby. Since she has to look after the older one as well when Dad is at work, it can be pretty tough – hopefully the older one will be in daycare at least part-time. The big difference for Dad when he is at home, is that the older child will be his responsibility almost 100% of the time. So instead of just helping out with the one child occasionally, Dad really has to step it up and become a full time babysitter.

What to do about it?

In my case I took several months off after our new baby was born so I ended up being chief babysitter for our older son. As much as I like spending time with him – 12 hours a day, 7 days a week is way too much. My suggestion for anyone who just had a second child is to put the older kid in daycare or get a sitter. Even if it’s just once in a while, it will be a huge help and things can still get done around the house.


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Al

I’m afraid I can’t discuss this topic as intended since I started out with twins. I feel pretty confident that I was more involved as the secondary care giver than would have been the case with a singleton. The idea of having a third scares me. We’d be outnumbered! The boys are usually pretty well behaved during the day while I’m at work, but during the evenings they can get tired and cranky. If they both go nuclear at the same time, we each grab a wailing bundle of unbridled rage and go to different parts of the house. With 3? Maybe the cat could be trained….

2 Mr. Cheap

Al: If you have more kids, train the older ones to take care of the younger ones! 😉

3 Al

I’m sure the twins would learn how to “take care” of their younger sibling just fine on their own.

4 Canadian Capitalist

Al: How old are your little ones? Like you, we went from 0 to 2 but now that the kids are 3 years old, it is so much easier though the occasional meltdowns are still hard to handle. Still, what can you do? Life throws these curve balls at you…

5 Al

CC, my guys are 10 months. I consider it to be a great age when they’re good, and a nightmare age when they’re not. The little smiles sure make up for alot. When did your little ones start playing together? Our guys play side by side, but not really together. I figure that will be a big change when they help entertain each other. Have yours done any scheming yet?

6 Canadian Capitalist

Al: Our boys have started playing together for a few months now. It’s been really great — they sometimes spend hours running around and chasing each other. The worst part so far has been daycare… they were constantly sick initially. It’s more than a year now and they get sick less often.

7 Shevy

As a woman, I have to agree that the change from childless to parent is the big one (though I can barely remember that far back since No 1 Son is going to be 30). Having a second child is not so tough because you have all the equipment and you know how to do things like change a diaper, give a bath, deal with a sick kid, etc.

Where it gets challenging is with number 3 and above because once they outnumber your hands in public it’s crazy. Anybody you’re not either carrying, pushing in a stroller or holding hands with can run off in the opposite direction (and usually does).

I also found it challenging to become a mother again after many years. It wasn’t that I forgot how to breastfeed or dress a baby, but I was so much more tired than I remembered being 25 years previously.

But having grown up kids living at home when you have another baby is very helpful. Would you believe it took 3 of us the morning after she was born to get her into her new car seat and get all the straps adjusted, just so we could take her 5 blocks to her naming?

Al, I hear the thing about twins is that they begin to cooperate very early to carry out tasks like getting into the top cupboards to eat the cookies. A singleton 2 or 3 year old might try to get onto the table but they won’t usually stack chairs and help each other up to the ceiling!

Excuse me, I have to go wake my 17 mo old granddaughter and get her and the 3 year old into their car seats so we can go pick up my youngest daughter from kindergarten….

8 nancy (aka money coach)

Now this is just a conversation I did not expect to see on a pf blog: a bunch of dads talking about babysitting their kids. Times have changed, indeed. Props to all of you from a single woman who only has to ensure her own two little kids are on their leash 🙂
Seriously, delightful, unexpected post.

9 Al

CC, does that mean your kids really didn’t start playing together much before the age of 2-1/2? I was expecting that much sooner. Or is that when they started playing nicely (sans regular referee interventions)?

It certainly is different times isn’t it Nancy. I realised how much more men were influencing child rearing when introduced to the ‘football hold’ for carrying kids.

10 Marina

I say this with respect, I really like your blog and I agree with your reasoning about how the mother and father adjust differently to new arrivals. But your use of the work babysitting is a bit upsetting in this context. I don’t think it’s called “babysitting” when you’re talking about your own children. That would be parenting. (If you don’t agree, turn it around: you didn’t call it babysitting when talking about your wife, she wasn’t “babysitting” the new arrival while you babysat the eldest). Parenting is full-time, if you want to babysit, you borrow someone else’s kids.

11 Mr. Cheap

Marina: Mike’s on holiday right now, but I’m sure when he gets back he’ll agree with you that babysitting was a poor choice of terms. If I can put word in his mouth, I suspect he meant “primary care giver” whereever he used the term baby sitter.

I’ve seen Mike with his kids, and he’s great (he’s AT LEAST a nanny or an au pair!)

12 Four Pillars

Marina – we do use the word babysitting even though it’s the parents looking after the kids. I realize it’s not the same as a real ‘baby sitter’ but it works for me.

13 fathersez

Ignorance is bliss. We had our first two girls over a period of 2.5 years and just thought the sleepless nights were the norm.

Then seven years later, we had another 3 in quick succession. We never thought about it in “easier or harder” terms. It just happened and no regrets.

14 ae355@hotmail.com

Here’s a novel idea. Don’t have more than 1 child. What is the point if you see the older child as someone to stick in daycare or otherwise make him/her someone else’s responsibility. Most people don’t have the emotional and financial ability to handle one, let alone two or more children.

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