“Be careful to step away from the water spray,” the mom said to her 3-year-old daughter.
It was a very hot day and the store next to the crosswalk where we all stood waiting to cross had its water mister on. A cool, gentle spray of water offered brief delightful and soothing respite from the heat.
I turned and smiled at the mom. “I guess she doesn’t like the mister.”
“Well she does but if there is even a drop of water on her clothes, she gets very upset and needs her clothes changed right away. And I don’t have extra clothes with me.”
“I get it,” I said.
“Her sister, on the other hand,” she said as we walked side by side across the street, “would happily roll around in puddles fully dressed. Go figure!”
“Yes”, I said. “It’s amazing how different children are from each other.”
Over the years, I’ve repeatedly heard from parents about how different their children are from one another. Even parents of identical twins.
Sometimes the differences are small – little quirks, little preferences, one more active than the other, one shyer than the other. Sometimes one likes sports and the other likes music.
But sometimes the differences are more dramatic.
One gets extremely distressed if there is a drop of water on her clothes; the other likes to roll around in puddles.
When the differences are more dramatic, they can be more challenging for parents – especially if Baby #1 was what society calls “an easy baby”.
If you asked the parents of “easy baby #1” to describe their baby, they’d probably say much of the following:
- They cry very little – mostly when they are hungry or tired
- They’re easy to comfort
- They lie happily in their crib watching their mobile
- They fall asleep easily
- They sleep for long stretches and by four months they are sleeping through the night (five hours or more)
- They were easy to get on a schedule
- They’re super smiley and responsive to strangers
- They happily play by themselves
- Teething was a breeze
- They easily let others hold them
- They love solid food and enjoy new foods
- They handle changes easily
- They are easy to settle down if they get upset or frustrated.
- They are basically calm and “chill”
Parents are convinced it’s their parenting (or great prenatal care, or beautiful birth) that made this happen.
And to some extent it is.
Babies’ experiences in the womb, their birth experiences and the responsiveness of their parents all have a huge impact on how they feel and how they handle the challenges of being outside the womb.
When our first babies are easy, it helps us feel secure and confident in our parenting.
Then baby #2 (or it could be baby #3, or 4 or more!) comes along.
Baby #2 may also be “easy”… but many baby #2s are anything but.
If you asked parents of baby #2 whose babies are very different from “easy baby #1”, they may describe them as follows:
- They cry a lot – sometimes inconsolably
- They can “never be put down”
- They wake continuously at night – even at 18 months
- They go from 0 – 100 in a few seconds if they are frustrated or hungry
- They never conform to any schedule
- They never stay still and they are easily bored
- They smile sometimes at strangers but often just “study” them seriously.
- They don’t like to play on their own
- They don’t like others to hold them – sometimes even the other parent!
- They are super sensitive to sensory input – labels in clothes are intolerable as are seams or itchy clothing, or loud noises etc.
- They may be “fussy eaters’ and resist new foods, or get upset if foods touch each other.
- They have a hard time with change and transitions
- They seem to be “swimming upstream” rather than “going with the flow”.
If your first baby was “easy”, this baby is a shock. The first baby had “quiet needs”. This one has loud, intense, high needs. Over the years, I have seen this scenario play out many many times.
But, sometimes it goes the other way; Baby#1 is high needs and Baby #2 is “easy”. In this case, parents handle this quite easily.
But when it’s Baby #2 who is the challenging one, parents can experience a range of difficult feelings.
- They can feel somehow let down. Of course, they love this baby, but it was so much easier before.
- They can lose their confidence as parents – maybe they really didn’t know what they were doing before.
- They can feel confused and at a loss – how do we handle this baby?
- They can feel embarrassed – this baby is harder to take out in public. This baby doesn’t “behave” as well as their first.
- They can feel guilty – what did we do or what are we doing wrong?
But here’s the truth of it – though it’s a cliche and people say it all the time, it is real. All children are different, even if their genes are similar (or even the same). Even the slightest difference in genes, or the slightest difference in experience (prenatally, during birth and after they are born), impacts how any baby or child will be.
Babies definitely come into the world with their own unique inborn temperament.
We may not know what the exact cause of it is. But it is real. It is a combination of genes and environment/experience. As any mother will tell you, no two pregnancies are alike and no two births are alike.
A second child comes into a very different world than a first child.
First of all, there is already another child present. Their parents are older, have more life experience. They may have had a range of challenges; they may have moved, had a loss of a job, or a new job. They may have different stressors in their lives, or they may be happier, and more solid in their relationship… the list of what transpires in a family from the time a first baby is born to the time the next (and the next and next) is long.
Even identical twins who share the same genes, generally have different prenatal and birth experiences.
One may be smaller than the other. One may be healthier. One may be stronger. One may be fussier, one may be calmer. One was born quickly, one was born more slowly. And the differences grow larger and larger over their lifespan.
A mother of identical twins had this beautiful perspective on individual differences:
“From the same genetic building blocks, they are each assembling something unique. If nothing else, it’s an intriguing insight into the propensity of life for diversity. No matter the genetic ties, the natural order favours a kind of irrepressible individuality.”
Basically, even though they have the same genes, they are different.
But here’s the other side of it. Even though all babies and children are different, they are also all the same.
- They ALL have the same needs
- To be deeply and profoundly loved
- To be deeply and profoundly accepted for who they are
- To be quickly and lovingly comforted
- To be held and touched
- For deep and ongoing connectedness to their parents
- For protection and safety
- For the freedom to learn and explore
- For loving guidance and direction
- To be valued and treasured
Meeting those needs is easier with an “easy” baby.
Remember, if you were able to meet the needs with a “first easy baby”, then you have the ability do it with a more challenging baby or child.
It takes more patience, more experimentation, more support from others around you. But you can do it.
Have faith in yourself and your baby or child. Some of the most challenging children grow up to be the most creative, and innovative and contributing members of society.
Resist comparing your more challenging child with your easy one. And treasure the differences in your children.
Accept that some children just have a harder time being here and need more. They won’t follow the books, or what the mommy blogs tell you or the many many websites and books that tell you what you “should” do or how your child “should” be.
If you keep in mind what all children need and really watch your baby lovingly and without judgment (about them or yourself), you will see what you can do to help your baby be in the world. Just go with who they are and you will find your way.
As I always say, follow your baby (or child) and follow your heart.
And if you do have a “high need baby” who needs more of everything, ask for help and take care of yourself. Your needs are important as well.
Here are some excellent articles about “High Need Babies”
Image credit: Bindaas Madhavi