What I Wish I Knew Before Having A Second Child, According to 12 Dads

Here’s the advice these dads wish they received to help make the transition a bit smoother.

Originally Published: 
Father holding two toddlers in a field

Roughly 41 percent of American families have welcomed a second child. Chances are, all of those parents will tell you, with a slight grin, to buckle up. When baby number two arrives, change is abundant. Family dynamics, schedules, and, well, everything shifts. It’s undoubtedly an exciting transition that, as with every part of parenthood, brings a fair amount of surprises. While, yes, your first-born certainly helps you prepare for some of what’s to come, it’s unlikely to fully prepare you.

But it helps to listen to those who’ve been there. So what words of wisdom do experienced dads have to offer about having a second child? According to the 12 dads we asked, there are plenty of things they wished they knew before welcoming their second. Some spoke of the big need for redefining the balance of their life. Others were surprised by how much their capacity for love grew. Still others mentioned how all spaces can feel a bit more cramped. Here’s what they shared.

1. Just How Much It Changes Everything

“I wish I knew that a second child would put the brakes on our lives far more than the first. I’m a big believer in having kids – we’ve got five of them. But when our first child was born, we were able to run with it. We both kept working and studying. We kept going to parties. We even moved to St. Petersburg for a year on an exchange program. Our little guy would often be strapped to our chests and smiling or asleep in a back room. What we didn’t realize was that it’s relatively easy to make your first child revolve around your own lives, and it’s almost impossible to do that for your second.” - Tim, 36, Australia

2. The Importance Of Balance

“With the first child, you are constantly worried about everything and trying to make sure they're okay. With the second child, you're still worrying but in a different way. You're worried about making sure both children are okay, and how to balance your time between the two. It can be tough, but it's so worth it to see the bond between siblings grow. As a first-time parent, I was so worried about everything being perfect and making sure my child had everything they needed. But with the second child, I've learned that it's okay not to be perfect. They don't need everything, and they will still love you no matter what. And it's so amazing to see how much the kids love each other, too. It's such a special thing to witness.” - Scott, 42, California

3. You’ll Need A Community of Support More Than Ever

“I underestimated the exponential amount of energy that raising two little humans requires. My husband and I often divide tasks and children, but even then, parental burnout is a real thing. It took me some time to get over the guilt of asking for help. We like to think we can do it all, but we can’t. Caring for myself means that I’m able to bring my full self to parenting and to my husband. In fact, now we each take the time for therapy, exercise and just dedicate ‘alone’ time without the children. We’ve leaned on our community of family and friends to help more often with the boys so that we can have time for ourselves, whether that’s solo or as a couple.’ - Ryan, 48, Oregon

4. Just How Much Love I Was Capable Of Giving

“When we had our first child, I never thought I could love anything more. Like I thought that all of the love I had inside of me would be forever devoted to this one, tiny little human. It worried me a little, because I thought, ‘How am I going to love our second child as much? Is that even possible?’ But then we had her, and I realized that the love inside doesn’t split in half, or divide. It just doubles. It becomes bigger, more fierce, and more wonderful. We have three kids now, and it was the same with our third, too. They all just fill me with overflowing love that’s grown and grown over time, and it’s nothing short of incredible.” - Enrique, 39, Michigan

5. The Second Child Is Not A Copy Of The First

“I approached many things with my second child the same way I did with my first. Oftentimes, it didn’t work. And that’s okay, but it took me a while to realize that it wasn’t my fault. When you have kids, you’re not working in a factory churning out the same product. You’re raising a completely different person than your first, and you’re also a different, more experienced parent. For me, it wasn’t going from the experience of raising one kid to another identical experience. It was a lot of, ‘Don’t lock your brother in the dryer!’ Or, ‘How did marker get on the ceiling?’ For the second, I wish someone would’ve reminded me that it would be a completely different kid, and I would be a completely different parent.” - Evan, 41, California

6. You Have To Parent Much More Strategically

“As a family of three, you kind of set the schedule, the rules, and the parenting style from the beginning. But when you have a second kid, even though it’s only one other person added to the mix, making choices becomes a lot harder. Since you’re raising two now, you have to pick your battles much, much more carefully. What do you do if one has a school play the same night the other has a baseball game? What if they want to go see different movies? The only thing worse is when they agree, and then gang up on you. Parenting two kids is way more strategic than I ever thought it would be.” - Al, 43, Ohio

7. You May Question Everything

“I thought that having a second kid would be like retaking a test. I’d be able to look back and review everything I got wrong, then do it right the next time. What I didn’t anticipate was that having a second child is less like retaking the same test, and more like taking a completely different test, in a different language, after studying the wrong subject for a few years. Instead of the self-assurance I thought I’d have, I repeated the same types of self-doubt over and over and over. The only thing each experience — raising the first kid, then raising the second — had in common was that I was clueless pretty much the whole time.” - Nadeem, 35, British Columbia

8. Communication Becomes A Lot More Complex

“When we had our first kid, my wife and I leaned on each other really well. We were there for each other when we both needed rest, or a break, and we really made an excellent team. But the team dynamic changes completely when a second baby comes along. The communication isn’t just between you and your spouse anymore. It’s between you, your spouse, and your first child, too. That arrangement can make defining roles difficult. While we had the experience of raising one child, we didn’t have the experience of raising one child while raising another. It takes a lot of agility to be a second-time parent, and you really have to revamp your whole approach to teamwork.” - Alex, 40, Maryland

9. Flexibility Is Your Friend

“I learned to roll with the punches a lot faster with our second kid. Looking back on raising our first, I was very steadfast and, dare I say, stubborn. I had a plan, and I was going to stick to it. Unfortunately, it took me a while to realize that approach was almost laughable in real life, as a real parent. It got me so stressed out, trying to be an ‘effective’ dad. And I realized that I needed to be much, much more versatile if I was going to survive. So, when our second was born, I tried to think of myself like bamboo - just blowing with the wind, bending back and forth as needed, rather than snapping in half because I wasn’t willing to adapt.” - Ken, 42, England

10. Your First Child Will Have Feelings

“The one thing I didn’t really consider when we had a second child was how it would make our first child feel. She was five years old, and I think my wife and I both assumed she would be ecstatic to have a new baby brother. At first, she was. But then she got resentful about all of the time we had to spend with him. She wasn’t explicit about it, though. She just got really quiet and seemed down, which worried us. When we asked her, she was pretty candid in telling us we were ignoring her. I don’t know if that’s entirely accurate but, regardless, that’s how she felt. So we needed to address it. I wish I would’ve realized how strong the emotions of a five-year old could be. We could’ve done a better job making her feel included.” - Ryan, 42, Connecticut

11. Your House Will Feel A Lot Smaller

“Not literally, obviously. But the space, the room to move, and the general feeling of privacy changed drastically when we had our second child. The office became a second bedroom. Food took up more space in the kitchen. Laundry piled up higher. And, don’t get me wrong, it was obviously all worth enduring for our amazing children, but I wish I’d known how claustrophobic having a second kid can be. I found myself tripping over toys, not being able to find stuff around the house, and struggling to ever actually be ‘alone’ for more than a few minutes. Even though it’s just one more person, the changes to your physical environment are huge.” - Christopher, 39, Arizona

12. Everything Will Be Fine

“We hear that all the time, right? And we rarely, if ever, actually believe it. As dads, I think we’re just wired to be anxious when our kids are growing up. That’s how I was with my first, and I thought it would prepare me for my second. In a way, I suppose it did. The feelings of anxiety weren’t entirely unfamiliar, but I wasn’t able to look at how successfully we raised our first child and think, ‘See? You’ve got this.’ But, of course, in the end, everything has turned out fine. Even though I’m not sure I would’ve believed whoever told me at the time, I don’t think a dad can hear, ‘Everything will be fine’ too many times. Maybe one day it’ll sink in.” - Isaiah, 50, Delaware

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