The juggling act: How to survive with a baby and a toddler
Becoming a parent is a huge adjustment. When my son was born life certainly got turned upside down by this tiny little bundle for a good few months whilst I tried to find my groove as a parent. I’m still trying to figure out how something so small can cause so much chaos and mess.
Eventually though we found our way and settled into life as a family of three. But what about when your family expands and becomes four or five…maybe more? How do you juggle it all?
Trying to manage life with multiple children can be tough so I’m going to run through my daily routine with more than one child to give you a helping hand! I’ll also share some fantastic tips from our experienced Sleep Consultants who you can reach out to in our Village inside the Little Ones App.
In this article:
- Morning routine
- Daycare or school run
- Getting out & about
- Lunch meal & nap
- Afternoon activities
- Dinner time
- Bath time
- Bedtime routine
No two families are the same, however, we can all appreciate that parenting can be hard. So while my daily routine won’t be feasible for everyone, hopefully it’ll give you some ideas to try with your own family to make that juggle a bit easier. I have two children: Seth who is 5 years old and Violet who is nearly 2 years old.
Morning routine with a baby and toddler
When my little girl was a newborn, she was on an 8-8 routine, whilst my son was 7:30-7:30 (in theory - he never actually sleeps till 7:30am!). This meant that while Violet slept in, I could spend some time with Seth, getting his breakfast and helping him get dressed for the day.
On my working days, my partner will go downstairs with the children and get their breakfast while I get ready for the day. Having that quiet time to myself first thing means I feel ready to take on the day, which has a positive impact on my mental wellbeing.
For Sarah, preparation is key to a successful morning:
Prepare as much as you can the night before. I get our clothes out the night before, school bag is packed, water bottle filled and in the fridge with snacks for his school bag to pop in there the next morning. Coat, school bag and shoes by the back door ready for when we leave. Nothing worse than hunting for school shoes and you're supposed to be on the way to school!
For Brooke, having an extra lie in makes all the difference:
On days where my husband is home he gets up with the children first, when my second baby was breastfeeding, Dad would bring him into me so I could give him his morning feed and then take him down stairs with his sister for breakfast while I got an extra lay in, I am a very high sleep needs so my husband knows I need that little extra rest to be the best version of me.
Daycare or school run
When I had my second child, I remember wondering how I was going to work her naps around my eldest’s schedule. With nursery drop offs and pick ups, playdates and a lively preschooler who needed to be out and about, I just didn’t see how I would be able to stick to a structured routine.
However, when I looked at the times for Violet’s naps on an 8-8 routine, I realized that it could work. Running that slightly later day with her meant that she was able to stay awake during the nursery run and then I would put her down for her nap when we got home. If she did happen to fall asleep on the nursery run, I would leave her in the pram or the carrier to finish her nap.
This can definitely be a hectic time of the morning, trying to make sure you are leaving the house on time. So make it easier for yourself by having as much as you can ready to go so that you can just grab them as you’re heading out the door. No one wants to be frantically searching for a water bottle to fill up when you meant to leave five minutes before!
There will be times things will be out of your control and you just have to roll with it. A diaper explosion, toddler meltdown, missing keys, or a cluster feeding baby for example. Try not to worry, life happens and being late for drop off is unavoidable sometimes. Anyone who has children will emphasize with you!
Here’s how Josephine manages her morning routine with a three kids:
I wake my youngest, 5 months, at 6.30am, this way he’ll be due for a nap at 8.45am, that slots in with my 5 year olds kinder drop off. I then do daycare drop off for my 3 year old. As I pull in to the driveway at home, my 5 month old is due to wake up and have his milk feed. So it works really well. He still sleeps in the capsule, so at daycare and kinder drop off, I can just grab the capsule out of the car while he’s still sleeping.
Getting out & about
I always thought I’d enjoy a lazy day spent inside when I became a mother, but when my baby arrived, I quickly found that getting out the house was vital for my mental health. Fresh air, sunlight and talking to other people were all good for my soul and put me in a much happier mood. Happy mum, happy children.
The same applied when I had my second baby. As Violet got a little older and needed more awake time, it was easiest to travel during her morning nap. With white noise playing in the car, she would sleep in the car seat and then by the time we arrived at our destination, she would either be waking up or I’d let her finish the nap in the car and enjoy the peace while it lasted.
Jen also loved doing the morning nap out and about:
I always tried to get out for a walk in the morning and did the morning nap on the go up until she stopped sleeping on the go around 10 months (no matter how hard I tried). This helped my own health and wellbeing without a doubt and meant my older one could go to the park on his scooter or bike at the same time as I was walking on days he wasn’t in nursery. Take what you need in case you are out longer than planned, be prepared. Allow yourself to have a second cuppa with a friend or spend a bit more time in the sun, maybe start the lunch nap on the way home. The walks I enjoyed most were when something else happened other than walking!
Lunch time meal
You’ve had a busy morning with the kids and the lunch nap is in sight, hooray! If you have a newborn whose feeding pattern is not yet established, or if you’re feeding on demand, make life easier for yourself and give your older children a lunch you know they can manage independently - just in case you have to feed the baby at the same time.
My son’s favorite lunch is “a picky lunch”. Basically a small selection of things that he can pick and choose from such as half a sandwich, cucumber & carrot sticks, a handful of crisps, some fruit and a yogurt pouch. No need to worry about cutlery and I didn’t need to spoon feed it to him. This way my hands were free to feed the baby, change their nappy or make myself a cup of tea.
If you’ve got a younger baby just starting solids, or a toddler who is a messy eater, placing a mat under the highchair can make clean up a lot quicker. When Violet was starting solids, I would take the highchair tray away, clean her hands and face, then give her some toys to play with in the highchair while I cleaned the floor.
The lunch nap
You made it! If your older child is still having a nap then I recommend you put your youngest down for their lunch nap first, as their nap will be longer. Then you can give your eldest some one-on-one time before they go down for their nap. Having some 1:1 time with you before their nap means your toddler will likely be more agreeable about going to sleep!
Use this time wisely. I know you probably feel like you have a hundred and one things to do in this precious time while your baby naps, but it’s important to prioritize. Here are some of the things I did (and still do!) during my children’s lunch nap:
- Eat my own lunch in peace
- Have a nap myself
- Washing up
- Sterilizing bottles
- Making phone calls
- Tidying toys away
- Binge watching my favorite TV shows
- Scrolling through social media
If you know that there are things that you MUST do, try to do those first before you sit down. Once you sit down, chances are not a lot will get done! But if the things on your to-do list can wait, don’t feel guilty for using this time as a break for yourself. Parenting multiple children is a full time job so it’s okay to enjoy those moments to yourself when you get them.
If, like me, your eldest isn’t napping anymore (*gentle sobbing*), you’ll want to encourage some quiet time. This is important downtime for you both.
Encourage your older child to do quiet, restful activities like puzzles, coloring (not with felt tip pens), listening to an audio book, building with blocks, looking at books etc. You might need to model the activity with them for 10 minutes or so before leaving them to it. Gradually build up the time so that they get used to playing and entertaining themselves for a little while.
I often used to spend the first hour of my daughter’s nap doing activities with my son, so that Seth felt he had lots of my time and attention. Then the second hour was quiet time when he would play and I would get on with other bits and pieces.
Here’s how Josephine managed the long lunch nap with a newborn and toddler:
When I had my baby number two, my eldest was 2 years old, and thankfully still having a 1.5/2 hour lunch nap. So I would settle my youngest child for her lunch nap , have 15 minutes 1-1 time with my toddler and then settle her down for her lunch nap. This meant I had my hands free to eat my own lunch, watch my favorite show and relax. When my youngest was between 3-6 months, there were days I was summoned to her bedroom to resettle her back to sleep but this worked well because I knew my eldest was safe in her cot resting. I enjoyed the snuggle time while my youngest daughter finished her nap in my arms.
Now that Violet is older, I am running a 7:30-7:30 day so that she wakes up right at the time we leave for the school run. So while she sleeps, I get the pram ready to go and now that she has dropped the afternoon milk feed, it’s simply a matter of grabbing a snack and a drink for her before we head out the door.
Violet can often wake up grumpy…she gets that from me! But getting her straight into the pram with a snack and a drink works well, as it distracts her.
The third nap of the day is often the trickiest to manage, so it can really help to put your baby in the carrier or pram and go for a walk. Some days we'd walk to the playground, other days Seth would take his bike or scooter and we’d just walk round the block. The motion always helped to get Violet to sleep for that last nap of the day.
Josephine does the same with her youngest child now:
My children always get restless to get out of the house by 4pm, we’re lucky to live near a park. So I strap my baby in the carrier and walk my children to the park. Win - win . Baby sleeps in the carrier, and the girls play on the playground. I sometimes bring white noise to have in the pocket of my carrier, this blocks out the noise.
This is often the busiest time of the day in most households. Children are starting to get tired and ratty, you’re trying to prepare dinner, maybe trying to do homework with your older children or dealing with your newborn’s witching hour.
It’s a LOT.
Meal planning has made life that much easier for our family. Over the weekend we go through what is happening the coming week and plan dinners around that. Some nights have to be quick meals due to clubs or working late, so we factor all of that in.
We then shop for those meals and write them up on the fridge door. That way we know if we need to get something out of the freezer to defrost or pop food in the slow cooker in the morning.
Once a month I take the kids out for the morning at the weekend and my partner will stay home and batch cook meals that can be frozen. That way we have a stash of home cooked meals ready for those days when you just don’t have the time or energy to cook.
When Violet was little, I often found this to be a tricky time of the day so I’d put the carrier on and pop her in there while I made dinner (being VERY mindful of hot things!). She was happy she was close to me and I had my hands free to cook.
However, Jen found it easier to do her dinner prep earlier in the day:
I prepared dinner at a time when I knew both the children were relatively ok for a spell entertaining themselves. Often when Heather was very little I used the afternoon nap to start dinner and Carrick did his little bits of homework in the kitchen with me. Some days dinner prep was over lunch nap. Slow cookers are a great investment when you have little ones too.
I think bathtime is such a lovely bonding time so when Violet was little, she would be in the baby bath and we would encourage Seth to help us bathe her. This also helped us teach our older child how to be gentle when looking after his little sister.
Once she outgrew the baby bath, we put her in a bath seat in the bath, which meant they could bathe together. And yes, in case you're wondering, it's perfectly safe to bathe your baby and toddler together, as long as you're there the whole time!
Remember though, you don’t have to do a bath every evening. If it’s been a hectic day and everything is running late, it’s okay to skip bath time or just do a quick wipe down with a wash cloth.
Here’s how Josephine manages bath time with her kids:
I bathe my daughters immediately after my son’s bedtime milk feed, my husband burps our baby while I bathe and dress our daughters for bed. If I miss that small window of bath time , things can get messy! Because it can clash with my son's bedtime settling. This is why a routine works so well with multiple children.
You could also do bath time earlier in the day like Jen:
Occasionally to pass the time on winter afternoons, I did their bath around 3:30/4pm, it passed the time and was fun! We just skipped the bedtime bath and had some baby massage for Heather and Carrick got a little longer play time wise!
Bedtime routine with a baby and toddler
You’ve nearly made it to the end of the day and the sofa is calling your name! I was very fortunate that my partner was there for bedtime most of the time. However, I appreciate this isn’t the case for all families.
Staggering bedtime is key if you have more than one child and you’re doing the bedtime routine solo. Often it makes most sense to put your youngest down first and then you can give your older one/s your full attention, perhaps reading some bedtime stories or singing some songs.
Now that my son is older (5 years) we have a chat about our days, telling each other our favourite part of the day. This is often the time I find he is ready to chat about his day at school…anything to put off bedtime, but I love it. That time feels special as it’s just us two.
Another reason you may want to stagger bedtime for your baby and toddler is if they share a room. That way one of them is already asleep by the time the other one goes to bed. You’ll also want to make sure the room is nice and dark and get that white noise going to block out any noises that might cause your baby to wake.
Here’s how Josephine manages bedtime with her three kids:
Claire and Domenica share a room (3 and 5 years old), so white noise is heaven sent! If one of my girls has a cough or wakes in the night, the other very rarely wakes. Baby Frank's room is next door, and even when he wakes in the night for a feed, my girls aren’t disturbed. If Claire hasn’t napped in the day, she goes to bed first. We head to her room 15 minutes before bedtime for one-to-one time, but sometimes my youngest will tag along too! After I settle Claire for bed, I usually have to settle Frank immediately after, so we head to his room for wind down and settling. During this time, my eldest Domenica is usually chilling with her Daddy or playing in the toy room. She always goes to bed last, after I’ve settled the younger two. We leave the bedroom door slightly open, so we can slide in, tuck her in bed and sneak out again.
There will be times during the day where you feel like you're being pulled in a hundred different directions so always remember - you're not an octopus. You only have two hands and when you have more than one child, that means that someone will usually have to wait and that’s okay. There may be tears, stamped feet and shouting but they will be fine. For more tips on how to help your older child adjust to a new baby, read THIS article.
And if you're struggling to adjust to life with more than one child, don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Parenting is hard and as the saying goes, "it takes a village", so make sure you’ve got one to support you!
If you don’t have a village, we’ve got one waiting for you in our Little Ones App. Here, you can seek support and advice from other parents around the world who know exactly what you’re going through. You can also reach out to our certified sleep consultants at any time of the day or night.