Q&A: getting out of the house with two kids

Amy writes:

"I have two kids–26 months and 2 months.  A lot of moms of 2 told me that their lives went completely haywire with the addition of their second child, but it hasn’t been as crazed a transition for me as I feared it might be.  The only really obnoxious difference I’ve found is the stress of getting out of the house in a timely manner.  For get-togethers like playgroups (events with fuzzy timelines) I’ll tell myself that I’d like to leave between 10 and 11am, but find myself dragging kids to the car at noon.  I know I underestimate the time it takes to do things, but it feels like the toddler and baby work together to thwart me on top of my procrastination.  My 2 year old doesn’t throw tantrums, but pretends not to hear me when I tell him it’s time to go somewhere.  The baby is constantly peeing and nursing, which I can’t blame him for, but it seems like the instant the big brother is standing up ready to go, the baby needs something.  I’ve started keeping a backpack with most items I’d need for 3-4 hours out of the house by the front door to minimize running around collecting stuff, but it’s not enough.  Do you have any other ideas on how to speed up this process?"

I was completely incompetent at getting out of the house with two kids for the first six months or so of my second son’s life. Actually, I was stellar at getting out with two kids for the first few weeks, although in that time I consistently forgot to leave the house with anything resembling an extra diaper, wipes, or blanket of any sort. But then once I remembered that you have to bring supplies along I started being worse than inept.

Not only could I not get everything I needed together, I also couldn’t maintain my composure when I thought we were ready to leave and then there was a poop blowout or tantrum or unanticipated demand for a snack. So leaving became this crazed, disjointed scramble to gather all of our stuff, keep everyone dry and clean and fed, and try not to yell at my older one for doing things that made a ton of extra work for me.

What I finally figured out was that I could get out in an organized and timely manner if I had to keep track of one kid and the stuff, or two kids, but not two kids and the stuff together. So I cracked down on myself and started planning out my morning the night before. I’d pack everything (and I mean everything) the night before. I’d have snacks in little containers, diapers and wipes in the backpack, my older one’s school backpack with his change of clothes and water bottle, any assorted toys, and my water bottle. I’d write a list of what I needed to bring on the dry erase board next to our door.

I had two bags, one for each kid. I’m sure there are some parents who could keep stuff for two kids in one bag, but that would have required way more mental processing and organization than I had back then. Or than I have now, frankly. Since my older one needed to bring a backpack to school I just used that for him and a bigger backpack (with room for diapers) for the little one’s stuff.

That way I only had to worry about getting the two kids ready the next morning. The secret to that (and I still don’t do it every morning, even though it makes things at least 200% easier when I do) was getting everyone dressed first thing in the morning. Before breakfast, before we turn on the weather report (we’re obsessive TV weather checkers here–my older one often says things like, "Pat Kiernan says it’ll be partly cloudy with a chance of showers later."), before we even brush our teeth, before we get out any toys. Once everyone has clothes on, we’re more than halfway there.

I have no guaranteed ideas to get a 2-year-old to want to cooperate in leaving the house. Sometimes I could get my son so excited about where we were going that he’d hurry to leave. But other times he’d be excited about where we were going but would still give me a ton of pushback about actually leaving. I often had to resort to bribing him to get him to get into the stroller. (He was crazy for his chewable vitamins at that age, so I’d tell him he could only eat his vitamins in the stroller.) I’m sure there are more legitimate, calmer, more together ways of getting a child to leave the house, but I felt proud enough of coming up with a solution that didn’t involve either of us screaming.

The rest, for me at least, is getting control of my own procrastination. I’m always thinking, "Just let me check my email" or "I need to call my mom and tell her what my older son said last night" or something like that. Then the next thing I know we should have been out the door 15 minutes ago. So I have to limit myself to only doing certain activities at certain times, and sticking to that.

Another thing to think about (although you’re probably not experiencing it as much now as you will in a few months) is that the baby will have to take more naps than the older one will. You’ll be hamstrung by the younger one’s nap schedule for a few months, unless you live in a walking city and the little one is a good stroller napper. A solution to this is to offer to host playdates and playgroups more often than usual so your little one can just sleep while the group is going on in another part of the house. Or else you’ll have to try to shift activities to the non-napping time of day, if there is one.

I think you should cut yourself a break, because your baby is only 2 months old. I’m not even sure I was able to brush my teeth at that point with two kids. It gets a little easier at 3 months, and then when the second one starts being more mobile and wanting to be tended to less it gets easier again. But try doing all the stuff-related tasks the night before and I think you’ll be able to get moving in the morning much more easily.

Any tips from other parents of more than one?