We still attend Parent/Teacher Conferences even though our kids are in high school and do well academically and ask us not to go. Last spring, we were talking to one of our younger son’s teachers and listening carefully to the complimentary things Mr. D had to say about him. “You’re doing a great job!” was the teacher’s conclusion. And I said, “Well, he’s the second pancake.”
Maybe you know what I’m talking about. On the first pancake, you figure out if the griddle’s too hot or you need more butter. You decide you need to add a little more to the batter so it’s just the right consistency. You learn how much time it takes and how closely you need to watch it. The first pancake tastes great, but the process may not be quite right.
Now, the second pancake is different altogether. You have pancake experience. You’ve made some adjustments. You remember there’s a spatula that works better. You develop more patience and don’t try to turn the pancake before it’s ready. You figure out where the hot spots are on the griddle and you avoid those or aim for those, depending on what your pancake needs. You’re not so worried about making the perfect pancake, so you enjoy the process more. You have a better idea what is important in pancake making and what doesn’t matter much at all.
It’s not that the second pancake is better or you love it more — the second pancake just benefits from what you learned making the first one. Honestly, it’s not so much about the pancake and almost completely about the cook.
To continue the cooking analogy, I was pretty happy with the first pancake. I wasn’t convinced that having a second baby was even an option for us or that I wanted it to be. I loved our little family of three and worried about the risks inherent in my “advanced maternal age.”
Not quite four years after our first baby was born, we became parents a second time. Being a mama again was sweet, even sweeter because I knew a little bit about what I was doing.
So here are some things I learned from parenting the first time and mistakes we were able to avoid when we started the parenting journey again.
Some of the best parenting advice I ever got was this: When you are calm, your baby will be calm, too. While I tried to put this wisdom into practice the first time around, I was so much more relaxed when our second son was born. I knew that babies are sturdier than you think. I was more flexible about bath schedules and nap schedules and schedule schedules.
I was wise enough to ask for help when I needed it. And wise enough to know it was okay to need help sometimes. I experienced secondary infertility and I needed friends to babysit while I made about a million trips to the doctor’s office. When our kids were little, my spouse traveled for work and I was a stay-at-home mom and grad student. My life was richer and easier when I asked for help with things like shopping and childcare. I wish I had asked for help more often.
Despite how long some days seemed, I knew how quickly baby times were gone. At 40, I was certain there would not be another baby in a few years. I savored the sweet moments when I could. I rocked a little longer and enjoyed more quiet moments with our littles.
After five years at home, I went back to work full-time when my baby was just over a year old. I didn’t worry as much about what parents should do and focused on practices that made our lives easier and better.
Second-time parenting was easier as our kids got older, too. As we navigated parenting the second time, I realized that things change. Teams split up and go their separate ways. Piano teachers move away or get a new dog that your kid doesn’t like. School district boundaries change. Parenting is a constant exercise in figuring out what’s next. Even though you love this oach/team/teacher/leader, you may find yourself looking for a new one without much notice. Your soccer-playing kid may decide to try swimming or dance or theater.
I understood in a much deeper way that parenting is a team sport. You need your team to help you make good decisions. So build a network of neighbors and colleagues and friends whose judgement you trust and learn from them. Keep your ears open as your friends tell stories about their experiences. Listen for what they like and don’t like. Accept invitations to attend recitals and plays and fundraisers.
Most of all I learned to ignore more of what I read and heard from others and to pay more attention to what felt right for us.
That’s the magic of the second pancake.