How You Change as a Parent With Each New Child

family with new baby

Mother Image / Getty Images 

When my first son was born, I lived and died by routine, order, and predictability. (You can thank my love of control for that, along with a healthy dose of Type A personality.) I got lucky—my son also thrived on this lifestyle, so we managed just fine.

Until my second son was born. That adorable but colicky, reflux-afflicted, and oh-so-sensitive baby threw my whole world into chaos. He didn’t sleep. He didn’t breastfeed well. He wanted to be held All. The. Time.

And suddenly, so many things I had cared about as a first-time mom weren’t important anymore. I switched to formula-feeding two weeks after birth, lost all track of time within our day-to-day routine, and—once—literally watched my older son fish some Cheerios out from underneath the couch and eat them without saying a word (because I was just too tired to care).

What happened, you ask? Well, other than working with a level of sleep deprivation that could be considered torturous, I had become a new mother with the birth of this new baby.

Every one of your kids turns you into a different parent, with a different set of skills, different stress triggers, and sometimes even a different overall approach to parenting

Wherever you are in your parenting journey, you might be reading this and wondering why that happens and what it looks like. I’m not an official expert, but after having three boys (yes, we had another son after that sweet but high-maintenance second), I know a lot about how parenthood changes you again and again and again.

Why You Change With Each Child

Before you have more than one child, it’s easy to think that parenthood is a one-time change: first you’re not a parent, then you are—and once you become a parent, that’s it. You’ve completed your transformation from childless caterpillar to parenting butterfly, and you’ll never have to go through those growing pains again.

Except you will, if you have another child! Each time you welcome a new baby into your life, that child fundamentally changes you. Why? Here are some common reasons.

Your Time is Divided

You devoted every ounce of your being to your firstborn, but now you have to share the wealth between two loves of your life (plus, you know, your spouse or partner...don't forget about them!). Parenting two or more kids is a different experience from parenting one because you have to basically learn to be in multiple places at once, physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

Most parents expecting a second baby worry that they will be giving “less” to their firstborn, but really it’s just about redistribution—technically, you won’t have more time or energy the more kids you have, but you will have more love. Figuring out how and when to spread that love takes practice, but you get the hang of it. 

You’ve Learned a Lot

Remember reading about all the things you could expect in whatever parenting book you were given at your baby shower, and wondering how the heck you would ever learn to deal with sleep regressions, teething, crawling, and potty training? Well, when you had your first child you did learn about those things (and then some!) with some pretty hardcore on-the-job training. 

When you navigate all of these milestones and challenges with subsequent children, you do it as an intermediate-level parent, not a novice. That makes a huge difference!

Every Kid is Unique

Like I found out when I had my second son, what works for one child is so not guaranteed to work for your second (or third, or fourth). All kids come to you with unique personalities, temperaments, likes and dislikes, and basic needs. 

You might become an expert swaddler with your firstborn only to find that your next kid hates being swaddled, forcing you to learn a whole new set of skills. Or maybe a stern look of disapproval is all that’s needed to nudge your second child back into line—but your fourth kid thinks Mom’s “angry face” is hilarious and not intimidating (in which case, you’ll need to expand your disciplinary repertoire). 

Your Life is Different

Even if you have kids close together in age, nothing can make your life look or feel the same from one child to the next. Time passes and things change—and the more kids you have, the more likely it is those passages of time will have an impact on your parenting.

You might move to a new house, get a new job, adopt a pet, lose a beloved grandparent, or experience any number of events that affect how you raise your kids on a small, day-to-day scale and on a larger, long-term one.

Changes You May Experience

Now that you know why your parenting will change every time you have a new baby, you’re probably wondering what those changes might look like. Here are some examples of parenting differences you may notice as you grow your family. 

You Have More Confidence

Let’s face it: baby number one is basically a practice kid, right? You had no idea what you were doing and second-guessed every decision you made.

But now that you’ve handled dozens of common parenting dilemmas like a pro, from late-night fevers and diarrhea blowouts to painful teething and weird rashes, you can proudly say you’ve been there, done that—and gained a whole new level of confidence when it comes to rolling with the unexpected punches and thinking on your feet.

You Get Less Sleep (and Patience)

Sadly, what you gain in confidence you will make up for in lack of sleep. When you have more than one kid, it feels like someone is always awake in your house (or that your kids conspire against you to take turns waking up at night, like it’s some kind of relay race).

Although you’ll be used to functioning on lower amounts of sleep, it can start to take a toll on your patience after two or more kids. Where you might have agreed to read the same board book nine times in a row for your firstborn, no one is getting that kind of royal treatment once you have more than one kid. In other words, your second-born child is going to learn the meaning of the word “no” a lot sooner.

Your Parenting Style Changes

If you’ve never apologized to a three year old for having a “grown-up tantrum,” then you might not be ready to hear this one yet. The truth is that you will make mistakes as a parent, and the likelihood of it happening only increases with the more kids you have.

You will lose your cool, and you will react badly to misbehavior, and you will threaten consequences that you really don’t want to follow up on (no TV for a week is a punishment for you, too, remember that). It’ll be hard to accept when it happens, but parenting will occasionally turn you into the kind of parent you swore you would never be, i.e. just like your own parents.

You're Better at Prioritization

Remember how hard you worked to plan your firstborn’s big first birthday party (and how crushed you were when the clown cancelled and almost ruined everything)? Yeah, you might not care as much about that stuff by the time you have more than one kid, because you’ll know—in the grand scheme of things—it’s really not that important.

Same goes for all the other things you stressed and fretted over when your first kid was little, whether it was their first big boo-boo, what preschool to send them to, or the fact that they spilled juice all over their church dress. 

With more than one kid, you will be able to see the bigger picture, put problems in a healthier perspective, and tell the difference between an inconvenience and a true crisis.

You Foster Sibling Relationships

When you have one child, nothing feels more important than the bond shared between you, your partner, and your little one. Once you start adding to your brood, though, you begin investing time and energy in making sure your kids like their siblings, not just their parents.

You’ll instruct them to share. You’ll encourage them to take care of one another. You’ll remind them to apologize when they forget that “hands are not for hitting.” And you will cross your fingers hoping that one day they realize how lucky they are to grow up alongside a built-in best friend

You Change the Rules

Nothing makes a parent walk back their limits about screen time, play dates, snacks, bedtimes, and matching clothes faster than a new baby. You're drowning in tasks, being pulled in multiple directions, desperate for five minutes alone—and if getting your life together requires letting your toddler watch an extra episode of Paw Patrol or leave the house wearing a bathing suit top and rain boots, then so be it.

A Word From Verywell

Parenting changes as you grow your family can be positive and negative. Embrace the positive changes, acknowledge how far you’ve come, and make a plan to slowly work back the negative changes if they upset you. 

At the same time, don’t beat yourself up for having a lower anger threshold or needing time to yourself more frequently when you have more than one child. Give yourself a break and plenty of time to adjust to your new role as a parent of two (or however many). Be the parent your kids need, not the one you idealistically imagined yourself to be way back before you even had kids. Because that parent? They had no idea what was coming!

By Sarah Bradley
Sarah Bradley is a freelance health and parenting writer who has been published in Parents, the Washington Post, and more.