‘Second Child Syndrome’ Destroyed My First Marriage. Here’s What I'm Doing Differently This Time Around

You find love, journey into marriage, and then comes the baby carriage. The first baby is all about exploration. It takes some adjusting. Getting to know what works and what doesn’t can be challenging, but it’s often so exciting and new that it’s a great experience.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner3 min read
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Then when your little one grows older, you might start wanting another. You miss the baby cuddles and the super chubby cheeks. Baby #2 should be easy, right? You’re a pro by now. 

Except that, for some reason, the second baby is often harder on marriages, and happy couples who wish to stay together should be aware and prepare so they can handle all the second child woes. This has been called “Second Baby Syndrome,” because many marriages fall apart after the second child. Not the third, fourth, or fifth – if you go that far. There’s just something about baby #2 that will test your marriage.

Baby #2 Comes with New Blues

The second child comes with added woes. There are two little ones to worry about. Finances are tighter. Time alone with your husband becomes an algebraic equation that requires the perfect formula to solve. You have to split your focus between two children, and that requires men to put in more help. 

It was my second child that broke my first marriage. This is common. There are stories everywhere of marriages falling apart after baby #2. And this isn’t because another child is such a bad thing, or I couldn’t handle it; it’s because the added stress made me realize just how little my husband was willing to help. I knew things were going downhill when I had to repave our driveway at five months pregnant with my second child to avoid being ticketed by the city. Then, also while I was pregnant, my husband (now my ex) was supposed to clean the litter box so I could avoid contracting toxoplasmosis. He was a cat lover and told me it was no big deal. Unfortunately, it really truly was. He cleaned it maybe once a month (if that) during my pregnancy, causing one of our cats to develop an infection so bad that his body gave out on him. 

The added stress made me realize just how little my husband was willing to help. 

There were plenty of other issues, but then when my second daughter was born, my ex-husband’s idea of fatherhood turned into playing video games with the baby. That was his sole duty. Sure, it was cute for a while, but I was taking care of a fixer-upper house, breastfeeding, potty training, and taking care of all the other serious parenting responsibilities with very little help. Eventually, I lost so much sleep that I started losing my vision. It was terrifying. I thought I was having a stroke, but it turns out I was just having serious sleep-deprivation migraines. 

I called my sister crying. I didn’t know what else to do. She took off work and immediately came over to watch the kids while I finally slept. 

Had my husband been a stronger presence in the household I would never have questioned our marriage. But I saw all the flaws, all the issues that held the children back from making progress. I was in complete denial, and it took a couple of years before I realized that you can’t save a marriage if you’re the only person putting in the work. 

Preventing Second Child Syndrome

Now that I’m happily remarried to a man who helps me brave all the sleepless nights, mows the lawn without receiving a notice from the city, and does his part to be a good male role model in our children’s lives, I’m determined to keep second child syndrome at bay. Although we both have two children from previous relationships, we now have two little boys together. 

Our youngest is a sweet little bashful boy, but he can be pretty trying. There are days when I think back to what it was like with my second daughter and feel that same stress, but having the right person to help me through it makes all the difference. And it’s so very important to me that I help him through too. 

Just having that mindset, that desire to help each other is necessary for preventing the anger and frustration that come with Second Child Syndrome. Instead of feeling betrayed or abandoned, I’m more endeared to my husband because he’s such a good father.

It also helps that we refuse to put our relationship on hold. We protect our alone time after the kids go to bed and always try to get a date night each week. Making sure we get enough cuddles and bedroom time is essential too. A lot of couples who struggle through the early period of welcoming baby #2 seem to stop going out together and forget romance, but that’s the easiest way to lose touch because those special moments are what keep us holding on.

Working Through Second Child Syndrome

When things get rough, there is nothing like a night off. Or even just an hour. I am 100% for hiring babysitters. Whatever you have to do to remind each other why you’re together. 

It’s also helpful to do something fun as a family. Take the kids to the park and just roll around in the grass together. Go on a family fishing trip, or dance the kids around the room with your husband. Sometimes just letting the kids run around the backyard while my husband and I try not to break the hammock is perfect. 

Everything in parenting is a phase, and your frustrations won’t last forever.

Having fun gets you through the tough times. It reminds you and your husband of what really matters: your family. Sometimes a second child has health issues or is just colicky. When that strikes, don’t be afraid to lean on other family members for support. Grandparents usually love time with the little ones, and aunts and uncles are so important. My in-laws live 500 miles away, but heading to Wisconsin to give the grandparents time with the little ones is the perfect opportunity for an overnight hotel reprieve. 

If you hit wit’s end, marriage counseling isn’t a bad idea. It’s nice to hear an unbiased adult tell you you’re not crazy and that you’re not alone. It’s also helpful to know that everything in parenting is a phase and that your frustrations won’t last forever. That has become a mantra for me some nights with our youngest. 

Closing Thoughts

A lot of marriages can’t handle the stress of baby #2. Second Child Syndrome is a real problem, but it’s not caused by having a child – it’s most often caused by excess stress and lack of balance in a marriage. It’s a phase that many can survive, if they work together. 

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