So you have more than one child, born at the same time? You are in good company! The data show that in a recent year, 137,217 twins were born in the United States, as well as 5,906 triplets, 355 quadruplets and 80 quintuplets or higher. That's a lot of children who share a birthday!
Of course, we all know how different each child can be within a set of multiples, even when they appear to be identical. These differences can range from the obvious (different genders) to the more nuanced, such as personality, developmental stages and personal preferences. What is a parent of multiples to do to manage so many variables?
Luckily, the parenting virtues that work for all children work for multiples as well. Love, patience, clear boundaries, flexibility, respect and a good sense of humor are the cornerstones of all good parenting, and needed two-fold (ha!) in raising multiples.
But what about the nitty-gritty details, the day-to-day minutiae, the work, of raising multiples? Well, why not ask the true experts…parents of twins! I am lucky enough to know parents raising multiples, so I posed questions to them, and yes, they had answers! Read on!
How do you prepare for multiples?
Beyond the obvious answers (such as reading the books, talking to your doctors, finding a good pediatrician and finding parenting support groups for multiples), many parents spoke to me about sleeping while you can, going to as many movies, restaurants, and date nights with their partner and seeing friends. The end of multiples pregnancies can become quite uncomfortable, so as much as the mother can walk, swim, and move her body; it improves her overall mental and physical health.
And when the babies are born, it's all about organization! Rachel S., mother of four-year-old twins says, “Being organized is my number one tip. The more you can prepare, the better…I am also a BIG believer in routine. If I didn't get them both on a schedule when they were younger, I would spend my life feeding. Developing systems for two is also a time and lifesaver. When they were smaller, it was a color that we used to remember who was drinking what amount, etc. I also used charts because I was so sleep deprived and sometimes couldn't remember who had done what."
Cooking for multiples: should I cater to specific needs?
“You give them whatever they want as long as they stop that whining. (Wait, is that the wrong answer?)" says Mike D.
I know for a fact that Mike and his wife feed their twin 2.5-year-olds nutritious food, but his funny quote speaks to the frustration of trying to accommodate different palates. Many parents suggest having a little bit of everything on the plate.
Rachel S. says, “I didn't ever want to be a short order cook, so they eat what they get. I try to make a variety of things so that if one doesn't like one item, there is usually something else on the plate they do eat. And probably the next night, I will make something that the other one I know will eat."
Laren P., mother of 21-month-old twins, says the food issue has been made better by the option of choices: “Meals at my house go like this: the adult decides what's to eat, and options are given within reason. For example, everyone has chicken and green beans, but everyone decides on if they want applesauce or yogurt or a banana. They also get to choose which fork or spoon they want to use. I've found that if they have a few options that don't impact the overall nutrition of the meal, they will eat happily…especially with their favorite fork."
Going on vacation with multiples: how can I manage it?
As any parent knows, traveling with kids requires three main things: organization, organization and more organization. With multiples? Traveling also requires a healthy dose of patience, a sense of humor and some tricks that only a multiples parent would know!
Laren P. says, “I ALWAYS travel with a heart beat bear or white noise maker." Mike D. and Rachel S. both agree that ordering the diapers and wipes ahead of time and having them delivered to your destination can really cut down on the packing! Rachel also adds, “For each girl, we pack a travel bag that has items to occupy them in the car or on the plane. They have their own items. Then we do one family bag of snacks, etc." And if your multiples share a gender, try to pack similar outfits to make dressing the kids easier.
Going out to eat with multiples: how to get in and out alive!
Everyone with multiples agrees that yes, it is a nice idea to go out, but when they are very young, it is often just too hard (especially if you are bringing other siblings along).
Laren says, “Eating out: we've avoided it. My singleton is 3.5 years old, and the twins are almost 21 months. I'm brave, but I'm not dumb."
Mike agrees it is tough, but “if they're behaving and coloring quietly, live it up: order dessert, have a chat, take advantage of the fact that you do not have to clean up afterwards (but tip well). However, if one of them is tossing French fries over his shoulder like he's a new bride, and the other one is half a dozen sips into the ranch dressing, it's time to go."
When does it get easier???
A good friend, Colleen F., has four children, eight and under, with twin six-year-olds. She reports that, “Having twin babies and a 20-month-old was the most exhausting time in my life. I walked outside, and four months had passed! And so, yes, the physical work does start to become easier. Now they dress themselves, eat, bathe, walk to the car, etc."
But, it's not just about physical work. Colleen adds, “What has surprised me are the emotional challenges. I have realized that their emotional needs, the need for separation and to be recognized as individuals, are now what we need to balance. For instance, now we balance when one twin scores two goals and the other scores none. What we say and do, to grow them as unique and different children, is my new parenting challenge."
And while discovering who multiples are as different children is a challenging balance, Colleen also states how exciting it is, “Watching these boys become two very different people is fascinating. They have always had each other: to play together, eat together, share a room. Yet, they are so different. It is amazing."
Parenting multiples, while more and more common these days, has its own set of challenges and joys. As a parent coach, I always recommend support, asking for and being able to receive help and cultivating a good sense of humor. And while the work is most intense, self-care and attention to your marriage is key. Parenting multiples isn't easy, but the rewards are unique and sweet! Enjoy them!