Sunday, August 10, 2008

Two Kids? Divide And Conquer

Awhile back I attended one of many invaluable support meetings at my local mothers-of-twins club (the West Los Angeles Parents of Multiples) and the guest speaker, a mother of twins who is also a therapist, had a mantra she kept repeating: separate, separate, separate. She didn't mean parents of multiples ought to get divorced. She meant that we ought to spend as much time one-on-one with each sibling as we can. When she was raising her twin boys, she said, she took one out with her at a time whenever possible, even if it was just to go to the grocery store, and left the other with daddy/nanny/babysitter/any available relative. She alternated which twin she'd take out, so both got plenty of mommy time. "Family time," she said -- meaning the whole family spending time as a unit -- "is over-rated."

Granted, this runs counter to a lot of conventional wisdom and studies that show families who eat dinner together are more stable. But as anyone who survived long family car rides with a sibling can attest, there's good reason to avoid enforced family togetherness, especially at close quarters. Backseat wars are no fun; who among us with a sibling doesn't remember the classic parental threat,"Don't MAKE me pull this car over!"

Late Blooming Mom that I am, I was initially opposed to the therapist/twin mom's advice, if only because it's taken me so long to have a family, and I had this idea I had to savor every precious moment of family life.

But I was in denial of a key reality: that every moment of family life ISN'T precious.

Why, just this morning, there was the moment when I cleaned up in the bathroom because my otherwise-potty-trained son missed the toilet.

Last night, I listened to my daughter scream her opposition to getting ready for bed for twenty-five ear-splitting moments.

And several times I've cleaned peanut butter out of places it should never be allowed to go.

Actually I figured out the therapist/twin mom was right on the money the very first time I ventured out solo on a Saturday with just one child. Suddenly a walk in the park was, well, just that: a walk in the park. When you're used to dealing with multiple kids and their multiple needs, tending to just one without having to have eyes in the back of your head and more hands than an octopus is a relief.

Yesterday I had one kid all morning. Today, I had the other kid all morning. I swear I can feel my blood pressure lowering as I write this.

It's not always easy to convince Thing 1 and Thing 2 that mommy and daddy are going to take them out on separate adventures. As twins, they're very close; they share a room, they attend the same preschool class, and they're always concerned about what their sibling is doing. Plus sometimes they're in a mommy phase or a daddy phase, and the odd parent out is stuck trying to convince a reluctant kid to come along.

But it's always worth the convincing.

Don't get me wrong: there are plenty of experiences I want us all to share together; read my entry just below this one. I wouldn't have changed our Chinatown adventure for anything.
But giving fully focused time and attention to one kid at a time pays off: they're better behaved when they're out on the excursion, and better behaved when they get home.

So go ahead, divide and conquer, at least every once in a while. You'll be glad you did.

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