Sunday, October 10, 2010

Advice For Twin Moms, Nearly Six Years In

Yesterday, at a kids' birthday party, I was standing by the bouncy house watching my boy/girl twins, now five-and-three-quarters,  bounce themselves into a gleeful state, when a pregnant woman approached me.  Her own kid, a three-year-old girl, was bouncing along with mine, and she'd ascertained mine were twins.  "Any advice?" she asked, explaining, "I'm about to have twin boys."

I was instantly transported back to those early days of twin momhood, when I felt as if I'd been instantly propelled into a giant bouncy house the moment the c-section began.

At nearly six years into being a mother of twins, I am only just beginning to realize I've landed from all that bouncing, and can feel solid ground beneath my feet again.  But those memories of the first days are sharp, and though much of the past few years has gone by in a flurry and a blur, I do have a few suggestions to share that may make the experience of raising twins from babyhood to kindergarten a wee bit easier.

1)In those first months, when you get up to feed one, feed the other right after ... even if you have to wake up Baby #2. 

I know it sounds like it's against the "never wake a sleeping baby" wisdom, and the dictum, "feed on demand," but the truth is, the person who needs sleep the most and isn't getting it is MOM.  The only way to ensure mom gets some is to feed those babies one after the other.  I'd also suggest, if you're breastfeeding, to hand off the babies to someone else to either "top off" with a bottle, or let someone else -- dad or grandma or a night nurse if you can afford that luxury -- do a middle of the night bottle feed so you don't have to.  Some breastfeeding experts or proponents may worry your kids will have nipple confusion and reject the breast or the bottle.  Mine got the bottle as early as the hospital and still latched on fine for the brief time I breast fed both kids.  And that leads to my second piece of advice:

2)If you wind up not breastfeeding, don't have a guilt trip.

I say this because I did.  Six days after we got home from the hospital, my daughter, AKA Thing 2, developed a fever and had to go into the NICU for ten days.  We theorize she might've been exposed to something while still in the hospital before we got her home, as we were excellent about hygeine when we got our babies home, and her little brother never caught whatever virus she had.  But the main point of this story is, my breastfeeding when to hell after that.  I tried pumping in the NICU, I tried keeping up the feedings of Thing 1 at home, but milk production dropped and I wasn't up to all the steps I'd have had to take to get it back up.  I was too worried.  I also managed to beat myself up and feel like a failure when the breastfeeding ended within four weeks of having my twins.  That did nobody any good whatsoever.  And as soon as Thing 2 came home, she proved a great eater.  Both kids were formula-fed  for much of that first year, and they've done just fine.  In fact, Thing 2 is less prone to catching those preschool and now kindergarten colds than her brother, despite that first virus, and in general, both are very healthy kids.

3)Give your kids separate time with each parent.

This advice should kick in when they're a little older.  Though some people can do it right away, I think that first year or so you're in survival mode, and you don't have this luxury very often.  It's especially hard if, like Late Blooming Mom and Dad, both parents work full time.  But as the kids get mobile and start walking and talking, it's key to both individual development for your twins, and sanity for you as parents.  I've hit on this theme before (see my blogpost Two Kids?  Divide And Conquer), but can't say enough in favor of doing this.  Just about every Saturday for the past two years, and intermittently before that, my husband and I have each taken one kid and spent a good part of the day alone with that kid.  We've also sometimes separated the kids for baths, for bedtime stories, for doctor's appointments, etc. 

Every time we've done it, it's been sooooooo much easier than being with both of them at the same time.  It's almost like a vacation.  There are little things, like when you're only out and about with one kid, getting them in and out of the car seat multiple times and making multiple stops with them is so much quicker and less of a hassle than with two.  And taking one ot the park, without having to worry about losing sight of the other just when they're about to take a fall and break a tooth, is actually relaxing.  But the bigger thing is simply that one kid can bask in 100% of one parent's attention without having to fight for it.  And you can get to know your own kid in a way you just can't when he or she is always with the other twin.  Time slows down and so does your pulse.  The little moments can happen; you can both just breathe.  We found the fits and temper tantrums almost magically disappeared on many of our separate Saturdays.  Each kid was mostly a perfect little angel, and when they were not, each parent was far more patient and understanding and better able to diffuse the situation.

4)Take the kids to separate enrichment classes and playdates when you can.

This was probably a bit easier for me because my kids are not of the same gender, and very naturally have had different interests.  And again, it's easier to do, and more important, after they get a little older, certainly by four.  When they were babies and toddlers, taking them to a music class or gym class usually required two hands on deck.  But now that the classes don't require parents to be in the class with the kids, it's easier to manage taking them to different classes.  Thing 1 is in her second year of ballet, now ballet and tap, and it's all about the clothes and the shoes and the hairdo.  She couldn't be more of a girly girl.  Thing 2, after spending much of the last school year Saturdays in various sports/gym classes, has gravitated toward music, and is happily getting his musical foundations in a Saturday morning class. It's been delightful watching them develop their own interests and seeing their enthusiasm at pursuing these interests.

Both kids have also had a few playdates on which the other sibling did not come, or had a friend over to our place without having sibling interference.  One thing this really helped was the transition to kindergarten, where my twins are now in separate classrooms; in preschool, my kids were in the same classroom for three years.  They took to kindergarten like ducks to water, and with only minimal anxiety about being separated.

5)Get to know some other parents of twins, and play with at least one twin family with kids the same age as yours.

In these first five years, it's been really helpful to have people to talk to in support meetings, and to exchange message board questions and answers, and I've done this via the West Los Angeles Parents of Multiples.  There are similar twin or multiples parent clubs all over the country.  There's great comfort, a feeling of solidarity, a sense of validation and occasional necessary commiseration that comes with knowing people who are going through pretty much the same thing you are going through, at the same time.  If you're going through something twin-specific, chances are, another twin parent is going to "get it." 

I also met another family with twins around the same age via a toddler music class, and it's been a great thing to have playdates with them.  Each of my kids gets a playmate (like us, this family has boy/girl twins), and the parental friendships have kicked in as well.  Twin parents aren't the only ones in the family who need to be with people who "get it."  If your kids can develop a friendship with a playmate who gets what it's like having a twin, well, that's a good thing too.

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