Over the summer I sat on the beach with my toes in the sand and marveled at the greatness of the ocean. The Oregon Coast is famous for undertow, and growing up as a native I learned from an early age never to turn my back to the sea.
As parents of multiples our lives can often feel like these ocean currents. One minute we feel the joy that comes from jumping the waves with our little ones, and the next, we feel overwhelmed by its currents.
The truth is being a parent of multiples brings its own set of challenges to raising children in today’s society. You are raising multiples in a singleton world. According to the 2014 World census, the average woman will deliver 2 children in her lifetime. Even though the birth rate of multiples continues to increase, society thinks multiples are a big deal.
The one thing I was never prepared for prior to delivering our twins was the public display we would become. When the twins were little I could not go out in public without someone making comment. All I wanted to do was get in, get it done, and get out. Instead I found myself constantly fielding questions and fighting off the crowds. Our twins are NOT Identical. They are both blonde and blue eyed, but that is about it. Yet, to this day, I still field the questions, the spectators, and the photographers (as I like to call them).
Why are multiples such a big deal?
Multiples do not make a rare appearance in our family. We have every type of twin: identical boys, identical girls, fraternal boys, sororal girls, boy/girl, and virtual twins. On my husband’s side of the family, our girls are the 3rd set of twins in his immediate family. We are often surrounded by other multiples but until I became a mom of twins I don’t think I “got it”. I’m pretty confident that I asked one of those crazy twin questions before our girls were born, and I’m pretty sure I too thought that multiples were a big deal.
Over the years I have learned not to fight it. I used to get annoyed by the comments and/or the spectators (ok, sometimes I still do), but I have become more understanding to the situation. We live in a world where large families are becoming a thing of the past, and the multiples our world is exposed to are those in the limelight. The world assumes fertility drugs at first glance, and, yes, some of our beautiful babies came to us with fertility assistance, but not all of them. I don’t think that everyone who inquires intends to be rude, or disruptive, or flat out obnoxious. They are curious.
What is more important is how we as parents handle the situation. We are stepping into that huge ocean and we must not turn our backs to the sea. We must learn how to help our multiples survive in a singleton world.
Be the “Mama Bear”
Because you are the spectacle (especially while they are little) it is important to be the ‘Mama Bear’. I do not take this lightly. On more than one occasion I had a complete stranger attempt to walk off with my stroller while I was standing right next to it. This is also important for reasons of teaching our children stranger danger. As the kids grow they become very used to the line of twins questioning. While most of it is harmless, complete strangers are also encouraging our children to respond in a way that we as parents try to avoid.
A few weeks ago I took my twins to the dentist for their four year check-up. As we walked in they saw the toys and headed straight for ‘kid corner’. I proceeded to check us in. As I was making our co-pays, I noticed a lady get up from her seat by the door and walk over and sit next to my children. She started a conversation with them. Of course, her first question was, “Are you twins?” I understand her curiosity of multiples, but approaching my children as a stranger scared them. So, the real question is, ‘Where do we draw the line?’ How do we protect them without being rude?
We have taught our twins to wait for our signal. They watch for mom or dad to give the ok.
If you are ever in a situation where your children are uncomfortable by the line of questioning, by all means be that mama or papa bear and get out of dodge. Politely saying “I’m sorry, but he/she is a little shy” while walking away and wishing them a nice day is perfectly acceptable. Don’t feel obligated to answer questions. As parents we need to put our children first.
No matter how hard you work as a parent to separate your multiples collectively, someone is always going to refer to them as ‘The Twins’ or ‘The Triplets’, etc. Your children are going to see the fanfare that comes from being a twin. It is important to educate them about what it means to be a multiple, and the unique ‘gift’ that they share. Start this process early. Help them understand that they were born together. Share pictures with them as infants and talk to them about what it was like having two (or more) babies. Talk to them about why multiples are unique, and give them the tools to answer people’s questions.
A few months ago on the play-ground we had to chuckle as some kids approached our girls to play. As these children stood around our girls’, one little boy asked, “Are you alike?” Our Hanna responded, “I’m Hanna, she’s Emma, we are twins, but we are different, let’s play.” Off the kids ran to play. I stood there looking at my husband and laughed.
Multiples CAN BE the best of friends. They share a special bond. My girls were only 1 month old when I experienced ‘sisterhood’ for the first time. One evening I laid our fussy baby next to her twin. As she lay there crying, her twin reached over and stuck her thumb in her mouth. I turned around to see two babies snuggling and our fussy baby sucking on sister’s thumb. She wouldn’t take the binky, but her sister’s sweet cuddles were comfort enough to get her through the evening. As a mother, some of the most precious moments I have experienced come from turning around to see my ‘littles’ cuddling on the couch. Watching them look out for each other and seeing them imagine together. Give your twins the tools to grow together.
Raising multiples is very controversial! Everyone has an opinion on how to do it. I’m sure we have all heard: Don’t dress them alike, don’t give them similar names, don’t put them in the same class, don’t put them in the same activities, and don’t let them compete. My question is “why do we focus so much on what we shouldn’t do?”
I am a true believer that it takes a village to raise a child; however, it starts in the home. As parents we know what is best for our children. I’m not advising that we shouldn’t heed the advice we are given, but I would encourage everyone to do what works for them. It isn’t how you dress them, or what activities you put them in — it is about helping them to understand who they are. Siblings in general are going to argue. Kids in general are going to compete. That isn’t a bad thing. Competing teaches our children how to work together and how to be humble. Allow your children to resolve their differences without stepping in to solve the battle every time. They need to learn to work it out. If we as parents focus so much on what we shouldn’t do, we will miss those opportunities of learning what we should do. Don’t be so afraid of the similarities in your multiples that you encourage them to be too different. Let them develop that special bond and teach them how precious it is, while also encouraging individualism.
Allow them to discover their individuality
Give your children the tools to develop an individual worth. They all have a purpose to fulfill in life. Allow them to discover their own talents and encourage them never to give up. Each of our children will develop their own strengths and weaknesses. Expose them to as much of the world as you can, especially at a young age. Children are like sponges. They soak everything up. Don’t be so regimented in your schedules that you forget to stop and enjoy their childhood. Allow them to touch, see, and feel the world. Introduce them to sports, to the arts, and to science. Let them root for your favorite team at a football game, or cheer on the marching band. Let them make believe! Don’t be afraid to let your little boys dress up, or let your little girls play in the dirt. It is in those “imperfect moments” when our children are just being kids that they discover how to communicate, how to play fair, and how to work harder. They learn about the things that they like, and the things they don’t like. Our little ones start to dream about what they want to be when they grow up. By allowing them to try new things, practice perfecting them, and showcasing it to those that they love, they will gain confidence and feel a sense of accomplishment. There is nothing greater than seeing our little ones proud of themselves. Support them in all that they do. Don’t be that absent parent that misses the moments. Don’t be a sideline dad and mom. Simply be there … they grow up way too fast.
How is it that people perceive them to be exactly alike, but fail to understand why they are connected? I struggle with this one often. Our girls are four. We have tried to involve them in outside activities, preschool, and primary at church. Several weeks ago one of them received “The Golden Ticket”. It is an award given to the children at church for extraordinary behavior. (NOTE: All of the children are eventually awarded the golden ticket), but the Sunday it was awarded to our Emma just happened to be the first time our children sang with the primary children in church. Both of our girls felt they did an awesome Job, and our poor Hanna did not understand why she too did not receive “The Golden Ticket.” This was a talk I had to have with one of the teachers to help them understand the mind of four year old twins. It wasn’t about jealousy, it was about accomplishment. However, the following week our Hanna received a “Sticker Award” in Preschool for kindness. As I picked them up from preschool our Emma dissolved into tears. She didn’t understand why she did not receive a kindness award. This gave me the perfect opportunity to teach my children that what is fair may not always be equal. They are not always going to get the same awards, or be good at the same things, but they can support each other in their successes. I completely understand why (as twins), having done everything together, our multiples expect things to be equal. Most everything in their life has been divided into two, up until the day they head off to school. Which leads into my next thought:
Teach your children to share! At our house we do not have two of everything. We do have two bicycles and we also have two baseball mitts, but we do not have two princess dresses, two castles, two Cinderella carriages, or two books exactly alike. We have tried to make it a point for our children to share, and play together. They huddle up two bodies behind a princess castle and play make believe together. This is not only time for them to learn how to share and how to respect others, but it is a time for them to bond.
Make it special
We all know how important it is to feel loved. We understand how special you feel when someone makes a big deal out of something you have done. Our multiples need this more than anyone. They need to understand that what they do makes a difference. Take the time to plan special moments for your children.
One on One Dates: Even on a budget you can plan one on one time with your children. Our family favorite is the ‘Dilly Date’. We will take them up the street to Dairy Queen, buy them a Dilly Bar, and sit and talk. This is a $2 date. (Confession: My husband and I go on these dates too.) Sitting at a table eating an ice-cream will open those lines of communication between you and your multiples.
Blue Plate Special: Every kid has their favorite dinner. Take the time to recognize your children at the dinner table where all their siblings can see. At our house, we call this the blue plate special. On occasion I will throw down a blue plate, blue cup, and make one of the twins favorite dinner. On their plate I write a special note telling them how special I think they are and if they did something ‘awesome’ recognizing the effort they made. Simple recognition can go a long ways in raising confidence in our multiples.
Multiples have dreams too
Help others to understand that your multiples have dreams of their own. Recently, I watched a set of twins go off to college. For the first time in their life, the two girls went off in separate directions. One went to a state college and the other to an out of state college. One was going into Nursing, and the other wanted to be a teacher. The twin going out of state for college received much more fanfare, while gracefully the twin staying in state happily supported her sister’s successes. It is important both as parents and as a community that we support multiples in each of their dreams. They will likely pursue different paths. They are twins, forever connected, but they are different people with different dreams. Don’t compare your twins. Support each of them in their dreams and allow them to pursue whatever it is they want to do.
Remember how blessed you are
Parenting multiples is not easy. I remember thinking I was tired before the twins were born. In reality I don’t think I’ve slept a sound night since the twins were born. I have been a working mom, and I am currently a stay-at-home mom. Both have their challenges. I’m not sure it ever gets easier, but I have had plenty of moments to understand that it is worth it. I am not like any of you, and you are not like me; however, we have in common a gift. ‘Our Babies.’ Whether they are two or twenty-two, they are unique. They were born together. When I need a miracle, I look at my daughters, and remember that I have two of them. I am so grateful to know they have each other. It is an honor for me to be their mother. To witness such a spiritual connection that even as their mom I can never fully understand.
The world’s response to our multiples may never change. They are used to singletons. But the way we raise our children will make all the difference in how our multiples step into the world. Our multiple babies are often referred to as ‘Thing 1 and thing 2!’, so I will quote Dr. Seuss … “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive that is You-er than You.”
Don’t ever be afraid to be ‘Thing 1 and Thing 2!’
Minden Buckingham lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband Mike and fraternal twin girls, Hanna and Emma. She has two bachelor degrees from Portland State University in Business Management and Human Resources Management. Minden is a stay home mom and enjoys the outdoors, photography, and writing.