When my husband, David, and I announced to our friends and acquaintances that we had adopted 4-day old twins, we were met with a deluge of responses. Many of these people had waited years while David and I had decided whether parenting was the right choice for us. Many had anxiously watched the months pass while we waited for a call from our adoption agency. So when the twins finally arrived, our friends were almost as delighted as we were, and were happy to share their congratulations, and to offer advice. Mixed in with the well-wishes were some messages that just took my breath away because they were so bizarre or negative. Some of the advice we threw away immediately, while other tips we used and found successful or pointless for us, though harmless. As you’ll discover, parenting multiples will lead to innumerable learning opportunities. Until then, please allow me to share the top three tips I found to be helpful with parenting twins:
Always Keep a Sense of Humor
You’re going to find yourself facing some truly horrifying, surreal, frustrating, and infuriating situations. David and I share a very dry, sarcastic, dark sense of humor and I credit our ability to find humor in anything with keeping us sane as parents. This coping skill served us well during our almost 3-month stint in the NICU. Trust me, if you can laugh while a doctor gives your infant a Clockwork Orange-style eye exam, it will keep you from sobbing in horror. If you can chuckle while your 3-year-old pees all over the kitchen floor as your dog looks on perplexed, it will make the situation less frustrating for everyone involved.
Sense of humor isn’t your strong suit, you say? Well here’s the deal: you’re human. Your default coping skill is the fight or flight instinct, and that is not going to serve you well as a parent. You need a new coping skill. You can’t roundhouse kick a snippy NICU nurse, but you can mimic her behind her back. You can’t run out of the house and straight to the nearest martini bar when both twins start wailing at once (it’s frowned upon), but you can plop on the floor and laugh at the absurdity of the situation. If you can laugh, it will make the darkest, loneliest days of parenting easier to bear and you’ll be modeling a healthy coping skill for your children.
Ignore the Advice
Not everyone has been a parent to twins—heck, not everyone has been a parent—but everyone will have some wisdom to share. Not all of that wisdom is wise. Some of it will be downright negligent. Some of the wisdom might work great for parents of singletons, but isn’t feasible with twins. Your best bet is to smile, say thanks, and change the subject. You don’t want to engage in an argument with a deranged person who thinks that disregarding basic safety rules is a wise choice because “I did it with my kids and they’re still alive”. I distinctly recall a friend of my mother’s telling me to ignore everything the hospital told me about putting my babies to sleep on their backs because it was “stupid”. As if I’d ignore the recommendations of medical staff to listen to a woman who was 1) kicked out of a volunteer program at a hospital and 2) isn’t allowed to be around her own grandchildren. If you’re going to listen to any advice, please go with that of the medical experts.
My favorite worst piece of advice came from a coworker when I announced to my staff that we were adopting twins. I had shared the twins’ medical status with my team, and this coworker-a NURSE, a freaking NURSE—pulled me aside to advise me to stop sharing my happy news because the twins “will probably die anyway”. I took a deep breath and ignored the urge to punch this woman in the face (see Number 1 above). Three years later, my twins are happy and healthy but that coworker remains a bitter, ugly, lonely woman.
Not all advice will be horrible, but if you choose to follow all that you’re given, you’ll literally lose your mind or at the very least, start to believe that you’re a horrible parent. Everyone is going to have something to say, and you literally cannot follow all of the advice, especially when much of that advice conflicts. Also, some of that advice just won’t work for your family and your situation. For example, many of my friends were horrified to hear that I was waking the twins in the middle of the night to stick to the feeding schedule they started in the NICU. “Please don’t tell me you’re waking a sleeping baby!” some well-meaning friend posted on Facebook. That friend is an excellent mother to two healthy elementary school children, and she had no concept of caring for 5 pound infants who desperately needed every ounce of and opportunity for nutrition provided to them.
Potty-training has been another topic where everyone has something to share, and it all conflicts. A survey of coworkers and friends indicates that they potty-trained their children anywhere between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. My own husband thinks we’ve completely failed at potty-training because our three year olds just haven’t gotten the hang of it completely yet. He buys into the family legend that he was potty-trained before his first birthday. I refuse to buy into the hype. All kids are different, and potty-training, like everything else, requires different strategies and different timelines for everyone.
Some advice you get will be reasonable and even helpful. When that happens, discuss it with your co-parent, or a trusted friend or family member, and try it out. If it works for your family, great! Just don’t ever allow yourself to feel like a bad parent because what worked for someone else doesn’t work for you.
Find What Keeps You Sane
I’ve got a difficult truth to share with you right now, but I’m going to tell it to you straight: you cannot have a clean house, an empty laundry hamper, a successful career, an exciting sex life, and a busy social life all at once. If you’re lucky, you can have maybe two of those things per week, and you’re going to have to choose. So choose wisely my friend. Find the thing that will keep you sane that day, or that week or that month, and do that, while letting the other responsibilities wait. Keep in mind that what keeps you sane may not be the thing that keeps your partner sane, and respect that. For example, my husband David cannot stand a dirty floor. David is a super-hero of a parent who can deal with practically anything else without losing his cool, but a dirty floor is his kryptonite. It’s not unusual for me to come home from work to a house filled with screaming toddlers, a barking dog, a blaring TV, and dishes piled in the sink, while David happily vacuums or mops the floors on his hands and knees. Although I can’t relate to this at all, I’ve stopped judging—it makes him feel like the house isn’t a total wreck, and gives him the peace of mind to go back and tend to everything else.
For me what keeps me sane is being able to read an article or watch a TV show at least once a week. On Saturday nights, I may be utterly exhausted and dragging the next morning, but I’ll stay up late to binge on Netflix or read anything from a celebrity gossip blog to a biography. It’s important to me to maintain some semblance of my pre-parenthood life, and to relax on something non-kid and non-work related. David can’t understand why I’d give up sleep, but he gets my need to have this time to myself, and he respects it.
What keeps you sane will probably change as time goes on, and that’s fine. There are times when one area of your life will need some emergency TLC, and you’ll need to move that area to the top of your priority list, even temporarily. It’s ok to let the dishes and laundry pile up while you catch a quick date night, or a drink with a friend. The people in your life who love you will understand and support you. As a parent, your priority is to keep your children loved and safe, and you can only accomplish that if you remain sane. So find what keeps you sane today, and do it.
photo by Linda Salesky