a double-edged sword

For the first time in a long time, I have a lot of twin-related things to say. My boys are two months into their kindergarten year, and they are growing up before my eyes. But this is a post about my older singleton daughter.

She was not yet 2 when we dragged her to our ultrasound appointment and discovered we were expecting twins. Over the next three months our daughter went from having an active mother who played with her and didn’t allow TV, to a mother who lay exhausted on the sofa all day and expected her to entertain herself watching Caillou.

When the babies were born it got worse. We couldn’t afford for me to quit my job, but we also couldn’t afford daycare. My employer allowed me to work from home most of the time, so we all huddled in my office: boys in their bouncy seats, Miss A in front of Caillou, and me on my laptop, working. They cried a lot – we all cried a lot. And if all three kids were crying, the one who was fed last and whose diaper was changed last was the oldest one.

This summer Miss A started acting out quite a bit. She has just turned 8. She began to lose her temper and physically go after her siblings. She would claw at her own thighs or chest, and scream, “You’re lucky I’m not doing this to you!” She’d hit herself, kick the walls, stomp on the floor, slam doors, break things… She’d lose her temper over requests that she wear sunscreen, or a reminder that it was almost bedtime – and she could scream for hours. One night she carried on until well after midnight, screaming and drumming her heels against the wall.

The other kids told us they were afraid of her. We were afraid to leave them alone with her.

We took her to see a family counselor, and she’s also meeting with her school counselor. In both settings, all she wants to talk about is twins. She wishes we’d never had them. She wishes she was one of them. She worries about them. She hates them. She loves them.

Our family isn’t very twintastic. We have rarely done matching outfits, and because they are the same gender our twins are verbally grouped as “the boys,” rather than “the twins.” We don’t belong to twins’ clubs. This summer’s trip to Twinsburg was the most twinnish thing we’ve done. At first I thought that might have sparked Miss A’s rage, but then I traced her outbursts to a month or so before the Twins’ Days Festival. I love my little boys – each one of them, individually – as I love my little girls. She doesn’t understand that for all of the emphasis society places on twins, our family had been hoping for a singleton. She believes it’s the opposite – that everyone is secretly hoping for twins, and secretly disappointed to get just one baby at a time. She believes a parent’s love grows exponentially with each additional baby, like the work does.

When she is older I can tell her how we felt at that ultrasound; how overwhelmed and terrified we were, and how terribly hard it was for the next couple years. But for now, she’s hurting and longing for the other half she never had.

Jen is a work-from-home mom of 6-year-old twin boys, and two girls ages 3 and 8. She also blogs at Diagnosis: Urine, where she examines the finer points of potty training failure.

16 thoughts on “a double-edged sword

  1. I’m so sorry she’s having trouble. And I’m so glad you are writing about the darker realities of having twins. Our oldest was 5 when they were born and I would sob as she sat at the dinner table alone while I fed the twins and my husband worked second shift. She’s 8 and while she loves her sisters and is (mostly) glad they’re here, she is still suffering for the twins’ presence in other ways. It is harder for me to get her to soccer practice on time, I can’t volunteer in her classroom, we don’t go out really past 7 p.m., and she’s seen her mom cry from exhaustion more often than she should have to. We’re doing the best we can with the schedules and challenges we’ve been given, but I still feel such guilt.

    Having twins is a complex undertaking for every family member. Even if we’re not in the next room, know that your twin-mom sisterhood is out here understanding you and supporting you.

  2. I don’t have much to add except that I wanted to thank you for sharing this heartfelt entry. As a parent to four boys (5, 3, and almost 2 year twins), we had the same reaction when our plan to have two-maybe-three kids turned into four overnight with our first ultrasound. I remember those days of multiple kids wailing simultaneously, and I hope our older boys aren’t too scarred from the experience. Thank you for sharing your family’s story.

  3. How does your youngest feel? It is interesting because in our family the singleton also gets lost but she is the youngest and still a “baby” so she has no idea. Will she be missing her other half when she is older? How do we prevent her from feeling left out? Does it make a difference that I have B/G twins? Lots to consider.

  4. I am so glad that I found this blog and yours is the first entry I have read. I also have twin boys (now 3) and an older girl (now 6). She was 3 when they were born and she was so ANGRY for the first year and still has a lot of mixed emotions towards them. She would not draw pictures that included them for the first 2 years, and even now, they still are very small. Mine cried ALL THE TIME too, I just remember rocking back and forth, looking at the snow falling both of them crying in my arms, with tears rolling down my face while my then 3 year old clamored for attention and energy that I didn’t have. It was the most stressful time in all of our lives. They are beautiful, charming boys now who still cry/whine/fight a lot (they will fight over AIR, I swear). Things are getting better, but progress can be slow some days!

  5. Great post. My S. sounds a lot like your oldest daughter. I keep thinking it will get better, she will accept that the boys are not going anywhere and not be so threatened by them. But, it seems to be getting worse! We’re also not very twinny. I joined the twins’ club early on and it didn’t feel right. I have always felt like I had 2 boys at the same time as opposed to twins. Not sure if that makes any sense.

  6. Jen- this is a tough one. We go through something I would say is somewhat similar with the autism issue. I think we spent a lot of time making sure Miles was getting what he needed, sometimes at the expense of the other two kids. They still sometimes view his therapies and extra help he gets at home and school as unfair. I have even had them throw ‘I wish I was autistic’ my way. Nice. You’re right though, I don’t think a full explination will go very far until the are old enough to grasp the whole situation and see how it effects everyone involved.
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Jen, thank you for sharing. I know I often wonder what impact having twins will have on my older son. I see him trying to get attention, especially when the girls are needing something. I struggle with giving him the attention he needs while looking after two more dependent little ones. I don’t have any suggestions, but I hope things work out for your family.

  8. Your post has hit such a nerve with me that I am tearing up. My oldest daughter has had such an unbelievably hard time since her twin sisters came along that I feel like I could have written this post myself (except that my daughter is 4). How can a parent possibly convey how much they love their first born when the demands of twins suck them dry?

  9. Just to clairify from my earlier post, I want to point out that I would never pretend to know what it must be like to have multiples. Only that I also had no control over my sons autism and I know it has had an impact on the other kids.

  10. Oh, this has hit very close to home. My oldest girl just turned 4 when her twin sisters were born a week later. A week after that, I was in hospital from complications. After that it was the work of newborn/baby twins. It’s been so hard for K because she always has to wait for my attention. I try as often as possible to put her needs first but it isn’t enough. She is 6 now, her sisters are 2, and they go to bed earlier so we get some quality time then, but it includes homework time and bath time so that does cut down on the fun. We try to take her out individually, away from her sisters and their near constant demands/needs of 2 year olds – food shopping or errands usually. It’s a hard balance though and she gets so incredibly angry sometimes and my husband and I feel so guilty sometimes. There is the silver lining though when I look at how much they all love each other and how they will play together, despite the really hard times. I just make sure to stress to her every day how much I love her and how special she is to me. After all, while I am everyone’s mommy, she was my firstborn and she is the one who made me a mom.
    Jen, I am sending you patience and strength to get through this hard time.

  11. My heart goes out to you on this. I don’t have any advice is to heal her hurting in whatever ways you can, however limited your time and resources may be. The twins have “each other” and can probably live with less attention whereas her needs for attention are increasing at her age. My son (age 8) needs time for uninterrupted conversations with me or his dad. We carve out that time by putting the twins to bed one full hour before him, every night, including weekends, no exceptions. Our bedtime strategy is key to managing our kids. Without it my oldest would likely get *NO* attention and he would be suffering. We use the time for homework, reading, and conversing (no TV). He was 5 when the twins were born. Their big age difference does help us alot. Another idea (weather permitting) is taking a long nature walk – if you have any such walking trails nearby? The twins can run off ahead giving you time to talk with her, one on one, more often (maybe?)

  12. For some reason my prior post showed a smiley instead of my older son’s age – which is 8.
    He is 8 and my twins are 3.
    We do alot of “divide and conquer”- I will handle the twins and my husband has time with the older son. It is rare that the 5 of us do things together as the twins needs are so different.

  13. I got a little teary here too. I also have an 8 year old, but nary a 5 yr old in my house, and my twins are 3. Someone recently passed on some words of wisdom about 8 year olds to me. I don’t know how “scientifically founded” they are, but it does make sense: Basically, from the age of 8 to about 12, this lovely lady told me, girls are beginning to “find” themselves and figure out who they are. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m 33, and only recently feel like I’m really finally becoming “me” :) Anyway, maybe she’s just trying to figure out who she is, and where she fits in…like is she a sibling? A rival? A caregiver? Probably all of these things…and I’m sure there are days when it’s hard to find a balance in those roles…or to only choose the “right” and “good” ones…. not to mention the “daughter” and “student” roles as well…
    anyway….not sure if this helps at all… I like Diane’s ideas too…we use bedtime too as personal time for each of them, if we can…so hard to find the time for all of this, I know….

  14. It’s not easy being a sibling to twins. My youngest used to insist that he was my twins triplet! This is such an interesting post as I just wrote about the blogs that promote potentially dangerous ways to conceive twins. With the rise in twinning also comes more pressure for woman trying to conceive. It’s as if conceiving a singleton isn’t enough any more–now you have to try for twins! Yet the pregnancy and subsequent first few years are often difficult, as you have written so well.

  15. Pingback: back to (home)school with twins

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