on wholeness

In my last post, I wrote about how my oldest daughter is angry and acting out, jealous over the attention her twin brothers get from us, each other, their extended family, and from the public at large.

When the boys were little, we tried to make sure our daughter got special attention from us. She stayed up later, and she and I had tea parties together in the evenings. We went on little outings most weekends, to run errands or swing by the park.

Our boys were almost two before either of them got one-on-one time with a parent, out of the house and away from potential interruption by the other children. And those times were few and far between – mostly involving ER and urgent care visits. We poured most of our extra time into our daughter, who seemed to need us more. After all, our boys have each other.

That, right there, is the myth. Even when it benefits my singleton by securing her more individual attention from her parents and grandparents, we’re perpetuating a myth that hurts her: that she is incomplete, and would be – what? – more confident, less lonely, less needy, more whole – if only she had a twin. To treat her as though she needs more and her brothers need less, is to reinforce the lie she believes – that she is missing something that would complete her.

Our boys are 6 now, and even though they miss each other when they’re apart, they want one-on-one time with us. And they deserve it, as much as their sisters do. They might deserve it more, because they’ve certainly received less individual attention over their lifetimes than either of their singleton sisters has.

I struggle with meeting each of their needs for my undivided attention, like any busy parent does. Clearly the strategy we employed for the first 5 or so years of the boys’ lives – giving their older sister more time because she seemed to need it more – did not work. And as the boys have gotten older we’ve run into more situations where their being twins is not a boon, but a burden for them. Our new strategy is to treat them equally. Our twins are no more special than our singletons, nor any less deserving of our time and attention.

Because our kids are so close in age – and because our oldest needs to be in bed by 7:30 to keep her temper in check – they have the same bedtime. Our individual time comes on weekends. We rotate; each child gets one “date” with Mom and one with Dad before the next round begins. We started this over the summer and are still working through round 2.

I have no idea whether the “equality” approach to parenting is the right one, but I’m hoping that by consciously treating each child the same way, rather than according to what I perceive to be his or her need, I’ll be able to soothe my daughter’s fears that she’s missing something important and drive home to my boys that they are complete as separate individuals, as well.

(One of you asked about my youngest and how she feels – she’s not yet 4 and seems well adjusted so far. Most of her strong feelings hinge on things like Cheetos and her princess nightgown and when she watches “Dora,” so it’s hard to tell how badly I’ve screwed her up at this point.)

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.

11 thoughts on “on wholeness

  1. I think that treating them the same and giving them equal individual time is what is needed. However,I have one son and a step daughter who are 4 years apart. I try to treat them the same but with the age difference and the fact that she visits her mom on weekends is hard. If anyone has any advice, knows of any blogs I can follow for that, please let me know. It is a hard situation and I believe that step-parenting may be the hardest job anyone can do! Other than that, I love your blog.

  2. I enjoy your post. It brings to mind something though, which is that “back in the old days” when parents raised large families, no one gave a thought to “individual attention” and the kids were expected to pitch in, do their share, be well mannered, well behaved, respect their parents. The focus was not on the kids and their needs, but rather on the family unit and what made it function. I dare say the parents even considered their own needs once in a while. It benefits kids to know the world does not revolve around them. In no way does that diminish the importance of love and recognition and praise and encouragement which can and should be unique and special to each child. I guess what I’m saying is, my day to day life of raising 3 boys and working just doesn’t leave much time to consider their needs. Its about making the family function and making expectations clear. Kids thrive on routine and boundaries and as you do your best to guide those kids, don’t be tricked into the modern psychology of the “kid-centric” family – its not good for anyone! (just my opinion, probably controversial). Anyway…

  3. Jen–I LOVE this. It’s right on. I do treat my oldest as if she’s missing something sometimes…and you are totally right, that’s just a myth. Our baby gets “babied” because he’s the youngest, but I’m always more worried about what the stress of siblings does to our oldest. Hmmm.

    Also, I think it’s hard to have twins that are boys, and an older sibling that is a girl. Grace (our oldest) has always been okay w/ the twins, because it gave her a sister…and now that we split them up into boy/girl rooms, Grace and Libby are more of a pair than Libby and John (the twins). I was PARANOID that I was going to have girl/girl twins, because then I truly feared that Grace would be left out a lot of the time.

    Really. I think I worry that I am really messing my kids up, no matter what the scenario. This is a common theme for me.

  4. Sounds like a good diagnosis and plan. I don’t have enough time to schedule one on one time in (kudos to you for doing it!) so I just try to make the most of the short spontaneous moments where one twin is preoccupied. Whether its just time to say “You’re cute/super/lovely ” or maybe a little more time to sit and read a story in their room.” Whatever it is, I try to let them know that I’m only thinking about them at that moment.

  5. I am a triplet and I have a much younger brother. My mom always says her regret is trying to be “fair” all the time — be equal in the stuff we received and amount of attention. We stopped comparing/counting a long time ago but I do see her point since we did keep track for a while about who got what (or got to do what). I think so long as there is not marked excessive attention paid to one child it is fine to give your older daughter more because she needs more right now.

  6. Very interesting. I’m looking at this from the other direction right now – twins first and singleton on the way. I know my husband is very (overly, in my opinion) concerned about “slighting” our older kids by adding a sibling. It will be an interesting balance to maintain and watch for.

  7. I have been thinking about this since your first post. I want ALL of my children to be well adjusted, not just the twins or my singleton. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you are going to treat them all equally. After all, they are all siblings so they do have eachother, twins or not. I know that having sisters made my childhood better.

    This was a great post, thank you for writting it (and the first one)

  8. I am inclined to agree with Diane. I have wondered if the kid-centric family contributes to the self-entitled attitude we see so much these days.

    Jen – I don’t really have any advice – my oldest is only 4, so he is not to the point of voicing this kind of frustration. Being a boy he might not ever voice it. ;) I do worry sometimes about the attention his brother/sister get just because they are twins though. I imagine it is more dramatic with same sex twins. I don’t usually think of my younger two as a unit, though I do find that I lump them together when doing things. Like changing diapers at the same time, or when I give them a bath it’s always together.

    Good post. I hope the equality approach works for you.

  9. Keep in mind that some of those families in the “old days” did not have twins. Twins are a whole different story. Individual time with them is even more important because they are often viewed as a unit, and it’s easy for them to feel like they are not an individual. It’s hard to even get to know your own kids because they are always together.

    Check out the book One and the Same by Abigail Pograbin. She talks about this and says that if there was one thing she wishes, it was that her parents spent individual time with her and her twin sister. Her parents admit this downfall as well, recalling that as a teenager, Abigail was hesitant to spend a weekend away with her parents because she had never been alone with them. What a tough thing to hear as a parent. We do small weekend errands with our twins +1. It gives us the individual time we want with them, and saves the other parent from having to stay home with all 3 kids. :)

  10. I agree with Diane ….. but I could have written this exact post, Jen.

    My daughter is 4, 25 months older than my twin boys. I purposefully arranged the children’s schedule in Mothers Day Out so that there were days that the boys would be home alone with me, and other days that Rachel would be home alone with me.

    She is a different child those days — all sunshine and light, making it very obvious that she CRAVES and thrives on the individual attention from us. The boys don’t seem to mind if she’s at home, or gone to school — they love her all the same.

    It’s SO hard to have the balance between treating everyone fairly, having time with each child, and having time for your marriage. I’ve often read that a solid marriage is one of the best things we can give our children. I’m starting there and working my way down. :)

  11. We made a decision when my b/g twins were born that they would each have a name day (Sean day and Ilsa day) that falls once a year on the birthday of their middle namesake.

    On that day, we try to get childcare for the one whose name day it is not, and both of us spend some time with only that child. Wow – hard to do. They’ve only had one so far. And I keep forgetting the dates! But it was so great to see them benefit from having both parents fawning over them.

    As they get older, maybe they’ll each want their sib to be a part of their name day. Kind of like having a birthday and having your different aged sibling celebrate you too. Twins have to choose between celebrating themselves or their twin on their birthday and that seems like kind of missing out on the whole “it’s all about me” thing that a birthday usually offers.

    Additionally, recently my husband and I go “man on man” on Saturdays and each take a baby for the day. That way we each get bonding time with one and then we switch the next weekend. I learned things about my quieter son last weekend that I was missing by responding my daughter “the squeaky wheel” all the time. He was practically giddy at the end of the day from all that mom time.

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