Twinfant Tuesday: Loving My Babies Differently

Quality time with my son.

Quality time with my son.

Before I had kids, it was hard for me to understand how or why parents would play favorites with their kids. My relationship with my future hypothetical kids was going to be one of mutual respect and lots of unconditional love. It’s worth noting, perhaps, that my future hypothetical kids were good-natured, agreeable, and their thought processes aligned with mine remarkably well.

When my actual babies were born, I was dismayed to find out that they weren’t altogether agreeable, and that, especially with two babies, bonding wasn’t an immediate, natural thing.

This is part of twin parenting that I don’t see mentioned often; I don’t think it’s unique to my experience. Parents of one baby have time to really get to know that baby, feel comfortable to varying extents with spending time alone with that baby, and are, I think, able to bond more quickly with that single baby thanks to that individual focus. With twins, I found myself constantly having to give each baby just enough so that I could meet the needs of both. It was harder for us to spend the quality time it took get to know one another and build our relationships with one another.

Early on, I felt a very strong bond with my daughter, spunky and independent and favoring her mama in the looks department, but I had to work on my bond with my son. I had always envisioned having a daughter someday, and I felt like I knew what to do with girls. I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with a boy. My son was needier in the early days; he really wanted to spend all his time with me, snuggled up to me or nursing, while my daughter was willing to be held and fed by someone else, and to an extent, I resented the time that I couldn’t spend with my smiling, inquisitive daughter while I soothed my fussy, needy son.

I worried a lot that my daughter would feel less loved or wouldn’t bond as well with me because I spent more time with her brother. Likewise, I worried that my son wouldn’t socialize as well because he was bonding only to his mama. I worried for his relationship with his father, that they’d never really become attached, that the way we were dividing most baby duties, assigning one parent to one baby, wasn’t normal. Obviously, I’m a worrier – and post-partum hormones certainly accentuated that trait.

Over time, I reconciled myself to the idea that the time I was spending with my son was time that he really needed, and that the idea of “equal time” was something that would have to work itself out in the long run. And all that time spent one-on-one with my son really did help me to bond with him over the first few months. My needy newborn son turned into a generally laid-back, chill little guy who loves his mama fiercely, and I feel a lot more secure in my role as his parent as we navigate the waters of toddlerhood.

My daughter wound up being the baby who struggled more when they started daycare. I was surprised by that at the time; she was so much more social in home settings. But ultimately, she’s an intense little thing who requires more time to adapt to new situations than my breezy little boy does. She builds stronger relationships with people, but it takes her longer to do it. And thanks to several mama-centric phases in her later infancy and toddlerhood, I’m fairly sure that the “time spent” scale is much more balanced between the two these days.

Over time, I’ve come to find that bonding with my babies is a lot like falling in love. It doesn’t always happen at first sight – though it can happen that way. Sometimes chemistry kicks in quickly, but sometimes, love starts with a friendship and blooms over time. I’m still surprised every day at how different our relationships are, and at how they change constantly.

Minor Illness: Better Unconsolidated

“Mommy! It’s weird enough staying home on a Monday school day, but staying home without M is even weirder!” my daughter J told me while munching on dry rice cereal this morning.

We didn’t have the weekend we’d hoped for. I went to the gym Saturday morning, as planned. We spent part of the morning cleaning the house, then stopped by a store for a birthday present before getting on the road to a friend’s birthday party. About a mile from the house, I heard a sound from the back seat. I looked in the rearview mirror, and poor little M was vomiting. When she could finally catch her breath, she began to cry. “I wanna go home. Mommy, take me home.”

I was stuck at a red light in a turn lane, helpless to comfort her. As soon as I could, I turned the car around and headed home. I talked to her the entire very long mile home and she just took turns throwing up and crying. I opened J’s window for her when she began to gag. Thankfully, her breakfast stayed down.

As we pulled into our driveway, I told J that I needed her to fend for herself while I tended to her sister. I unlocked the door and let J in, then returned to the car to lift my sobbing, retching, vomit-covered M straight into the bathtub. By this time she was apologizing for the mess in the car, which I told her not to worry about. I got the shower set to a comfortable temperature, helped take off M’s clothes, then left her in the warm water to throw the soiled clothing in the washing machine. I washed the puke out of her hair and helped her wash her skin, which had her feeling much better. She asked to wear her pajamas, pathetically telling me she really didn’t want to go out again that day.

While she dressed herself, I pulled the nasty car seat out of the car. As I was pulling the cover off, I heard a wail from the girls’ room. M had thrown up again, this time on the carpet. I comforted her, dressed her, and tucked her under covers on the couch with a big bowl in her lap in case she felt nauseated again. The car seat cover went in the washing machine too, and I started it on the sanitary cycle. Then I took my carpet cleaner to the spot on the carpet.

M wanted me to hold her, which I did for a while, feeling her grow steadily warmer in my arms as she took breaks to throw up. I took her temperature, which was a miserable 102°F. Fortunately, she was able to keep a dose of ibuprofen down. By this time, J insisted that she was bored. I gave her a number of ideas for activities, but she wanted me to play with her. When M felt better, I hosed off the car seat and cleaned the car upholstery and carpet and then played a few rounds of Funglish with the girls.

(The things we moms do… comfort babies, clean up vomit, provide security and medical care. I would have never guessed this would become second nature and feel completely manageable. This stuff is easy after twinfancy!)

The next morning, M had her appetite back and was ready for cereal. The fever didn’t return, and by evening she was her normal goofy dancing self… but not before her sister began to complain of a headache, completely lose her appetite, and run her own fever.

Fortunately, J never threw up, but I elected to keep her home from school today. Daycare rules have been drilled into me for all time. No kids in school until they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours.

M tried to convince me to let her stay home, but was more than happy to go to school when she realized she wouldn’t have to go to after-school care. And that brings me back to the beginning of this post.

“Mom,” J told me, pondering the clock, “In a few minutes, M will be starting science.” An hour later, I got an update. “Now, M will be writing in her journal.”

I found it intriguing that J didn’t seem particularly concerned with what she was missing or what the class was doing. Her focus was on M’s activities. One of those twin things, I suppose.

When illnesses are minor like this, it’s so much easier to have one child be sick at a time.

Anna and Elsa Make Passions Run High

Like much of the rest of the world, my daughters and I love Disney’s latest animated blockbuster, Frozen. And when I say “love,” I mean “luuuurve” with swirly hearts and glitter suspended in the air.

In case you don’t know much about Frozen, allow me to give a short and sweet overview without any (truly movie-spoiling) spoilers. Maybe this happens to be your first stop on the internet after living in seclusion since November. I actually met someone at church on Sunday who didn’t know about the movie.

Frozen avoids my biggest pet peeve about princess movies. I’m tired of boy-saves-girl-and-they-look-into-each-other’s-eyes-and-get-married-the-end. That’s not the picture I want my children to have of marriage or femininity or life. Frozen doesn’t give you that. Yes, there’s a charming prince and a pining princess, but two different characters tell them that it is completely ridiculous to get engaged to someone you just met.

Yeah. I know. I got engaged to my ex-husband after knowing him for less than a week. We were together for 9 years and made some fantastic babies. I don’t believe it was our lightning bolt romance that led to the demise of our marriage. But we’re the exception, people! And even we were focused in those first days about what the hard work of marriage would mean, not just the butterflies of attraction.

The central love story in the film isn’t a romance. It’s the affection between two sisters. The first time we watched the movie, I looked over at my daughter J during a pivotal scene between the sisters Anna and Elsa. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. She looked at me and shrugged. “I just love Sissy so much,” she said.

But it’s not happily ever after at our house either.

Before we’d even left the movie theatre after that first show, my daughters split up the main characters. J was Elsa; M was Anna. M even saved up to buy J an Elsa doll for Christmas. When singing their duets, my daughters’ voices fit together just right and they always know which part is whose. Over the past few months, their character assignment has meant that they aren’t allowed to sing each other’s solos.

This morning, we were playing the soundtrack, J singing along with the first verse or so of “Let It Go” and then losing interest.

M picked up where J left off, only to be stared down by her sister. M had had enough. She planted both her feet, glared at J and lashed out at her.

“I’m sick of you telling me what to sing. Sick, sick, sick of it! You aren’t even singing! Why can’t I sing Elsa’s song? Stop telling me what to do!”

I happened to be holding my iPad at the time and captured my reaction.

Mom's reaction to her 7-year-old vehement self-defense.

I was covering my mouth because I didn’t want her to see my smile. Her righteous vehemence was just so cute!

J was just as taken aback as I. She hadn’t realized how much self control it had taken for M to hold in all those spectacular high notes she has. She relented and allowed M to finish out the song.

I wonder whether loosening up the controls on who sings what will lead to arguments during duet time now.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

One Grilled Cheese

A mother makes dinner for 3 on autopilot, instead of just for herself and one of her twins.

This year, my daughters’ after school care provider, the YMCA, began offering free dinner to children who are still in their care at 5:30 pm.

While it take some relinquishing of control on my part, I’ve come to love it. The girls aren’t grumpy from hunger when I pick them up. Waiting to feed myself until after they’re in bed gives us that much more time together. I don’t have to do backbends to ensure that they’re fed before evening activities such as dance lessons and Girl Scouts.

Sadly, as the novelty has worn off, my daughters have discovered meals they don’t like and won’t eat. They’ve always skipped the same meals… until last night.

M overheard her friend Tori’s mom say that there were bad unhealthy things in corn dogs, so she decided to do without. J, on the other hand, gobbled dinner down.

When I learned this, I offered M a couple of dinner options, from which she chose a grilled cheese sandwich. When we got home, I sent the girls off to wash their hands and put their backpacks away while I made M’s sandwich. I began heating up the sandwich press, washed my hands, laid out two slices of bread, topped them with cheddar cheese slices, layered on a second slice of bread.

Once the sandwiches were warm but not crisp, the way my kids like them, I put them each on a plate and assembled a turkey sandwich in the sandwich press for myself.

When I served the sandwiches, J didn’t come to the table, of course, since she’d already eaten. And then I realized what I’d done. From habit, I’d made a sandwich for each child, even while consciously aware that only one would eat.

M ended up taking the extra sandwich, plus an apple, into school today for dinner. And then, after a friend sneezed on her sister’s dinner, she gave her half.

What do you do on autopilot?

What It’s Really Like Out and About with Multiples

A big thank you to Lesa Rhoton for sharing this video. Her daughter shows what it’s like to be out and about with multiples, infants in particular.

On behalf of all twin moms, I apologize for the “bad enough” comment.

Yes, some of the comments are just lovely. We all love hearing how adorable our babies are. But the rest? The negative stuff, in particular, the profanity, the horror, and getting into our reproductive business? Being a celebrity when you want a nice day with your family? It can get tiring. We do get used to it, and we find our defense phrases. Mine was usually, “I’d rather have my hands full than empty.”

Can you relate? What’s your defense phrase?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Both Mine

Both Mine

My friend Rhema is just about every kind of wonderful you can imagine.

She leads our daughters’ Girl Scout troop. She elegantly walks the line between being a role model to the girls and providing structured activities and giving them a sense of freedom and ownership over their own troop. She’s a stay-at-home mom who spends much of her time volunteering at our daughters’ school, and she is a great mother to her charming 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.

This week of Spring Break, she offered to watch my girls so I wouldn’t have to put them in the YMCA program that left me so unhappy last summer. She won’t let me pay her. I told you she was wonderful.

When I went over to her house to retrieve my daughters the other day, a friend of Rhema’s had stopped by. This friend started to tell me a story about how M had reacted to discovering that this friend had almost the same name as M herself. Before she started, though, Rhema’s friend had a question.

“Is M yours?”
“They both are,” I said.
“Oh! I guess they do look alike.”

And she told me how M, riding a bike, quite literally left a skid mark on the driveway on hearing Rhema’s friend’s name.

I didn’t realize until later that I hadn’t volunteered that M and J were twins and hadn’t felt any need to do so. Maybe we are outgrowing the twin focus after all.

Do you feel the need to point out your kids’ multiple birth when they’re mistaken for friends?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Outgrowing “Twin Issues”: Identical vs Fraternal

Several of the HDYDI Moms stopped writing for this site because their children have outgrown twin-specific issues. Several of them have contacted to say something LauraC articulated in her farewell post: “As my boys are almost 3.5… they are two very separate individual little boys who just happen to be the same age.”

An interesting pattern I noticed was that all the Moms who said something along these lines have fraternal twins. Here I am, with nearly 8-year-olds, still finding twinny things to talk about. A lot of my posts aren’t twin-specific, and many are reflective on my early years of parenting, but my identical daughters do encounter and present experiences and challenges that are unique to the twin experience.

I started asking around and got confirmation from several other moms of identical twins. We continue to tackle twin-related issues longer, it appears, than our peers with fraternal multiples.

Do fraternal twins outgrow twin issues that stick around for identical twins?

Perhaps it’s that, on average, twins who look alike get asked about whether they’re twins far longer than twins who look different. Perhaps shared DNA does hold a greater intimacy than just a shared womb and family. Perhaps identical twins have a greater tendency to see their twin relationship being at the core of who they are.

Whatever the reason, my anecdotal evidence indicates that identical twins seem to be more “twinny“, or perhaps just twinny for longer, than fraternal twins.

Do you see this distinction? Parents with older fraternal multiples, is their multiple birth less of an issue as they grow? Parents with identical multiples, what’s your experience with “twin issues” over time?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Apart for Three Hours

One evening last week, the girls from my daughters’ Girl Scout troop were going to be selling cookies at three different locations. My daughters, J and M, specifically asked if they could go separately.

Being a single mom, it’s challenging to find opportunities for my children to do things apart from one another. Even though I have wonderful friends who think nothing of helping me out by watching one or both kids, I don’t want to take advantage of their generosity too often. This was the perfect opportunity for the girls to do something away from Sissy where the other parents would be out there doing them anyway.

Twin sisters spend a rare 3 hours apart

M and J’s troop leader, a good friend of mine, picked M up from after school care and took her to her cookie booth. I picked up J an hour later, since our booth started an hour later.

Sadly, the mother of the girl who was supposed to join me and J was sick, so it was just the two of us at our cookie booth. We had a great time together, though, just Mommy and Daughter. We danced to stay warm and discussed every subject under the sun. We had a relatively successful sales day, and everyone we came across, whether or not they were buying cookies, had a smile to spare for J. One man burst out laughing at the sight of J’s face hidden in my hat and scarf, which delighted her.

When one buyer complimented J on her math skills as she tallied up the total and made change, her response surprised me: “My sister is much better at math.”

“Is she older?” was the gentleman’s predictable response.

I explained that they were twins and we completed the sale, but I felt that this was something I needed to explore further. Why, I asked my very smart daughter, did she think her sister was better at math?

“She gets better grades,” was her response.
“Like you get 98%s and she gets 100%s and higher?” I prompted.
“Exactly.”
“You are very good at math, sweetie,” I insisted. “Yes, your sister gets more excited about math than you do, but you’re still very good at it, as good as she is.”

I could tell by the look on J’s face that she was unconvinced.

“Do you know,” I continued, “that when you guys learned how to read, M thought she wasn’t a good reader? Just because she thought you were better?”

I could see the compassion J had for her sister begin to turn in on herself. I dropped the subject, but I’ll have to return to it over the next several months as I had to with M and her confidence with reading. The situation was almost exactly the same. M had identified herself as a poor reader because she considered J to be a good one. It took a lot of convincing—and being separated for the first months of kindergarten—for M to become confident in her own abilities.

After our two hours were up, we headed to my friends house for dinner and to retrieve M. J and I chatted for a while, then danced along to the radio together.

“M,” she said, then stopped.
Again, “M….”
“What about M?” I asked J.
“Oh, I was going to tell her something. I forgot.”

My daughters live together, go to class together, sleep together and bathe together. J forgot that her sister wasn’t right there by her side in the car. Thankfully, they got to see each other again a few minutes later.

I am reminded, though, how important it is for twins to spend time apart, even if they don’t always want to.

Do your multiples spend much (or any) time apart?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Again with the “You’re Not Identical”

If I ever do a standup comedy routine, this will be my opening joke.

NPGS: Are they identical?
Me: Yes.
NPGS: No, they’re not!

I understand where this comes from. I really do. The vast majority of the time, I take it with grace and give a short explanation about how “identical,” when it comes to twins, really means monozygotic.

My children aren’t always with me though. They attend public elementary school and after-school care. They’re 7 years old and not yet ready to defend the identicalness that is near the core of their senses of self. They’re okay with handling kids, but when adults question their claim to being identical, they’re put in a tough spot.

This week, my daughters had a substitute teacher who made them feel very awkward about their claim to being identical twins. J, she told them, had larger eyes, so they couldn’t possibly be identical twins. Interestingly, she made no such accusation to the other set of identical girls in their class. They have a much larger height difference than my daughters, but their faces are far more similar than my girls’.

J and M were pretty upset about this interaction when they got home. I offered to print out my post on how identical twins might not look alike to give to the sub’s son at recess to pass along to her, but they declined.

As a brown-skinned Brit, I can’t help noticing the parallels between people’s own sense of ethnic identity and people who try to argue with them about it. Living here in the US, I frequently encounter people who try to tell me that I’m not Asian, because “Asian” here means from the eastern and southeastern parts of the continent. But I don’t consider myself “Indian”, which is what people want me to call myself. Bangladesh, where I lived for 10 years of my life, and India have been distinct countries since 1947. (Bangladesh split from Pakistan in 1971). If I’m going to generalize, “Asian” is my preference.

And yes, people will try to argue with me over my self-identification, but identity is personal. No one but you gets to say who you are. And no one gets to tell my kids they’re not identical twins, not if that’s the identity they choose.

Again with the, "You're Not Identical."

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Siblings Without Rivalry – A Book Review

A mother of twins reviews Siblings Without Rivalry

Siblings Without Rivalry is by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. If you missed my review of How to Talk… you can check it out here to get a sense of the prevailing philosophy behind these books. In a nutshell, Faber and Mazlish promote empathetic communication between parents and children and collaborative solutions to conflict.

While Siblings Without Rivalry is NOT a book centered upon the unique challenges of raising multiples, its sibling-centric focus does make it very applicable to most parents of twins. The authors wrote it as a follow-up to How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk because they felt they had not had sufficient space to fully explore sibling conflict in the first book.

The most important prevailing theme throughout Siblings Without Rivalry is that parents should acknowledge and respect children’s feelings, particularly toward their siblings, without minimizing or sugar-coating them.  If a child says, “I hate Owen! He always ruins my stuff,” then rather than saying, “Be nice to your brother,” a parent might say, “You really seem angry at your brother! You wish he’d take better care of your things.” Allowing both children to express anger and validating their feelings can help them to work through the conflict on their own, increasing both their autonomy and their sense of belonging within their family.

Other Interesting Takeaways:

  1. Wherever possible, parents should stay out of conflicts between children, and instead provide them with tools to work through their disagreement together. The general formula prescribed for intervening when necessary is:
    •  Acknowledge each side’s anger: “John, you want to watch Curious George, but Kristen wants to watch Elmo, is that right?”
    • Appreciate both sides of the conflict, and express faith in their ability to come to a fair solution: “Wow, that’s tough. There’s only one television, and both of you want to use it. But I know you can come up with a solution that works for both of you.”
    • Walk away.

    I admit that I find this approach a little hard to fathom. My children are two, and while they can express (loudly) what they want, they don’t grasp the idea of compromise. Or patience. But I really like the idea of giving kids the tools to work out problems on their own without requiring Mom or Dad to resolve them. (Note that the book DOES provide a different approach for handling violent conflicts. A parent would never be advised to walk away from a fight that could cause real harm to either child.)

  2. Resist the urge to compare. I think that as twin parents, we generally know better than to do this, but comparisons can pop up in unexpected places sometimes. (“Look, your sister ate all HER food…” for example, or “Your sister put HER jacket away…”) Rather than comparing one child to another (“Why can’t you put away your toys like your brother does?”) describe the behavior that you see: “I see your blocks on the floor.” Or describe what needs to be done: “Please put your blocks away.” Likewise, be careful of comparing one child favorably to the other. Rather than saying, “You are a better eater than your sister,” describe the behavior that pleases you: “I see that you ate all your carrots!”
  3. Don’t allow your children to be locked into roles or personas. People seem really inclined to do this with twins. People often make references to one of my twins as “the shy one” or “the artistic one”. And when they were small babies, a stranger once asked me which was “the good one.” Never tell your kid, “Why are you always so mean to your brother?” The child walks away thinking, “Yes, I know I’m mean.” A better approach is to set a positive expectation for the child: “I know you can be kind to your brother.”
  4. Rather than treating children equally, strive to treat them uniquely, according to their needs. Instead of focusing on doling out identical servings of food, ask, “Do you want a little bit of _________ or a lot?” Instead of saying, “I love you both the same,” say, “I love you because you’re you! No one could ever take your place.” Give time according to need, as well. “I’m spending a lot of time helping your brother with his project right now. It’s important to him. As soon as I’m finished, I want to hear what’s important to you.” And then tune in and engage with the other child.
    This idea really resonated strongly with me. I remember being aware that one of my children really “needed” me more when they were small babies, while the other was more independent and able to accept help from others. I felt guilty about that at the time, feeling that I had somehow neglected the more independent child or affected our bonding. Now, with the space of time, I’m aware of how my relationships with my children have evolved, and I worry less about how much time I’ve spent with each and more about the quality of the time I’ve spent with each.
  5. Set expectations about boundaries of conflict. If kids hit or use name calling, say something like: “You sound mad, but I expect you to talk to your brother without hitting or calling him names.” And then provide some alternative strategies. “Rather than hitting, draw me a picture of how you feel.” “Rather than hitting your brother, go hit this pillow.” But note that insisting upon good feelings between children can lead to bad feelings or lingering resentment. Allowing bad feelings between children can help them to work through those feelings and have a more positive relationship in the long run.

 Overall Impression

As with How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, a few ideas in the book made me think, “Well, that sounds nice, but what do you do when THAT doesn’t work?” In general, though, I found Faber and Mazlish’s philosophies on how to treat and talk to siblings to be intuitive and thought-provoking. I was even able to (tactfully) suggest alternative ways to think about  and talk to my twins to other family members. All in all, I found it to be a very interesting and helpful read, but as with any parenting book, one should approach it willing to apply what makes sense and ignore what doesn’t.