The challenge of parenting twins
PHOTO: Tim Bish, Unsplash
My husband and I have been involved in fertility treatments for several years. We are very excited at this time, because we have just found out we are expecting twins. People tell us twins are a monumental challenge. We have not had a lot of experience around babies and children and are pretty green. Can you enlighten us as to what we might expect?
Delighted in Anticipation
Dear Delighted in Anticipation,
Congratulations on the wonderful news! I can only imagine your joy at learning about the pregnancy. Absolutely nothing beats children when you look back at what brought meaning to your life. However, if your friends and family are telling you that twins are a colossal challenge, I think you should believe them and prepare. While a real blessing to achieve two children at one go, double the blessing brings double the trouble and sometimes more.
According to Multiple Births Canada fertility treatments will increase the risk of twins by 20 times. The rate of twins in Canada is 1/31. Multiples represent more than 3 per cent of Canadian births. Twins are 10 times more likely to have cerebral palsy, and disabilities are more common when children come two at a time due to prematurity and lower birth weights. In 2011, the average twin pregnancy was 36 weeks and 55 per cent of multiples are born prematurely. The cost of twins in the first year is $7000 more than a singleton not including diapers, the need for larger accommodations and renovations, the requirements for larger vehicles, the hiring of help in the home and the loss of that second income.
Your physician will tell you to take good care of yourself while you’re pregnant and to be expecting your babies early, possibly by 32 weeks gestation. You will need two of everything, which unfortunately is expensive, because you will be using the equipment with both babies at the same time. May I suggest as well, that you get plenty of rest before the twins arrive, because the big S word in your family will no longer be ‘Sex’ but ‘Sleep’.
Paul Luke in ‘Raising Twins and Triplets: Everything is a Challenge’, details some of the difficulties of having twins:
- The never-ending volume of care, crying, feeding, and diapers is exhausting.
- Chronic fatigue is normal. Parents are deprived of sleep for years.
- The criticism of others is common.
- The children often have developmental challenges.
- The financial demands are substantial.
- The strain on the parent’s relationship is increased because everything is doubled.
- The volume of unsolicited advice from others is huge.
- Feelings of guilt that there is not enough time to go around and that the children’s needs are not being met, are experienced.
- There is a greater likelihood to experience depression and anxiety, in the first year of parenthood and beyond.
- Social isolation of the parents increases.
Jennifer Walters expands this list of drawbacks in an article entitled ‘Eight Challenges Unique to Twins and How to Solve Them.’ They are:
- Identity issues
- Spitting attention
- Birthday challenges
- A dominant twin
- Separation anxiety
- Sharing possessions
- Limiting labels from others
I think you get the idea. The challenges of multiples are great. So best get prepared early. Dr. Barbara Klein in Psychology Today published an excellent article to get you started entitled ‘Parenting Twins is a Monumental Challenge’. She has lots of good ideas in this article for your first dive into the literature. A few follow:
- Get to know your children’s uniqueness
- Try to provide one on one time for each child with their own books, games and rituals
- Discourage dominance
- While twin fighting is normal, it is disruptive, so establish consequences early.
- Lower expectations and simplify demands on yourself. Limit visitors, gatherings and events.
- Have separate spaces for each child and encourage separate activities.
- Place the children in different kindergarten classes and encourage separate friendships.
- Tell stories about how your children are different rather than the same.
Lindsey Matthews in ‘What It Is Really Like to Raise Twins’ quotes Natalie Diaz, CEO of Twinversity, a support network for parents of twins, who says that having twins is not double the trouble but is “exponentially more difficult”. Matthews says that parents of twins get less sleep and have more stress. She notes that sickness transfers from one child to the other so that child care needs may be greater. The intense bond between the children, while positive in many ways, can also result in the children picking up on the negative behavior of one another. She writes that twins have great empathy and that they can make up for each other’s deficiencies in language and movement. Lindsay believes in scheduling one-on-one time for each child if possible. She talks about the difficulty of breastfeeding at the same time. She mentions that there will be lots of public attention and questions, and that twins will sometimes gang up on the parents, teachers and friends. She suggests that the parents may need to hire a nanny which while expensive, could result in the same cost as normal daycare for two babies.
Several authors highlight the stress that twins put on a marriage and I too, will make special comment on this. With two young babies it is very hard to find time to communicate about almost anything. Both the emotional and financial stresses are greater. Fatigue is chronic and time alone together is at a premium. All of this puts a big strain on a marriage or relationship. I have heard it said that the parents of twins do not come up for air for three years! It is notable that the divorce rate is higher among parents of twins than among the parents of a singleton. Suffice it to say, make time for each other and do try to put your partner first, if at all possible.
Another significant change that transpires upon the birth of twins, worthy of highlighting, is the change in your work-home life balance. Raising twins takes an incredible amount of time so don’t underestimate how difficult it will be to go back to work. May I suggest you take an extended maternity leave if possible and consider hiring a nanny to live in your home, when you resume your career.
Lest you now think having twins is only negative let me finish with some of the joys identified in an article in Today’s Parent entitled ‘You Said It the Best- and the Hardest Thing about Raising Twins’.
- Two babies at the park swinging
- The unique bond between the children
- The development of partners as a team
- One pregnancy
- One time through diapers and potty training
- The children’s closeness and friendship
- The novelty
- Watching two babies develop simultaneously
- The children can play together
- The children can soothe each other
- The children can calm each other
Recommended reading is a book by Natalie Diaz called ‘What to do when you’re having Two’.
You might also find it helpful to connect with the Ottawa Twins Parents Association, a self-help, mutual aid and support group which gives people a chance to get together and share ideas, resources and the “joys and pitfalls”. The organization can be contacted at 613-746-5254 x24.
Once again, my heartiest congratulations to you. Parenthood is the toughest but most rewarding job in the world. May you excel at it!
I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.