25 Practical Tips About the Horrors of Raising Twins
A few years ago, I wrote a piece entitled, "30 Practical Tips About the Horrors of Raising a Baby That You Will Never Learn from Movies and TV." It was a simple advice piece for new and expecting parents based on our own experiences with our son. Since then, however, my wife and I experienced a harrowing, miraculous monoamniotic twin pregnancy, and managed to live through nearly the hardest two years of our twin daughters' lives. With that experience now under our belts, I thought I would offer another parenting advice piece to those with new twins, or expecting them. The same advice from the previous piece still applies, of course, in addition to the following 25 listed items.
1. The pregnancy will be harrowing, regardless of what kind of twins you have. Count on something unusual/scary/confusing/gross coming up at some point, and try not to take it too much to heart. The human body is stretched to its limits in any pregnancy; multiple pregnancies start to seem like science fiction the longer you think about them (wait. How many are in there right now?? what!??). So find great care providers and trust them, and remember it will all be a blur from here on in.
2. There's a good chance that, if you have twins, they will spend some time in the hospital after they are born. Twins, even lower-risk twins, are often born prematurely. However, hospitals are amazing these days. While your twins are in the Intensive Care Unit, it will feel like the longest weeks of your life, but chances are, they will be totally fine at the end of it. As long as the days felt while they were in the hospital, however, they will feel twice as long when they come home. In your mind, you will be begging for a nurse to come and feed your children just once more so you can get an extra hour of sleep.
3. If you have identical twins, get used to them drawing lots of attention when you go out in public. The attention is not so much directed at them, but in your general vicinity, like whispers on the sidelines but everywhere you go. In fact, it's kind of fun if one parent takes both twins, and the other parent walks 20 feet behind them to observe all of the faces of people reacting "Did you see those twins? OMG. TWINS!"
4. No matter what kind of twins you have, the first thing everyone you encounter will say is "Are those twins?" People will cross the street to say this to you. They will come out from behind store displays, roll car windows down, leave their vehicles at the gas pump. No matter how many advanced degrees they posses, how many children they have of their own, or how intuitive and erudite they may be normally, they will still ask, "Are those twins?"
Just say "Yes," and try not to sound like you're Cher from Clueless. "Um....yeah!"
5. If you're a Mom of twins, the second question total strangers will ask is, "Are they natural?" Evidently this does not refer to whether they are cyborg or human, but how they were conceived. And yes, it's a very personal question. Which maybe involves everyone in the conversation imagining you having sex. And also, if you have struggled with infertility, this question may bring up really painful experiences that you would prefer not to recall with someone you have never met and will never see again. But don't worry, even if you say they were conceived "naturally," many strangers will assume you're lying.
6. "I knew a twin!" Everyone has a twin story. None of them are interesting. Your cousins are twins?! Wow! Okay! Your mailman's brother had twins and one died. Jeez! Wow! Okay! Your grade-school had seven sets of twins and your mom always said there was something in the water! My goodness. Listen: The only people who have interesting twin stories are parents of twins, and they know you're far too exhausted to hear and/or remember any of them. Older twin parents will smile shyly at you and say "I have twins, too. It gets better. You're doing great." They are like unicorns. Take photos with these people and keep them in your wallet.
7. Some people are really interested in exploring the paranormal powers of twin children. If you are someone who believes in extra-sensory perception, mystical powers, the occult, and paranormal activity, then sure, I get that you might also believe in the possibility of secret twin capabilities. But if you don't believe in these things in any other context, what the hell are you on about? If, when the time comes, our twins independently want to share with the world the unusual qualities of their relationship or abilities, that's cool. Until then, nobody needs to anticipate a "secret language" any more or less than a "terrible pitch" or "great hand-eye coordination." We had twins, not M. Night Shyamalan characters.
8. Twins' behavior is often interpreted as being in concert or in harmony, despite significant evidence to the contrary. For instance, if your twins are both perched atop a slide, their little fists wailing away at each other while they contort their bodies and scream, some may think, "Oh, that's adorable! They're twins! They are frustrated because they want to slide down together, at the same time." When in reality, they are fighting to get away from one another, because each wants to go down the slide first. Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt. Let them be super close, super distant, and anything in between; as with any siblings, their relationship should be allowed to change according to their moods and situations.
9. Along that same vein, it's a good idea to buy two of everything, because at some point, if one twin has a toy, the other twin will also want that same toy, even if there are 99 better toys in the same vicinity. Note that even the two-of-everything approach can backfire, however, if one twin is grabby and insists on having both identical toys at the same time. Give a new, wrapped roll of toilet paper to the twin whose toys have been stolen. Your living room will look like a bomb went off, but who can put a price on 10 glee-filled minutes?
10. You may think that changing diapers for two babies requires the same amount of effort as changing the diaper of one baby, times two. This is inaccurate. It's actually more than twice the effort, because while you are changing one baby's diaper, you will simultaneously have to keep the other baby occupied so that she will not steal the clean diaper you are about to put on or the poopy diaper you have just removed, or crawl over the head of the baby you are attempting to change, or run screaming through the house pulling wipes out of the wipes box and throwing them on the floor while using your phone to update your facebook status to "e29,28889xmn". (All of these things will happen. Regularly.)
11. Despite the fact that your twins were born at the same time, and may even look similar, they will not necessarily develop at the same rate. Try to resist comparison. Do not assume that the twin who has not yet learned how to say "ball" is the dumb one, or that the twin who falls down the least amount of times is the "sporty" one. And just tell your Uncle you want a gift receipt for the "I'm with stupid" onesie.
12. You will have no money. Ever again.
13. It's not a competition: Whether you're raising one or four, raising children is hard. Don't be one of those douchey twin parents who discounts the tireless efforts of other parents just because they're raising singletons. All good parents work hard to raise good children (but yes, twin parents, your job is much harder).
14. Invest in a wholesale club membership. Not only will you save money by buying in bulk, but wholesale clubs have grocery carts designed for two small children, damn near a necessity if you need to buy groceries and the other parent is out of town or otherwise unavailable. It's either that, or front-pack one child, stick the other in the grocery cart, and walk around the grocery store (note to twin Dads: this expert/martyr Dad move will draw the ladies like ducks to bread).
15. If you already have a young child, and now you are having twins, you have to buy a minivan. This seems like a joke. I wish so fervently that it were a joke. But you literally have to. Go. Right now. The guy who shows them to you is going to talk up the cup holders, as though you care at all about cup holders. Just tell him to quit it with the snow job and find you the cheapest, safest minivan on the lot. Then come home and cry. You just bought a minivan!
16. You will be so tired, you literally won't remember most of the first three to six months. If given the chance, we would have slept anywhere: on the floor, in a dining room chair, standing up, leaning over. I would have crawled into that space for big items under the shopping cart if I thought I would have been left in peace to sleep. The level of exhaustion is so intense it is like looking into the sun. If you have the money, hire someone to come to your house and when they get there, leave and go to sleep. If you don't have the money, try to take turns so that you can take breaks. If you have an older child who will need your attention when you aren't with the babies, invest in a serious coffee maker.
17. Feeding multiples is really difficult. If you are nursing, pumping, or formula feeding. Some mothers can nurse twins at the same time, and that's amazing. It also means that you'll need to be at home for the first year. Many mothers do not have that option, but insist on breast milk, which means that the mother will basically have a breast pump attached to her for the first year. My wife, who is an attorney, is incredible. She pumped every three hours for 12 months, even if that meant she had to do so in her car in a parking lot outside of a courtroom.
There are an incredible amount of of bottles and pump parts, however, to maintain. Overnight, every three hours (or two hours, during the first few weeks), my wife would pump, while I would wake the twins to feed them. By the time that the feeding process was over, and the bottles made, and the pump parts cleaned, it was time to wake up again. If you're lucky, you get to sleep in four hour-long spurts, interrupted throughout the night.
Also, plan to have a good dishwasher, because it will be running perpetually for the first year. This is an actual picture of our countertop during that period.
18. You really don't have any money. Check your bank account; if there's a balance, that means you forgot to buy the car seats.
19. If one of your twins gets sick, infect the other one as soon as possible.The other baby is going to get sick, anyway. It is inevitable. It cannot be prevented, so try to manage it. Take the sick baby's toothbrush, and brush your well baby's entire face with it. The only thing worse to working parents than two sick babies at the same time is one sick baby who gets better right as the other baby gets sick, which means instead of taking off four days to care for your sick children, you have to take off 7 days.
20. Some may assume that because they share the same womb and/or look alike, that they are the same unit. They often will not be referred to as individuals, but as "the twins." Recent studies suggest this isn't great for individuation (you don't say!?!) so try to do things that help people (including yourself) remember the distinct attributes of each child. This is particularly important because you will rarely know where they are, and sometimes won't know who is who.
21. Unfortunately, though some may treat your twins as a single unit, that treatment will not extend to daycare, where you will still have to pay for two.
22. If you have identical twins, people will ask you, "How do you tell them apart?" People just assume that, because you are the parents, you will have this magical ability to make the distinction between two completely identical children who have not yet formed personalities. It's much harder than you think. We kept the hospital bracelets on for a week or two, until one of our twins developed a very small, very faint birthmark, which is all we had to go on. Even still, you will call your twins by the wrong name at least three times a day. It does not make you a bad parent. In fact, during the first year, you will not only call your children by the wrong name, you'll call your spouse by the wrong name, and probably your boss, as well. There's a very good chance you will forget your own name from time to time.
23. There's another reason you may call your spouse by the wrong name, too. Once you've seen your spouse at 4 a.m. without pants holding one baby in her arms, while rhythmically patting the other whimpering baby in the crib in a room that smells of diapers, it's hard to recall the person with whom you walked down the aisle.
24. Cloth diapers? Hahahahahahahahaha!
25. Twins are an experience unlike any other, and you are lucky to have the chance to try your hand at this insanely complicated parenting challenge. Embrace the craziness, and be good to yourselves. It really does get better. Someday. I'm sure of it.
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