Sunday, March 08, 2015

Twin Peaks (and troughs).

I've read lots of articles about being a mum of twins and, in the main, they are tosh. I can see that it's easy to feel superior when you have more than one at a time but, really, why are we so insistent on competing? Is having twins or multiples harder? According to whose definition of hard? And why does it matter?

No parent is going to give birth to either of my children as a singleton. It is pointless to speculate about halving the workload associated with Rowan and Willow. I AM NOT A NUMBER, and all that jazz.

Comparisons are inevitable, of course. And to some extent, they do help us navigate the world. So I'll capitulate and share some of the things I think are different about having twins.Not better, worse, easier or harder - just different.

1. The shock factor is more intense. You can prepare for their arrival but you can't feel sleep deprivation before it hits you or adapt to labour and breastfeeding before you must. Twins tag-team or double-team you in those early weeks and months. Parents of multiples need support and are more likely to suffer from PND , marital problems and other stress-related issues.

2. However close in age any two siblings may be, parenting them is different from parenting twins. People tell me they had two children very close together and it was just like having twins: I suspect they've embraced the competitive dialogue.

In fact, it is not the same. Breastfeeding two at once is different from breastfeeding one while persuading another to eat cereal. Carrying two who can't support their heads is different from strapping on a gurgler and pushing around a chatterer in a buggy. Not harder. But definitely different.

3. Establishing sleep routines is more important. There is a lot of talk about child- or baby-led routines these days. Many parents prefer to breastfeed or cuddle their children to sleep.

With more than one baby, letting them nap when they like means sentencing yourself to no peace and no outings. And it's physically impossible to rock or breastfeed two to sleep, as I discovered when mine were around 3 months old.

Climbing that hurdle of cluelessness about how to establish routine was a nightmare. But once I'd learned a few tricks, it was wonderful.

4. Making the finances work is a challenge.

Research by TAMBA chimes with my experience.

It's a little galling that with a multiple birth, you get one set of leave and parental benefits for more than one child. Returning to work as a mother of multiples is very difficult, assuming you don't have family to do childcare and want your work to bring in money. Putting two infants in nursery in the UK is very expensive. My pre-parenthood salary was less than 30,000: I wouldn't have brought home anything at all, had I gone back to work after a year.

I imagine putting two at once through driving lessons, university, etc will be tough, too.

5. But ... BOGOF!!!

One gestation period, two babies. One labour, two babies. Asked to choose between the physical challenge of carrying two and carrying one then another, I'd opt for the former every time!

6. You can entertain them with the same stuff. One trip to soft play, two toddlers perfectly happy.
No worrying about how the baby will cope or whether the older child will be bored. They can do more or less everything together and, once they get some independence, they have a ready-made friend to hang out with.

I don't think this means twins become easy once they're 5, as I often hear. Again, I believe this is the competition speaking. Have you watched two five-year-olds at play?! It's exhausting!

7. You get kudos.

I know some parents of multiples hate all the comments. And yes, there are days when you have half-an-hour to hit Tesco and want to swallow alive the shopper whose sister had twins twenty years ago. But, in general, I am told that my work is tough more often than my peers with one child or more than one of different ages. This is a boon. In the main, the people stopping to chat aren't being negative, they're just expressing admiration.

8. Watching them develop is fascinating. You can see two different people grow up together, so you have a very good sense of what is unique about each. And you get to watch them learn to relate to a peer, at the same time as watching them become an individual.

9. There are some great perks about having twins, such as the way it dilutes parental angst. For example, I can eat lunch with Rowan and Willow and it feels neither mundane nor like a face off.

I'll stop there. Being a parent is hard work and it's wonderful. You can't superimpose one family experience onto another. It's fascinating to chat to people about the challenges and joys of their particular situation.

So let's cut each other a bit of slack, hey? Next twin mum who scoffs about the 'Are they identical?' question, I might just rant at you. You want people to understand life with twins better? You have to talk to them about it, not despise them for their ignorance.