In 2007 Oprah had a show focusing on multiples. There was a delightful family with sextuplets who shared the challenges of raising six babies at one time. The family was obviously full of love and delight with their family, yet they also provided honest feedback on the difficulties and exhaustion they faced with their unique family. They have two older children to add to the mix.
Oprah also interviewed 28-year old triplet men whom had an interesting background and achievements whose father died unexpectedly when they were 10 years old. They have two older brothers and their mother raised her five sons on a teacher’s salary after their father died. She focused on three places her children should always be: at home, in school or in church. Get this: all five sons are lawyers and achieved top of their class marks, not only in high school but university as well! It is thrilling to hear of the achievements of this special and unique family, under challenging circumstances.
So here’s my but. One cannot take away from this single mother’s love and devotion to her children, especially under extenuating circumstances. And the love of the sons (one older brother and the mother were also present) towards their mother was very evident. So what was bothering me? It took me a little while to figure it out.
Parenting multiples is a challenge. With two or more babies arriving at once and struggling to meet their needs, it is difficult to find time for one-on-one and let alone learn the unique characteristics, desires and interests of each child as an individual. Some of us have other children too, making quality individual time all the more difficult to schedule.
What stood out for me was that at age 28, these young men are a unit. As they explained, they were always in the same class, graduated high school top of the class, two were Valdictorians. They admitted that they were never sports minded. They went to the same university, all taking Law, in the same classes and graduating top of their class. They were pleased to note that they try to meet three times a week for lunch. They were dressed in spiffy suits, looking very similar, and while two were wearing black shoes, one was wearing brown. I was excited to see this obvious bit of individuality. No one spoke of dating, girlfriends or wives.
I’m not trying to tell people how to live or even make a judgment regarding their choices but in this particular case, I was left feeling sad about the lack of any expressed individuality (beyond shoe colour) of these three bright men. I believe that part of a parent’s responsibility, and particularly those of us with multiples, is to honour their birth bond while encouraging and nurturing individuality. Such balance is essential to a child’s well-being. I was left with the impression that the men and their relationship as it stood, precluded their need or desire to look outside their relationship for any other relationship comfort or connection. In other words, they received all of their connection and safety within their own relationship and hence had no need to look elsewhere. I admit I do not know this family other than what was portrayed on the show.
As can happen with multiples and the media, this “unit” of 3 persons was celebrated and acclaimed, I felt not as much on the merit of their individual achievements, but primarily on their merits as being triplets. This is dicey because what they have each achieved is something any parent would be proud of, yet once again, the public has not appreciated these multiples as individuals but mainly as triplets. Because they have been continually presented as a package to the public, it is their “package” that has been celebrated rather than whom they are as individuals. I believe they were recognized firstly as triplets rather than bright, capable, highly achieving individuals. I also believe that parents call the shots on how their children are perceived. It is the responsibility of the parents, or parent, to encourage their multiples in every aspect of their lives, including the nurturing of their individuality.
One of the beauties of having multiples is the factor of built-in playmates, something quite different from raising a singleton child when parents actively seek community situations where their singleton can learn to socialize, share and take turns. The failure to encourage our multiples to reach outside of their unique situation and embrace something else, be it activities, interests or individual friends, robs them of a chance to learn to live and adapt to the world outside of their relationship. Parents needs to be aware and take appropriate steps that each of their multiples is given a chance to shine alone. If not, they can be robbed of an opportunity to grow and develop as individuals, and that would be such a shame.