Grandparenting Multiples: Hints, Do’s and Don’ts

Lynda gratefully acknowledges the support and input of two Exceptional Grandmothers, Adiva Sotzsky and Sue Purdon, in preparing this article.

I love the bumper sticker that reads “If I had known what fun having grandchildren were, I would have had them first!”

Grandfather with twinsBasically that says it all. A time of their lives that many parents look forward to is to the time they will become Grandparents. While we have enjoyed (and asked ourselves along the way “What the heck am I doing?  I am useless at this!”) the journey of raising our own children, the time of becoming a grandparent, is an exciting and natural progression in Life’s Journey. But wait a minute, there’s more – not only are you to become grandparents, you are to become grandparents to twins, triplets, quadruplets or more. It doesn’t get more exciting than that?

As parents yourselves, you have “been there, done that” and when your grandchildren arrive, it can be very tempting to rush in, offering advice, shortcuts, feedback and opinions regarding parenting style to the new parents. Add to that the 20/20 hindsight of your own parenting experience, and of course you have lots to offer! Who wouldn’t want to share their years of experience with the ones they love and to help them avoid some of the mistakes you made? After all children don’t come with instructions.

Grandmother with multiplesAh, if it was only so simple. Grandparents are an important part of the childrearing equation but grandparents also walk a very fine line. It isn’t unusual for grandparents to either attend the births of their grandchildren and/or to at least move into the family home for a few weeks after the births to help the new family establish routines and get accustomed to their roles as round-the-clock caretakers. The more difficult part of the equation for grandparents, is to support the family while allowing the parents (i.e. their own children whom are now parents) to discover their own balance, make their own mistakes and find their own comfort levels. Grandparents need to remember that, while their children’s parenting choices may not mirror their own, these new parents have a right to learn in the their own manner and also benefit from the expertise and helping hands around them. It is a wise grandparent who knows when to be loving, sympathetic, caring and when to also hold his/her tongue.

Children greatly benefit from contact with the different generations. As a result of such interactions, children have a first hand “peek” into their history, roots and Family Tree, learning about “the olden days” as stories from their grandparents’ lives unfold. We all like to know about our roots and where we come from and children are no exception. Such stories from grandparents offer a sense of belonging, comfort and continuity. Along the way, the grandchildren can also enjoy some special attention from their grandparents. Prolonged bedtimes, favorite foods or the relaxation of parental rules and regulations make the grandparent-grandchild relationship unique.

There is no doubt that being a grandparent is a rewarding and exhilarating experience. But (yes, there is a “but”), there are some very important points to be aware of which can help grandparents be an important, loving, caring, sharing part of their grandchildren’s lives.

Being grandparents to multiples involves some additional layers of which even the most involved grandparent needs to be aware. The following hints and tips have been prepared to assist you in being the best support system you can be, while remaining a positive, caring and extremely important person in not only your grandchildren’s lives, but in the lives of their parents’ as well.

Congratulations on becoming the Grandparents (or Great-Grandparents) of twins, triplets, quadruplets or more!!!

Before your multiple-birth grandchildren arrive, educate yourselves so that you can get an accurate idea of what having twins, triplets or more entails. There are many excellent books on multiple births available which can enlighten you as to what the parents are facing.  You can find some of the titles here.

You may wish to talk to other parents or grandparents of multiples or join your local Multiple Birth Support Chapter. They have regular meetings, educational speakers, can recommend appropriate Internet Sites and much more. Many Grandparents have taken my Multiple Birth Prenatal Classes to learn firsthand how they can be the best support they can be to the new parents. Grandparents have taken the classes and passed along the information and handouts to their children who live in areas of Canada with no such prenatal support systems. They have even sent prenatal information Overseas to their families posted abroad. How’s that for commitment?  Educating yourselves before the babies’ arrival will assist you in becoming a positive and supportive Grandparent and a tremendous asset to the new parents. 

If you are parents of multiples yourselves, you already have a pretty good idea of what the parents will be facing. Nevertheless, it will be important that you remember to be supportive to the parents and not try to compare your own parenting experiences with their current one. Even in one generation, times and parenting practices can change. It is important to remember that the new parents need love, support and their own chance to parent. They don’t need judgments or unsolicited remarks.

Which leads us to: Don’t give advice unless you are asked. Remember that everyone is learning and doing the best that they can. The parents are no doubt already feeling overwhelmed and somewhat out of control. In the heat of the moment, unsolicited advice or judgmental comments will not make things better. It is very tempting to sometimes speak up and offer advice, but the wise person knows when to keep quiet. If you really feel that you may have a piece of helpful advice, wait until a quiet moment and express yourself using supportive, caring and loving words.

Here’s another important rule: Don’t judge your children’s parenting style. The advice and experience that you have accumulated cannot be denied, but it is important to remember that you remain the Grandparent and not the parent. If you do step in and either comment or “take over”, you will be undermining the parents’ authority with their children. While you may not agree with the parents’ choices or decisions, they ultimately, have the final say.

You have an important contribution to make each time you visit. The new parents are on duty 24-hours a day (remember?). They may be sleep deprived, falling apart at the seams, overwhelmed and feeling very guilty about it. You might take the initiative and suggest that the parents take a little break. For example, suggest they go for a walk around the block, to a movie or a local coffee shop for some relationship time. Or you may offer to take one baby for a walk in order to change the family group dynamics for a short while. Even these small respites can be valuable for everyone in the family.

If you are in doubt about how to help out, ASK what you can do to assist. Let the parents tell you what they need. It could be anything from throwing in a load of laundry, preparing a meal, bathing a baby or just listening. Do not underestimate the healing power of listening (with no judgments, of course). You can no doubt remember how overwhelmed you felt at times. While the feelings of being overwhelmed will have not changed, parents feel much better when they feel heard and someone is sympathetic to their situation. Listening goes a long way to getting one back on track in order to tackle the task at hand (Gosh, that lesson can be applied in many other areas of our lives too!).

You may look around and see some jobs that might be done. DON’T WAIT TO BE ASKED. Clean up the kitchen, throw in a load of laundry, pick up a crying baby, make a nutritious meal, cut the grass or shovel the snow. Sometimes an overwhelmed parent can’t voice what they might need but can appreciate someone taking the initiative. 

(Author’s Note: These two previous points seem contradictory and you are right, they are! What you need to evaluate is when to ask what is needed in the way of help and when to be proactive and take on a task without being asked. You will also need not to be critical or act as if you are “taking over.” Didn’t I warn you that you walk a fine line? I have faith in you – you can do it!)

Do not “fight” the parents for the babies. If you live a long distance away and your visits are few and far between, you will relish every moment with your grandchildren. However, “fighting” the parents for the babies’ care, will not win you any brownie points. More often than not, the parents are trying to establish a routine with their babies. Having you step in and try to “wrestle” one away from them, will only make things unpleasant for all of you. If the parents are involved with the children, perhaps offer to do a job around the house (e.g. wash the kitchen floor or vacuum a room or two.). You will be a hero and there will still remain lots of time to interact with and care for the babies.

If you live within driving distance and it is possible, set aside one day a week to come into the home and look after the babies, allowing some personal time for Mom & Dad and any siblings. This is extremely helpful during the initial few weeks after the babies’ arrival. Such was the case with one family and Mom felt secure in that she knew that every Thursday her parents would make the 2-hour drive to her house to care for the babies, feed them, bathe them and do some laundry. All she needed to do that day was to nurse them. If things got hectic earlier in the week, she knew she only had to make it until Thursday when she would receive some much needed adult conversation and loving support. As the children grew, they too began to look forward to their Grandparents’ visits.

Make a nutritious meal. Double the recipe and put some away in the freezer. It is very difficult for parents with twin, triplet or quadruplet newborns (and sometimes singletons too) to have the time to cook meals. This could work out very well as you all sit down to share the meal, stories and the day’s events with each other.

This Rule is a Golden One: Do not play favorites amongst your grandchildren. In reality, it may be that you do prefer one grandchild over another but IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT YOU DO NOT LET YOUR PREFERENCE SHOW. Children pick up very quickly if they are the favorite or not. To not feel like a favored child is extremely difficult on a child’s self-esteem and can result in long-term negative feelings and even to bad feelings and jealousy between the children themselves. Treat each grandchild equally. Every grandchild deserves to feel cherished and loved by all of the adults in their lives.

If you live in the same area as your children and grandchildren, you may be able to take a baby/child home overnight on a rotating basis. Be sure and have age-appropriate toys, books and clothing on hand. Find out what interests each child and gear your play towards his/her interests. You will need to be prepared to engage in appropriate age level play. Each of you will benefit from this one-on-one time and you will learn much about your grandchild that you never would have noticed in the group setting. (WARNING: In the process, be prepared to rediscover your own inner child as rhymes, stories and songs come back to you from your own and your children’s childhoods!)

If you do not live in the same area as your grandchildren, learn to work the computer! Once you get the hang of it, you will enjoy this rewarding and very easy way to keep in touch. Connect to Skype or Face Time and e-mail and write to your grandchildren often. You will make important connections that you, and they, will cherish for a lifetime. The Internet is a wonderful medium for sharing uptodate photos of your grandchildren with friends and family. With a scanner, photos can quickly and cheaply be sent so you can see the changes in your grandchildren as they grow and thrive. Computers today are user-friendly and it takes no time at all to learn how to work your way around them. My 85-year old mother and nearly 89-year old father-in-law were regular computer users and our children thought their grandparents were “cool” for knowing how to use them. Shop around for competitive prices and give it a try.

Remember that your multiple birth grandchildren are individuals even though they share the same birthday. They will not necessarily have the same interests, talents or abilities. Keep in mind their uniqueness, individual interests and capabilities, especially when buying them gifts. Grandparents often like to be fair and spend equal amounts of money on each grandchild. Depending upon what you are purchasing, it may be more advantageous to focus on their individual interests rather than the amount of money spent on each gift. 
 Or if you feel strongly about spending equally, make up the difference in price of gifts with a cash top up.

Speaking of gifts: Don’t necessarily feel that you need to purchase the same gift for each child. Variety gives the children a broader toy/book base from which to choose. However if you notice that each grandchild prefers a particular toy, you may purchase two (or three or four) in order to reduce any arguing over it. In such cases, put each child’s initial on the bottom of the toy so that it is clear to all who owns it. We all know that a child often wants the exact toy that their sibling is currently enjoying. By putting initials on the toy, you can patiently explain that his/her toy is on the shelf and ready to be played with. You might also consider purchasing a game that everyone can play together. Be prepared to join in if you choose this latter route.

Don’t be overly worried if you cannot tell your multiple birth grandchildren apart if they look quite a bit alike. Even monozygotic multiples are not completely alike despite what you hear. Focus on their differences and not how alike they are. Spending time with each child alone will enable you to quickly recognize those differences (e.g. hair whorl, a mole or freckle, shape of earlobes, body language.)

Grandchildren love to hear about their parents especially when their parents were young. So dust off those memories, give them a good shake to get rid of the cobwebs and reconnect to your own experiences with your own children. You will love sharing every second and your grandchildren will love listening (WARNING: Habit forming. Be prepared to have to repeat your stories time and time again.).

Don’t forget singleton siblings of your multiple birth grandchildren. As you can appreciate, they will need extra love, hugs and encouragement as they make the transition from “centre of the universe” to big brother or sister. Your attention, inclusion, patience and understanding can be very important at this critical time in their young lives as they adjust to the new family structure. Your ongoing support will provide them with the reassurances that they continue to be an important and much loved part of the family.

Make sure that you are aware of the many unique Safety Issues around multiples. Two, three or four toddlers can physically accomplish many tasks that a singleton could not. Together they can push a chair across the kitchen floor in order to climb up on the counters. One child will have “the plan” and the others will help carry it out (how they communicate “the plan” to each other remains a mystery). Remember when you are looking after them that when one falls down and skins his knee, you remain responsible for others at the same time. While attending to the child in need, you will need to be aware of the proximity of his/her co-siblings. The consequences of not doing so could be dire. To learn more about safely looking after your multiple birth grandchildren, check out the article Multiples and Safety. Being aware of the possible pitfalls ahead of time could save someone’s life. You may want to think about taking a First Aid Course before the grandchildren visit you.

As we age, it may be necessary for grandparents to take any of several types of medication, e.g. blood pressure control pills, daily aspirin for heart problems, diabetes control medications, vitamin supplements, iron pills and/or many others. Over the years your home has also become less “child proof” and some of these medications may be found on bedside tables. When your grandchildren are visiting, make sure that all medications have been collected and have been put out of reach of their exploring hands. Many children are poisoned each year by ingesting medications that they have found while visiting Gramma and Grampa. Don’t let your grandchildren become one of those statistics.

There are often two sets, or more, of Grandparents (and sometimes even Great Grandparents) in the equation. If this is your situation, don’t compete with each other as to who is or who can be the “better” grandparents. Don’t bother with who gave the better or bigger gift or even who spent more hours with them. Negativity takes a lot of energy. Don’t make the parents have to choose sides. To follow this path will cost all of you in many ways. Take your energy and focus on the beauty of the gift of grandchildren that you share in common. You are all important to your grandchildren and to their parents. Each grandparent provides unique experiences for their grandchild. Take this time and opportunity to experience harmony, family, loving, and caring. Everyone will benefit.

There is an African proverb: It takes a village to raise a child. Each of us can make a positive difference in a child’s life. It would be tragic to not take these opportunities to do so. Grandparents and great-grandparents are an integral part of the support system that children need so they can grow and flourish.

Quick Tips for Toilet Training Multiples

Having twins, triplets or more can make toilet training challenging on a couple of fronts.  Keep in mind that toddlers will not train if their muscles are not ready and mature enough.  Boys usually take a little longer than girls to train.  For girls training may begin around 2 years old, and for boys anywhere between 2 and 4 years old.  Additionally the multiples may take their cue from each other and if one won’t train, the other or all will not train.  OR, there may be no competition factor at all and each will train when they are physically and mentally ready to do so.  Training can be somewhat more challenging when the multiples are mixed gender.  Training can be easier if one or more of the children really dislike their messy or wet diaper.  If this is the case, that child is already half way to wanting to train.

Here are some ideas to help move things along when you feel the children are ready to consider training:

  • Both parents need to keep positive, no raised voices, make the children and yourselves part of the solution and not part of the problem.  An adventure, if you will.
  • Get a potty per child, either different colours or tape their name on the appropriate potty.  Taking them along on the buying expedition can help them be positively involved.  Some parents like the seats that fit on the toilet and they do work well, but with multiples you may have at least two children at a time wishing to go so having potties as an alternative can be beneficial.
  • Leave the potties in a prominent place, in the bathroom, their bedroom or anywhere else you feel they can be seen.
  • Have the discussion about why they are there and what they are used for.
  • If anyone uses one, even a little bit, “high five” and praise.  The other(s) may or may not express interest.
  • Don’t compare the children to each other.  Doing so only creates negative comparison and competition.
  • If you have figured out the time of day they are most likely to have a bowl movement, you can coax them on the potty slightly ahead of time and read books until there is success.  Some parents offer their children a treat for any success.  If there is no success, just call it a day and make little fuss.  You can try again tomorrow.
  • If you find that you are meeting with any resistance for potty training, back off for a couple of days and then begin again.  Depending upon the child, as each multiple is different, you may need to give her space and time to get on board.

Do Twins Run in the Family?

A question I am asked a lot.  Here are several factors to influence whether or not twins run in families:

1)    How many children you already have, i.e. after having two or three, Mom may have at least twins;

2)    Age of Mom at conception, i.e. chances are higher of spontaneous conception (without fertility assistance) after the age of 30 and even higher after the age of 35 years.  Having said that, I have worked with a 16-year old and an 18-year old, both of whom conceived twins spontaneously.

3)    The closer they are to you in your Family Tree, the more likely it will be that you will conceive at least twins.  So, if your grandmother or aunt had twins versus a second-cousin the chances of conceiving multiples would be higher.

4)    MULTIPLES DO NOT SKIP A GENERATION.  That is an Old Wives’ Tale.  Important to be aware of.

5)    Dizygotic (fraternal) twins occur because the Mother dropped at least two eggs in her fertility cycle and both were fertilized.  There is always enough sperm available for fertilization, but there needs to be at least two eggs.

6)    We do not know what happens to the fertilized egg to have Monogygotic (identical) multiples occur.  It is rare, but not impossible, to have monozygotic triplets and quadruplets. The Dionne Quintuplets are the only recorded monozygotic quintuplets.  I have a girlfriend who is a triplet and her brothers are monozygotic so what ever happened to their egg in the womb causing it to split, did not happen with hers.  We do not always get to know everything.  Also interesting with her birth is that they were their parents’ first children and they went on to have 7 more children, none of whom were multiples.

7)    Multiples can have multiples.  Happens more often than one would think.

8)    If you have one set of multiples, there is a very good chance you will have another set in a subsequent pregnancy.  We had one special Canadian family with 9 children, including 4 sets of twins!

9)    Multiples begin at some point in families and start somewhere, so perhaps you are the lucky couple.

10)   Just so you are aware, the gender of twins is generally broken down in thirds:  1/3 are boys, 1/3 are girls and 1/3 are boy/girl.

This amazing photo below shows how one family’s lineage worked out.  It was shared by my friend Bonnie.

The lovely monozygotic young ladies in the back row are her daughters.  Next to them stand their monozygotic twin cousins (sons of Bonnie’s youngest sister).  In the front row are Bonnie’s husband’s nephew’s boy/girl twins.  Next to them are dizygotic boys, belonging to Bonnie’s  brother’s daughter.  This family has two sets of monozygotic twins and two sets of dizyogtic twins…….so far!

Family with generations of twins

Differences Between Multiple and Singleton Pregnancies

How is a Twin Pregnancy Different from a Singleton Pregnancy?

What a great question.  There are distinct differences between the two, and taking a multiple-birth specific class, either in your community, on-line or by DVD will answer many of your questions.

As each pregnancy is different, even for the same woman, there may be differences woman-to-woman and/or situation-to-situation.  IF YOU ARE NOT SURE ABOUT ANY ASPECT OF YOUR PREGNACY, PLEASE CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN IMMEDIATELY.

Woman 22 weeks pregnant with twins
22 weeks pregnant with twins

Here are some expected differences.

  • A multiple birth pregnancy is nearly always considered “high risk,” meaning that doctors will be more vigilant to ensure Mom and babies are doing well.  “High risk” is a normal label for parents expecting multiples and not necessarily anything to worry about;
  • As a “high risk” pregnancy, Mom can expect a greater number of doctor’s visits, fetal monitoring and blood tests.  As the pregnancy progresses, doctor’s visits will increase from once a month to every other week during the second trimester and once a week until birth in the third trimester;
  • Moms will be checked for excessive nausea, appropriate weight gain, edema (swelling), gestational diabetes, twin-to-twin transfusion (including in sets of triplets and more) if the babies are monozygotic (identical), preeclampsia, and the babies will each be monitored to make sure they are growing and developing properly;
  • Morning sickness can be more severe and begin earlier with multiples and like a singleton pregnancy, it may last only the first few months or continue through the complete pregnancy.  Each woman is different;
  • Mothers expecting multiples will get bigger faster and be in maternity clothes much earlier than with a singleton;
  • Mothers expecting multiples report feeling tired more often and earlier.  If you think about it, Mom is creating and growing several fetuses at once, plus maintaining her own system with its many body changes to accommodate these babies.  It is tiring work;
  • Nutritional requirements are different for a multiple-birth pregnancy and your doctor or nutritionist will be able to explain how much weight gain is ideal for you in each trimester.  Your particular weight gain expectation will be influenced by how many fetuses you are carrying.
  • Most multiples are born preterm, i.e. before 38 weeks, and will be smaller at birth than a singleton.  The more infants Mom is carrying, the earlier they are likely to arrive;
  • It is not unusual for multiples to be delivered by c-section.  The more babies carried, the more likely there will be a c-section.  For twins, a vaginal delivery usually depends on the position of the lower baby.  If the baby’s head is down, there may be a chance for a vaginal delivery.  In a small percentage of cases, one baby may be delivered vaginally and the other may be breech and need a c-section for delivery;
  • Moms, especially in the latter stages of their pregnancy, may find their balance compromised due to the position of the babies, the number of placentas and fluid retained.  Take very good care when walking or using stairs; and
  • Mothers may need to spend some time on bed rest either at home or in the hospital.  Your doctor will let you know should you fall into this category.

To find out more about pregnancy differences, check out my Suggested Reading List at



Multiples Illuminated: Book Review

I really enjoyed this book and categorize it as a must-have on the bookshelf for parents expecting multiples.  Laid out into the natural flow categories of conception, pregnancy, labor and delivery, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and the first years, submissions by parents of twins, triplets and more honestly explore their journeys with insight, hints, tips, fears, expectations, realities, humour and ultimately, the joy of having two, three or more babies at a time.  Each author has managed to include the reader on their unique journey in a most delightful and personal way.

Multiples Illuminated, by Megan Woolsey and Alison Lee

Window measurements copyIn addition, the editors offer concrete ideas throughout for handling trying times, e.g. coping with infertility issues, and include a “must-have” list of accessories for having multiples and thoughtfully provide places to journal your own thoughts and feelings about your particular journey.

This book would be the perfect gift for anyone you know who is expecting multiples!

Anyone with an interest in multiples needs to pour her/himself a coffee, find a quiet moment to sit back and savor the experiences of families who have already begun a unique, exciting, challenging and rewarding parent experience.

The Crying Baby: What is Baby Trying to Tell Us?

The Crying Baby:  What is Baby Trying to Tell Us?

Crying babyA baby’s main means of communication in the early weeks and months of life is to cry.  It doesn’t take too long for parents to note that not all of their baby’s cries sound the same.

Some are easily recognizable, e.g. hunger, anger and others which may not be so easy to “translate.”  As your multiples are individuals, it may be that one or more will not go through the same reactions at the same time.

What Do We Know?

  • All babies cry, even healthy ones receiving excellent care.
  • By crying, babies can express their pain, hunger, anger, fear and boredom, but sometimes they will cry for no specific reason.
  • By approximately 3 months of age, crying usually drops off as babies find other ways of communicating, e.g. babbling or cooing, and spend more time exploring their environment.
  • Continued crying can be anxiety provoking for parents and make parents feel worried, upset, incompetent and overwhelmed about their ability to meet their babies’ needs.
  • When babies cry excessively and are inconsolable, they are commonly referred to as “colicky.”
  • A colicky baby might cry for 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, for 3 weeks in a row.

5 Characteristics

There are 5 specific characteristics of normal, excessive crying or infant colic:

1)  The crying is unexpected, unpredictable and inconsolable;

2)  It often starts at the end of the afternoon or early evening;

3)  Can last 35-40 minutes or a long as 2 hours;

4)  Increases as the weeks go by and is most intense when baby is about two months old, then decreases until about the age of 5 months; and

5)  The baby/babies seem to be suffering.

These characteristics can make parents feel powerless, discouraged and incompetent.  It can create problems with the parent-child relationship because the parent may become less involved and less comforting with their child.*

*Adapted from a brochure by Centres of Excellence for Early Childhood Development, Crying:  Listen, they’re talking to you!

What Can Parents Do?

Situation:  Pay attention to your child’s crying and listen if you can identify any differences between what you are hearing.  If an infant is hungry, for example, the crying will sound quite different from when s/he is angry or fearful.

Response:  Respond quickly and calmly to the child and hold them close to your body as often as possible to see if the crying calms down.

Situation:  If you find yourself provoked by and anxious due to inconsolable crying.

Response:  If you become upset, overwhelmed or frustrated with the incessant crying, pull back for a few moments.  Put your child in his/her crib, leave the room, take a deep breath and return a few minutes later when you are calmed down.   If you are unable to calm yourself down, ask someone else to take over.

Babies will often respond positively to Kangaroo care** or being swaddled.  Trying either or both techniques may help calm a crying baby.

Letting a baby cry through the event on his/her own is not a good idea.  Picking up a crying baby as early and calmly as possible for cuddling can prevent things from escalating.  Humming or shushhhing gently into baby’s ear may help him/her calm down.

If you are feeling particularly overwhelmed, bundle babies into their carriage and walk around the block or go to the park.  Talking to other parents can be helpful for you and fresh air and a changed environment with new interactions, will often settle babies.

If your baby or babies continue to cry excessively for no apparent reason and do not respond to cuddling, Kangaroo care or swaddling, make an appointment with their doctor to ensure that the babies are healthy and there is not some underlying reason for their feelings.

Ask for help if you need it.

**Kangaroo Care:  Baby or babies are placed naked, except for diaper, onto Mom or Dad’s bare chest and securely/warmly wrapped onto the chest.  Babies are generally calmed by hearing parent’s heartbeat, as well as the warmth and feeling of security with the closeness.  The position simulates being in the womb and can be soothing for them.

Singleton Siblings of Multiples – Older & Younger

It is normal for parents to worry about their singleton child(ren) when twins, triplets or more expected. Involved preparation for the singleton is imperative, but there are no guarantees that there will be a smooth transition. In spite of the parents’ best preparation efforts, the new arrivals can be a challenge for singleton siblings, especially if they have been the centre of attention for some time.

Initially the multiples’ arrival may not impact the siblings too much but give it a week or 10 days and the realization sets in that Mommy and Daddy are not as available and there may be changes in behaviour. One 3-year-old singleton declared, “OK, that’s enough. Take them [his twin siblings] back to the hospital now!” Another 3-year-old yelled at his parents, “I only want one!” Reactions aren’t limited to the younger set: A 15-year-old girl put herself in foster care when her twin sisters arrived, and a 17-year-old young man didn’t speak to his parents for weeks staying in his room as much as possible when his siblings arrived.

Not all singletons react negatively to the babies’ arrival and some, especially if they are a little older, may react with delight and fascination. They can also be willing to help out and run little errands.

Here are some examples of, but not limited to, possible behaviour changes which may be exhibited by singleton siblings:

  • refuses to give up the bottle/reverts back to the bottle;
  • wishes to breastfeed again;
  • seeks attention when you are least able to provide it and rejects you when you are available;
  • there could be problems with toilet training, i.e. a set back or refusal to use the potty;
  • speech regression or refusal to speak;
  • clingy and/or excessively whiny;
  • plays rough with the babies;
  • may pinch, hit or bite them when alone with them; or
  • unresponsive to direction, refuses to co-operate.

There are some ways to support your singleton child(ren) and assist him/her in coping with the new arrivals:

  • avoid calling the babies, ‘the twins’ or ‘the triplets’. This label automatically leaves out any singleton children and gives the impression that those with this label are more special. Correct others each and every time they use the label. As the parents others will take their cue from you;
  • presenting the multiples as a package ensures they are perceived as a package. Continually dressing them alike and/or giving them rhyming names reinforces the “package” mentality and the singleton child(ren) is left out;
  • arranging special play dates or preschool for an older child allows him/her to have him/her own special time, activities and things to talk about;
  • include him/her in the decoration of the babies’ room—“What colour paint should we use, lavender or blue?” Limit the choice to two you can live with;
  • allow her to help put the babies’ clothes in the dresser drawers;
  • don’t get caught in the trap of using your older child(ren) as “gophers.” They can quickly resent being sent on an excessive number of fetches. This doesn’t mean they can’t help—“Could you please get Daddy a diaper for your sister?”—but don’t get caught in the habit of using them on a continual basis;
  • provide lots of positive feedback. “You were SO helpful today!” “You are so special to me and have been such a good boy/girl today.” “Thank you for being so patient;”
  • if there is bottle or toilet training regression, just go with the flow. Don’t make issues of it. Handing him a bottle even though he already can drink from a cup plays down the issue rather than having it escalate out of control and become a full-blown temper tantrum. It won’t take long for him to realize that he is not a baby and a bottle can be hard work. Leave the potty out in plain view, but don’t over focus on it;
  • set aside some time each day for her. It can be bath time, bed time and story, grocery shopping, play time but the important thing is for her to be the full focus;
  • if you can’t be available when he requests attention, buy a little timer and give it to him. Set it for 15 minutes (or what works for you) and say, “When the bell rings, we will read (play) together” and then try hard keep your promise;
  • if you can’t keep your promise, and there will be times when you can’t, let your child(ren) know that you are sorry and realize you have broken your promise but will make it up to them as soon as you can. Two things are important here:
    • 1) you have taken responsibility for your behaviour, and
    • 2) you have taught your child it is OK to take responsibility for one’s behaviour and there can be a new plan. Such an acknowledgement helps a child learn that others have limits and they were not to blame. Children tend to internalize things when they don’t work out as planned and see themselves as being “bad” for things not working. Clearing the air is important. But do try to make it up to them as soon as you can;
  • you can give your child(ren) some feelings of control in life by giving them simple choices: “What would you like to wear today, the red outfit or the blue?” “What would you like for breakfast, cereal or toast?”

Multiples in public cause a stir and attract a lot of attention. It will be important to include your other child(ren) in the conversation when necessary. A simple, “This is their older sister and she is such a help.” goes a long way to including the other child(ren). After some strangers had made a fuss about her triplet siblings and not even spoken to her, one 4-year-old asked her Mom, “Didn’t they see me standing there?” It is important to advocate for all of your children.

Splitting up the kids for an outing can provide a welcome change to the group dynamics. Take an older child and one baby to do groceries. It gives everyone a change of pace, or just one baby to do groceries. You are setting up value time for one-on-one getting to know each other.

Give your singleton child(ren) time to make the adjustment to the arrivals. Be as patient as you can. Just as it will take parents time to get into a proper routine, it will take a child(ren) time to adjust to the changes in his/her own routine.

Younger Siblings of Multiples

Some parents go on to have singleton children after the birth of their multiples. These singleton children are born into the situation and may have less adjustment to make as a result but there are no guarantees. When two or three siblings are all having a birthday party at the same time and you are not, feelings can be hurt and the tears flow. Patience and understanding works wonders. Some parents will buy that child a gift too. I am of the feeling that the world will not make room for you just because your feelings are hurt. Cuddling and words of explanation may be a better approach than expecting a gift on your siblings’ birthday and is an important learning tool that the world does always cater to you and those disappointments can be survived. Explaining that her birthday will come and she will get to blow out the candles on her own cake, separates the events and gives each child a chance to have a special day of his/her own. Who better to explain life’s realities than a loving parent?

Even young children can talk about their frustrations and if you feel that your younger child is struggling with the attention focused on the multiples, put the words in place to open a conversation. “I am feeling that you are may be a little frustrated by the attention going to your brothers. Would you like to talk about that?” You may be surprised by what you learn, have opened the channels of discussion, learned what the issues are and have an opportunity to talk things through. Win/win.

Sometimes an issue of the multiples ganging together and “bossing” a younger sibling occurs. If such is your experience, appropriate guidelines will need to be put in place so that the younger one is not bullied. Explaining to everyone that “Mom and Dad set the rules, not the kids” and “two (or three) against one amounts to bullying” can be helpful. Be prepared to go over these rules on at least a semi-regular basis and perhaps to have consequences in place when necessary, e.g. no TV/internet tonight, put 25 cents into the jar for each occasion.

It is human nature to adjust and most of us get over having siblings. Being guided by the loving adults in our life can make the journey more tolerable.

*Lynda’s Note:  If you are thinking of having another child and your multiples were spontaneously conceived (i.e. no infertility assistance), know that your chances of spontaneously having multiples again is increased by an additional 50%.  So, it will not be unusual to have another set.  Great to know ahead of time!!!

Additional Resources

The Singleton Siblings of Multiples, Multiple Births Canada, booklet 1999, 2001, 2007

All About Teething

Teething can be a challenging time not only for babies but for parents too. It can be very difficult to witness your babies’ upset and uncomfortable. Some babies have a rough time cutting teeth, while others seem to have a much easier time of it. Teething can result in fussy, unhappy, sleep-deprived babies and parents.

Teething usually begins around 6 months of age. But it is normal for teething to start at any time between 3 and 12 months of age. By the time our children are about 3 years of age, they will have all 20 primary teeth. The lower front teeth usually make an appearance first*, while back molars are some of the last to erupt.

There are several signs that babies are teething. Note: It may be that your multiples will not all begin teething at the same time, and that is OK. Each child is different.

  • Crankiness/irritability/fussiness
  • Jamming hands or fists into the mouth and chewing
  • Pulling at ears/rubbing face
  • Swollen/puffy gums
  • Biting/chewing on things; everything goes into the mouth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Excessive crying, trouble sleeping
  • Diarrhea and/or very red buttocks
  • There may or may not be a fever, even a slight one, associated with teething
  • Usually after a tooth has erupted, there is a decrease in intensity of the symptoms until they cease.

teethingHow can I help my children get through teething?

Here are some suggestions to help soothe your babies:

Massage baby’s gum with a clean finger (make sure your fingernail is not too long) or a chilled, damp washcloth. You may see your baby “lean into it” as massage can help ease the discomfort.

Try a rubber, liquid-filled teething toy to relieve the need for chewing. Chilling the teething ring in the fridge can be soothing. You may need to try a couple of them before one is accepted.

Excessive drooling accompanies teething. Keep a bib on baby or you will be changing outfits every couple of hours, wipe face regularly to prevent skin irritation and change babies frequently at the first sign of any rash or irritation on their buttocks.

General Tips about Teething from Parents of Multiples

Teething babies will gnaw on just about anything they can get their hands on, so make sure that your home is thoroughly baby-proofed.

“I picked up one of the twins and he immediately sunk his mouth on my shoulder and bit down – hard! We both ended up yelling.”

Even when only one baby is teething, don’t sit him/her near each other to play as s/he can easily take their co-multiple’s hand, place it in their own mouth and chow down. One mother of boy/girl twins shared that her daughter was the biter and her son was covered with welts and red marks from being bitten, including one on his cheek.

If you are breastfeeding your babies, expect to have your nipples bitten and chewed on. It can be a surprise each time it happens.

If one, both or more babies are showing continued, extreme discomfort around teething, check with your family doctor. S/he may prescribe an infant painkiller for a time. Don’t give your babies any medications without speaking to your doctor first.

When Should my Children See a Dentist?

Generally a child should first see a dentist six months after the eruption of the first tooth. Seeing a dentist at an early age is the best way to prevent problems such as tooth decay, parents can learn how to support their children with dental hygiene, and the visit reinforces with children the importance of good oral health.**

*Teething and Your Baby: Symptoms and Teething Remedies
**When Should My Child First See a Dentist?

Lynda P. Haddon

Sam and Finn: Book Review

When Kate’s twin son, Sam, brother to Finn, died unexpectedly 12 hours after their births, she wanted to give Sam a voice and this book is Sam’s voice. Sam and Finn is a gentle exploration of twins who began life together in the womb and while life and a future awaited one little boy, the journey for his twin would very different.

Sam and Finn, Kate Polley, illustrations by Alex Latimer, The Oodlebooks Publishing Company Ltd.

Sam and Finn explores death and leaving as well as nearness and support for those left behind.  The illustrations are simple and will be appealing to parent and child, while leaving plenty of room for discussion as the young reader may wish to explore.

sam and finnAny child from 2 to 10 would appreciate this book and rather than feeling afraid, would feel comforted and no doubt wish to look for the sibling in all sorts of places around them.

Sam and Finn will be a great introduction for parents looking for a way to gently break the news to their child that they had begun life as a multiple.

Sam and Finn can be ordered at:

The Same But Different: Book Review

Joan Friedman uncovers the deeper discourse of twins in what is a uniquely frank discussion of what twins often feel when dealing with each other and the world. It is true that others, including parents, can idealize the twin reality and this can impart unrealistic expectations. To be sure, being a twin can represent a hidden struggle in which the ideal of a soul mate does not always allow for twins to be their own person, carve out their particular destiny and even in certain situations leave the other twin behind. Ultimately, all individuals, twins included, must become their own person.

The Same But Different by Joan A. Friedman, Los Angeles, Rocky Pines Press.

7-23-2013_The_Same_but_DifferentThe author writes from several perspectives. She has a twin sister although it is not clear whether they are mono- or dizygotic twins (I suspect Monozygotic though). In this regard, she felt that she participated in a false closeness with her sister to mask their actual individuality. The author also writes from a social work and psychoanalytic perspective from her practice in which she has specialized in twin issues. This provides the book with a rich and unique depth.

My concern with many of the issues that Dr. Friedman describes in detail, however, is that she describes them in overly broad terms. For instance, it is true that twins can feel disloyal and hateful if they want to be different but there are many that manage their lives without these pulls and underlying tensions between togetherness and autonomy. I wonder whether she takes her cue from a psychotherapeutic context, which is shaped by the population she is seeing. In this regard, Dr. Friedman articulates that most of her twin clients call her because they are having difficulty with their twin relationship. Hence, it is a biased group.

Perhaps society in some way considers twins to be special, idealized or romanticized. This did not stop the government of Canada, however, from turning down an application from the parent of twins to double the parental leave to handle the demands two babies simultaneously were causing. In other words, although multiple births, especially in the higher range, are cause for special attention, this idealization might not be such a general conclusion. Thus, I do not agree that the mystique regarding twins is as pervasive as the author describes, especially as more are born now that during any previous time in history due to fertility treatments.

It is not surprising perhaps that the author sees the “sameness” in twins as a special burden. On the other hand, I noted that when she spoke about the Winklevoss twins who sued Mark Zuckenberg that she quotes one of them as saying that they focus on what differentiates them not how they are alike. Yes, the media emphasized their sameness but the twins themselves did not follow suit. Her general point though is that the obligation of symmetry, especially in identical twins, could well create a conflict that interferes with identity. This is certainly a risk and makes sense from what she aptly describes.

I found myself often debating with the cultural norms Dr. Friedman describes until I thought that perhaps she is really describing parental expectations and not society in general. For example, certain parents might consciously or unconsciously expect their twins to walk through life in lockstep in a way that exceeds expectations placed on singleton siblings. This might not be the case, however, across the board. This “ultraclose” relationship would of course be stifling and might well lead to a request for therapy. Hence, she sees a parallel between certain twin relationships and a co-dependent married couple in a dysfunctional relationship. This might be true in some cases but to consider it a widespread phenomenon might pathologize the twin situation too much.

Hence, the book has many applications for therapists seeing twin problems in psychotherapy. The book offers a wealth of clinical examples that help explain just how complicated and difficult the twin experience can be. Implicitly, she underscores how important it is for parents of multiples to dig deep in their own self reflection and make sure that they uncover attitudes and expectations that will only burden their children and leave them less likely to develop into healthy individuals.

Dr. Freidman’s observation that caretaking siblings might be filling in for gaps created by parents is extrapolated to the twin situation. Obviously this has personal and professional relevance for the author. She makes the point that caretaking is different from caring, which is an important distinction. Loving another does not have to mean taking responsibility for their lives.

The Same But different is an important addition to the literature on multiple births and the psychological problems and challenges twins can face. The premise of the book is that twins must work through the myths of being a twin in order to facilitate individuality Succumbing to unconscious expectations and conflicts regarding being a twin can complicate their lives. My own impression is that boy-girl twins are less likely to fall into some of the traps the author portrays. How this pertains to triplet and quad situations would also be interesting to explore.

I would recommend this book not only for twins who are suffering in ways the author describes, but also for parents of twins. In addition, professionals who work with this population will be well served by reading this book. My only concern is that the book generalizes from the specific situations Dr. Friedman has faced personally or with her client sample to the general situation. The role of parents’ expectations is an often implicit or hidden factor that runs through the book. Whatever its few limits, however, the book is fascinating, moving and at times disturbing. Dr. Friedman has shared her wealth of experience, which is a real contribution to the multiple birth literature.

Lynda P. Haddon