The other day while teaching a religious education class at my local parish, a mom of one of my students came into the classroom with her two young twins in tow. I turned to my student and bubbled, “Wow! You didn’t tell me you had twin siblings!”
The look of exasperation on my student’s face spoke volumes and I immediately regretted shouting out my delight and surprise. It was as if she wanted to yell back, “Not you, too!”
I should have known better as it’s always amazed me how often strangers and acquaintances alike would openly gush over my twins when they were young as if they were celebrities all the while completely ignoring my younger, singleton son. If we were out at a mall, for instance, and we were standing in line at the food court, inevitably someone would ask, “Are they twins?”
No sooner would I answer, “yes,” then a litany of questions would follow (“Are they identical?” “Who’s older?” “Are they best friends?”) as well as the inevitable comparisons (“His hair is lighter than his brothers!” “He looks a bit heavier than his twin!”). My singleton would stand silently waiting for his turn to be recognized. It never came.
Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand everyone’s fascination with twins as I’m still fascinated by them (as I obviously expressed that day in class). It’s impossible not to be. Twins are cool! But this allure often comes at the expense of other children within the family. Yet it doesn’t have to be. Follow these parenting tips to help ensure strong relationships among all family members–twins as well as singletons.
If you’re expecting twins, let your older singleton feel included in the pregnancy.
Let her help with the design of the nursery by asking her opinion on paint colors, for instance. Have her help you narrow down the list of possible baby names, too. You can even have her come with you to your prenatal visits where she can hear the babies’ heartbeats.
There’s really no true way to “prepare” an older sibling for the disruption that young twins bring to family life as your singleton is often too young to fully comprehend the situation but you can try!
Talk about what’s happening often. Many moms-t0-be have had some success by giving their singletons a twin set of dolls as well as taking them on regular visits to another family with twins (you can hook up with other multiple families through a local Mothers of Twins Clubs). But the easiest way to ease your child into her big sister role is through reading. There are several good options from 13-year-old author and sister to twins, Paris Morris. (Morris wrote, I’m Having Twins, when her mom was pregnant with twins and couldn’t find any books on the subject.)
When you are all out in public together, throw strangers “off the scent” by dressing your twins differently and, if you can, take two single strollers instead of one double stroller.
If someone does stop to inquire about your twins, politely bring your singleton into the conversation. “Yes, they have beautiful curly hair. They get it from their big sister here.” Then move on quickly.
Although having an older child around when your twins are young can be very helpful, avoid putting your singleton in the role as the Nanny.
Never force her to “watch the twins” or “run and fetch their bottles” if you sense that she’s growing weary of it.
Protect your singleton’s privacy.
Although you may not mind that your young twins dump out your dresser drawers, your older child may. Early on, set boundaries with your twins explaining what’s off-limits.
Continue to make “alone time” with just your singleton even if it means finding a baby-sitter for your twins.
It can be as simple as snuggling on the couch reading together or as special as lunch out on the weekends. And remember–just like married couples out on a date who try not to talk about the kids, when you’re out with your singleton steer the conversation away from the twins and towards her interests.
Mix it up.
As your twins get older, swap roommates among all siblings so that everyone gets a chance to develop one-on-one relationships. Take one twin and one singleton sibling out for an afternoon of fun so that they can build connections and find commonality.
Reward positive behavior such as compromise, sharing and cooperation but ignore attention-seeking behavior such as tattling.
What are your tips?