While pregnant with twins (or more), you are likely to receive more than a few comments--most often from complete strangers--about how rocky the road ahead is going to be. Some folks will seemingly try to convince you you'll be lucky not to fall into a giant manhole at every step. I've always found this most unfortunate. In truth, these folks are partly right; it will be tough. But what they don't realize is how rewarding and amazing an experience it will be at the same time.
My husband and I went from one child to three in a matter of minutes. (Our daughter was two when our twins were born.) I've decided that it's tough raising any number of children. In fact, I'm convinced that it's the hardest job there is! There's no perfect spacing, no perfect age range. You are blessed with what you can handle--what you're meant to handle--plain and simple.
That said, there are ways to ensure a less stressful first year raising multiples.
As Zora Neale Hurston once said, There are years that ask questions and years that answer. This year will most certainly do both--I guarantee it! And I will make you the promise that my great friend Mollie always makes to me: You're going to make it!
- If you aren't one already, become an organized and efficient person as soon as possible. If you are already a proficient planner, capitalize on it and get even better! Trust me, this is doable. Even if you are the most frazzled person on earth, you are going to learn to be efficient and organized quite quickly because it will be necessary to your survival. According to Stephanie Winston, author of Getting Organized, "Order is whatever helps you to function effectively--nothing more and nothing less. You set the rules and the goals, however special, idiosyncratic, or individualistic they may be." As with nearly everything else during this year, take life day by day, and do what works for you in terms of organizing yourself and your family, even if your mother-in-law thinks you're nuts (mine, by the way, swears she does not).
- Don't turn down help. Many people are, by nature, simply more independent than others. It seems that mothers of multiples often fall into this category. Therefore, when help is offered, many of these women shy away from accepting help, often feeling as though saying "Yes" is the same as admitting (at the top of their lungs) "I can't do this by myself!" Additionally, many women seem to feel that the person who has offered some help surely has a million other things on her own plate and therefore, she shouldn't accept her offer. I consider myself to be a relatively independent person, so I feel quite comfortable giving you a direct order on this one: ACCEPT HELP! Be sure that the help actually fulfills your definition, however. Having someone else rock and sign to your babies while you cook and clean is often not viewed as "help" by a new mom of multiples. Accept the offer from anyone willing to bring a meal, clean your house, do some laundry, or run an errand. You will have more than enough time sooner than you think to return the favor. Think about it: when you offer to help someone in need, you genuinely want to help. So does everyone volunteering his or her time to you right now. Say thank you and open your door (even if you're in your pajamas)!
- Realign your expectations. This is of paramount importance to getting through the first year. Relinquish your need (if you have one) to have your entire house clean and in perfect order all the time. One secret I rely heavily on is scented candles (I prefer those by Yankee Candle Company). The "Banana Bread" scent will give the impression that you've been cooking all day. "Clean Cotton" will fool visitors into believing you cleaned the whole house just before they arrived. "Lavender" will soothe your mind at the end of a long day. Also, pick up a copy of Forget Perfect, by Lisa Earle McLeod. Lisa reinforces the importance of putting ourselves at or near the top of our priority lists instead of the grime behind the kitchen sink or the toys strewn across the family room. Notes Lisa, "You are not trying to create a perfect childhood, you're trying to create a functioning adult." Your time would be better spent singing nursery rhymes than scrubbing walls.
- Invest in a crockpot and few good crockpot recipe books. The crockpot is a marvelous invention. Did you know that you can make quesadillas in a crockpot? The recipes for this contraption have come a long way and it's not just for beef stew anymore. Whenever you have a spare second during the morning, pop the ingredients in and turn it on. By dinnertime (whether at 6PM or midnight), you have a fabulous meal cooked and the house smells fantastic. If, by some small chance, one of the babies needs you the second you dish up your plate, just put your meal back in the old crockpot and it'll be warm whenever you're ready--no more cold dinners! I'm thinking of giving my crockpot a name this year and looking at it more like my own personal food butler.
- Schedule weekly alone time with your spouse. One of the biggest concerns I hear from women with multiples is that when the kids are grown and leave the house, they and their husbands will look at each other and exclaim, "Who are you?" It is important to make your best effort to nurture your relationship with your spouse to ensure this does not happen. When your babies are young, this will be easier (though it may not seem that way at the time) than when they start moving and talking nonstop. However, as the babies get older and the house gets crazier, you may feel as though you and your mate haven't talked about anything other than where you're going as you dart out of the house just as he pulls into the driveway. Get a sitter when you're comfortable taking that step; instead of viewing the cost as an extra $30 for an evening out, look at it as an investment in your marriage and your family. Or forget the sitter and just plan on a late dinner for the two of you when the kids have gone to bed. Sit down and talk about something other than finances, who tackled whom that day, and how you're going to negotiate the plane ride to grandma's. I know some days it won't seem like there's anything else to talk about, but there is. Remember what you did on your first dates, fantasize about your ultimate retirement or vacation destination, or better yet, plan a date for the following week or month.
- Maintain your sense of humor. If you don't have one, get one--QUICKLY! Research has shown that smiling causes your brain to release chemicals that make you feel good. Additionally, laughter releases endorphins in your body that allow you to relax. So, when you can only laugh or cry, do the former. It is more fun (and less expensive) than anxiety medication or therapy.
- Retain an optimistic perspective. There's an old saying, "Attitude is everything." Keith Harrell, author of a book by the same name, agrees. He states, "Your attitude dictates whether you are living life or life is living you. Attitude determines whether you are on the way or in the way." And remember, as a general rule, those with positive attitudes enjoy better overall health¾a true gift from you to your new bundles of joy. Just when things seem to be at their lowest point, remember: it could always be worse. When I was having a particularly bad hour during the first year with our twins, I would remind myself that there were women in the world juggling sextuplets or more that very second. That usually provided enough clarity to get me through those sixty minutes.
- Schedule personal time for yourself on a regular basis. Many mothers begin to feel as if their lives are somewhat one-dimensional. They become convinced they are losing their own identity in the midst of raising their family. It is extremely important to carve out some time for yourself each day. Even if it's only to snuggle into bed at night and read People magazine or a chapter of a book that's been collecting dust on the shelf. Plan to spend time as often as you can with friends in the evenings or on weekends, and plan to do this without your kids when possible. Truly, you cannot take the best care of your family unless you are taking the best care of yourself.
- Give yourself permission to make "mistakes." Write this statement down and put it in a spot where you will see it at least once a day:
During this day, I will do the best I can to be a mother to
these children with the information, wisdom, and energy
I have at this time.
Hours, days, or weeks from now there will be no point in looking back and saying, "Oh, if I had known THAT I would have done it differently." Of course you might have, but the bottom line is that you will never be able to go back to that exact point in time--with the information that you now have--and do things differently. You do the best you can with what you have to work with at the time. That's all you can expect of yourself--and that's all your children expect from you.
- Ignore advice from people whose opinion you don't truly value. You are going to get advice on childrearing in general left and right from family, friends, and women behind you in line at the grocery store. People are going to comment on your choice of breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. People will comment on how crazy the babies' sleeping patterns are (and how much of that is your fault). Sit down and think about the people in your life whose opinions you really value. Now, are any of those people the same ones who you would imagine attempting to give you "advice" that really feels more like criticism of your parenting skills? I doubt it. So, when you want advice, ask for it from the people whom you generally believe will give it to you with your best interests, not their underlying opinions, at heart. For everyone else, smile and keep walking. If it happens in your own home, feign a migraine and retire to your room until the offender leaves.
Elizabeth Lyons is the author of Ready or Not.Here We Come! The REAL Experts' Cannot-Live-Without Guide to the First Year with Twins. Her website is www.elizabethlyons.com.
". . . the advice you need in the short, funny format your sleep-deprived mind can absorb. Lyons tells it like it is in a laugh-out-loud look at the uncertainty, craziness, and absolute joy of your first year with twins. An absolute must-have." --Lisa Earle McLeod, Columnist for Lifetime Magazine and author of Forget Perfect.