A new baby brings emotional and financial challenges, new routines, loss of sleep, and so much more to a relationship. Twins, triplets or more add even more complex issues to a relationship. Once a diaper has been changed and a baby fed, burped and soothed, we aren't finished - it needs to be done again, and possibly again and again. It is estimated that every time we add a baby to the mix, we are adding a baby and a half's worth of work.
Parents try hard to meet the needs of the new babies, the house, make meals, do laundry, grab a shower, a quick bathroom visit at an opportune moment and fit in some much-needed sleep. As parents juggle work outside the home and the physical, mental, emotional and financial demands of 2, 3 or 4 new little ones, their relationship, can be pushed aside and virtually ignored. Without meaning to, the marital relationship is often one of the last items parents tend to as it falls victim to the "parenting relationship." Sleep deprivation is HUGE with multiples and escalates the "cranky" factor. After the kiddies are seen to, it takes effort to remember to look after a spousal relationship too.
Remember to take care of your relationship, even as you are working on your parenting techniques. When parents LOOK AFTER themselves and each other, the children have the benefit of two happier, healthier adults who are important role models. Always taking a back seat or leaving the spousal relationship to fend for itself negatively affects the whole family. An important lesson is taught when we show the kids by example how to look after their parents' relationship.
Things that can help. Advice from parents of multiples:
- Before your babies arrive, look around for some multiple-birth-specific classes in your community and sign up for them as soon as you know you are having multiples. Both parents need to attend. If there are no multiple-birth specific classes in your community, Mom has been placed on bedrest or you don't wish to risk getting sick in a group setting, check out my DVD of multiple-birth classes. A video preview is available. Learn in the comfort of your own home, at a time convenient to both you. Over 3 hours and more than 20 down loads of pertinent multiple-birth information and resources.
- Connect with other parents of multiples. Learning from those whom have specifically walked the walk is extremely helpful.
- Line up help before the babies arrive in a form that will work for you. Some choices are: a nanny during the day, during the night, live-in or live-out. One family had each grandmother stay for three weeks each after their babies' arrival. The six weeks of extra hands and experience made it easier to establish routines and get some much-needed sleep.
- It is important for each parent to be actively involved in the children's care. Don't wait to be asked to get involved.
- Recognize that each of you may have a different way of doing a task. Appreciate the different skills that you each bring to the role of parenting and baby care and allow each other to complete the task in your own style. Many parents have expressed their pleasure at watching their partner redefine him/herself as a parent.
- If there is an issue between you, communicate. Don't assume the other can read your mind about what tasks need completing or anticipate exactly what needs to be done. Speak clearly to each other, e.g. "Could you please help change babies?"
- Plan time for each other on a regular basis. Plan a regular Date Night when grandparents or a local teen can come to sit for a couple of hours. It doesn't have to be huge, a trip to the coffee shop or walk around the block by yourselves could work, but the important thing is that it is just the two of you. It could be that you stay home to watch a movie, cuddle, talk, share a glass of wine and a pizza or foot/back rubs.
- Even when out together, expect to talk about the kids. It's okay because you are a team, discussing what works, what doesn't seem to be working, or concerns you might have about eating, sleeping habits and such. The good news is that the discussion occurs on your own terms and cements your desire to be the best parents you can be.
- It can be a challenge to communicate about parenting styles with three toddlers running in different directions. Be prepared to have to deal with the present and talk about parenting styles at another opportunity.
- If you can afford it, get help to complete some tasks around the home, e.g. cutting the grass, shoveling the snow, cleaning the house, perhaps grocery shopping. Some of the tasks can be done by older neighbourhood children, or place a notice at your local high school or library to find an available teenager whom would like to make a little extra money. Having someone else, even in the short term, assist with these tasks, allows you to focus on the babies and each other.
- If it is felt that your relationship is really suffering, consider professional counseling. It might be covered through one partner's expended health benefits, and if not, this medical expense can often be deducted at Income Tax time as a health care benefit. Don't wait to seek appropriate help until it is too late.
- It's amazing how quickly out of control things can get when one parent doesn't know the ground rules set out by the other parent and the kiddies learn pretty quickly to play one parent against the other creating havoc and perhaps an argument between the parents. If necessary, check with each other and present a unified front to the children.
- As one couple shared: Yes, multiples can stress a marriage especially if the relationship is not solid in the first place. A relationship takes a lot of work, commitment, unconditional love and each parent giving 110%. Teamwork is essential.
Getting through those initial days and weeks can be a challenge, especially as the sleep deprivation builds up and fuses shorten. Keeping a supportive eye on each other is essential to ensure that the love, trust, respect and companionship that brought you together in the first place is not misplaced. Things will improve as the kids become more independent and sleep through the night. Promise!
For even more information, check out the results of Multiple Births Canadas Survey Multiples and Impact on Couple Relationships on their Web Site at www.multiplebirthscanada.org.
About the Author:
Lynda P. Haddon, Multiple Birth Educator, has been teaching multiple-birth prenatal classes for nearly two decades as well as providing support for both parents and grandparents. Lynda is a Mother of twins (and a singleton) and a Past President of her local twin and triplet support group as well as Multiple Births Canada. She has spoken at Conferences and workshops across North America and is a regular media commentator on multiple-birth issues.
If you are expecting twins, triplets or more, check out Lynda's DVD on multiple birth prenatal classes. It contains over three hours of information, hints, tips and resources focused on multiple births. A preview of the DVD is available at http://www.multiplebirthsfamilies.com/video.shtml.