[WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS ABOUT CHILDREN AND PARENTHOOD THAT MAY BE HARD FOR SOMEONE "STILL IN THE TRENCHES" TO READ. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.]
I am a little hesitant to even post about today's topic here. However, it is something that has been weighing on my mind for a while, and I know that there are a few other twin moms who (I think?) still read this blog, so maybe someone will be able to relate. (more after the break)
I think everyone knows that being a parent of twins is difficult. I mean, this is why when people hear that someone is pregnant with twins, a common response is "Wow" or "Better you than me" or "Good luck!" Lately I have been thinking a lot about one of the ways in which it has been most difficult for me that may not be obvious to someone who has not been in this situation.
From day one I have felt in many ways that the fact that I had twins instead of a singleton has influenced the way I have parented. There are quite a few things I had hoped to do as a mother that I have not done with the boys, simply because they would have been either impossible or impractical to do with two children at a time. It is a simple fact that many choices that might seem reasonable and doable when you have one child, or one child at a time, are just not feasible when you are caring for two children of the same age at the same time.
A few examples: I would have liked to "wear" my babies more early on, I've never seen how baby wearing could work with twins. (I'm sure there's some mom out there who's done it, but I tried it, and I couldn't make it work.) I wrote here at length about my failure at breastfeeding; I still believe that I might eventually have built a sufficient supply, in spite of my challenges, had I only had to build a supply sufficient to feed ONE infant instead of two. I would have favored the idea of allowing my child to feed on his own schedule early on; however, having twins, allowing this to happen would have meant no sleep for me, and as much as I can function OK on limited sleep, I do have to get SOME sleep in order to function, so a schedule was a must for us with twins.
These examples highlight just the early days. The biggest challenge of being a mother of twins is not being able to give all of myself to either of my children because of the fact that I have two children who both need me. . . often at the same time.
I believe I have written here before about the fact that our sons have very different personalities. Because their personalities are so different, it is probably not surprising that as they get older and more challenging, they are responding differently to attempts to guide their behavior. MJ likes to openly test any limits set for him. However, he also likes to please and is relatively easily redirected.
AJ, on the other hand, is seldom openly defiant but will often pretend he doesn't hear us when we address him and tell him not to do things, or will wait until we leave the room to break a rule (like getting out of bed or getting into the closet when it's time for sleep). He is difficult to redirect and becomes very intent and focused on things he wants to touch or play with (like electrical cords, buttons on the TV, kitchen cabinets/drawers).
We have had troubles with getting the boys to sleep ever since they had to be moved out of their cribs to toddler beds several weeks ago. The worst problems are at naptime, when they often won't sleep at all and instead spend the time flipping the mattresses off the frames and attempting to disassemble the bed frames, removing the contents of their closet and the like. They also take a long time to settle down at night, and we often hear them running around in their room and opening and closing the closet (even though we have now removed everything from the closet that was within their reach).
(Interestingly, the boys do not give their nanny the same trouble at naptime that they give us. She says that she only has to occasionally go in once or twice to tell them to stay in bed.)
AJ is a worse offender than MJ in this regard. When MM or I go in to check on the boys, probably 8 times out of 10, MJ is still in his bed, and AJ is almost always out of his.
AJ has also started removing his pants and diaper at naptime. (He doesn't have the opportunity to do this at night because I still dress him in the one-piece, zip-up style pajamas.) He will do this whether or not the diaper is clean and dry or wet.
Even when the boys settle down and are no longer running around, jumping, opening the closet and laughing, AJ still falls asleep wedged against the door to their bedroom most nights. He often cries for a while before going to sleep. He has also started waking up an hour to two hours earlier than usual in the mornings.
In addition to these sleep issues, AJ has been very clingy in the evenings. Starting from the time I arrive home from work, he wants to be held by me, or be sitting right next to me, constantly. If I have to set him down for even a moment, he cries like his heart is breaking. He sometimes transfers this attachment to MM when he returns home in the evening shortly before the boys go to bed.
Needless to say, having AJ constantly in my arms or on my lap makes it hard to prepare the boys' dinner or to do anything for, or with, MJ. (I have become pretty skilled at dressing and diapering MJ one-handed, provided he is cooperative on a given evening. If he isn't in a cooperative mood, he has to await Daddy's arrival home to get ready for bed.)
I am not sure of the root cause of AJ's increased clinginess or sleep difficulties. I suspect teething pain may be a part of it: after being stalled at only four teeth since 15 months of age, he has acquired two new teeth in the past week or so, and his gums are swollen all over, as though all the teeth that didn't come in over the past 18 months or so have decided to suddenly break through all at once. But even after being given ibuprofen for his teething pain, he still has a hard time settling down at night and still wants to be held constantly.
If AJ were my only child, I would have no problem sitting by his bed at night, rubbing his back and speaking or singing to him softly to help him get to sleep. He seems to find this comforting, and it does seem to help him settle down.
The problem with my doing this, however, is that for some reason MJ finds my presence in their bedroom energizing rather than soothing. MJ will not go to sleep while I am in the room these days but will instead chatter up a storm and get in and out of the bed, sometimes even getting into his brother's bed, causing AJ further agitation.
Our house does not have enough bedrooms to accommodate separating the boys, so they must continue to share a room. Even if they were in separate rooms, I'm not sure that would be the solution; I have, on occasion, tried taking AJ out to the living room for naptime, and this choice only caused MJ to wail "Mamma! Mamma!" pitifully and did not lead to either boy getting any sleep.
So because MJ cannot settle down with Mamma in the room, I cannot be there to comfort and soothe AJ.
In general, I hate to hear either of my sons cry, but it really tears at my heart when I hear AJ cry at bedtime, when it seems to me that all he really wants is the comfort of having one of his parents nearby until he falls asleep. It seems to me such a small thing, and it is a desire I would gladly fulfill. . . if not for the fact that I know that giving in to his desire would prevent his brother from ever getting to sleep.
Because AJ has a twin brother, I am once again forced to make a choice based not solely on what I think is best for HIM, but on what is best for THEM. I cannot simply follow my instincts and do what I think will meet AJ's needs but instead have to figure out what will meet both children's needs simultaneously. I know that, despite the fact that he is crying, AJ will eventually fall asleep (albeit probably against his bedroom door) if I don't go in his room, whereas MJ (and thus AJ) will never fall asleep if I stay in their room.
For me, that is the hardest part about having twins.