You Don’t Know How Well You’re Doing Until Your Twins Are Adults
Learn How To Be An Involved Dad and Love Multiplies
Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT, is on a mission to help raise self-awareness. His hope is that we will all become better parents, people, and partners.
Twins Magazine recently sat down with him to learn about how he helps people believe they can help themselves by giving them tips, tools, and techniques for doing so, especially as we embrace raising twins. Jeremy believes that by cultivating self-awareness, people can realize how much potential for growth they have. That it is within their power to achieve it.
TWINS MAGAZINE (TM): One of the things that I’ve learned about being a dad of twins is that I don’t know a lot. I thought I did as a dad. I thought: I raised them to adults, I’ve got this down. But truly, there’s a lot that I really had no idea about: different people and different experiences. It’s always great to get to talk to someone who’s been there, so welcome Jeremy!
JEREMY G. SCHNEIDER (JS): Thanks for having me! I’m happy to be chatting with you. I think the interesting thing about being a parent, especially if you’re involved, like we are, is that we become experts on our own experience. But, when we start to hear other people’s experiences or the ways that other people did it, our response is, “Well that wasn’t our experience, that’s not as familiar to me.” That affects our confidence a little bit more, particularly with men. As you said, you raised them to be adults; obviously, you did a few things correctly. You got a few things right to get them going. Then, seeing how other people do it, or the things that other people think about, sometimes makes us question ourselves. That is an eternal struggle as a parent. We are never really secure in what we are doing because we don’t know how it’s going to turn out and we just want to do our best. To me, that’s one of the hardest parts about wanting to be a good parent: you don’t really know how well you’re doing until they’re adults.
TM: So you live in the Big Apple, New York City. You have a wife, Gem, and son and daughter, Lucas and Dorit. You’re a father of twins, you are a marriage and family therapist, you are a speaker on fatherhood and relationships. You’re also the author of the book Fatherhood in 40-Minute Snapshots. I don’t know when you find time to sleep. How long has this book been in the works?
JS: To be completely honest, I started writing the book twelve years ago. I would get up in the morning, leave my kids, and go to work. It was very difficult and frequently something would happen either the night before or that morning that would affect me in some way. To deal with it, I started writing about it. Before I knew it, I was writing articles and getting columns. I had a column called “The Father’s Voice” and I ran my own blog for a long time. Then I realized it made a lot of sense to put these together into a book. The reason it’s called Fatherhood in 40-Minute Snapshots is because my train ride is 40 minutes. Each article was written on the train. It’s a snapshot of this moment in time on what we were going through as a family or what happened with my one of my children. All written in the 40-minute train ride.
TM: That’s a great way to use your downtime.
JS: It was really helpful for me psychologically to think through things. There were times when I started an article and I didn’t know where it was going to end because I didn’t know how I was going to deal with it. And, very often, by the time I got to the end of the article, I thought: I should try this, or that’s what’s happening, or this is why she’s like that, or that’s why he’s doing this. The process of writing and thinking through my experience was such a valuable time to reflect on what I was doing, or how I was doing as a parent. I’d come home that night and think, “OK, this is what I learned today. Let’s see if putting it into action makes sense.” Sometimes it didn’t make any sense at all and it didn’t work. The next day I would write about it again and see where it took me. Sometimes it worked. Those were the insights that really stuck.
TM: It sounds like a valuable personal exercise and process. At what point did you realize that this could be of benefit to someone else and who were you thinking about?
JS: Early on I realized that these experiences I was having as a dad couldn’t be happening to only me. Some of the early experiences were when they were babies. Like, when they came home from the hospital I didn’t feel an immediate connection with them. I wrote one of the articles in the book about that. I had to believe that I wasn’t the only one worried about my connection. I started talking with other dads who had a very similar experience. Encouraging dads to be there every day and that eventually the worried feeling will start to go away was really helpful. My approach is not just being a dad of twins. My perspective comes from my education as a marriage and family therapist. I have this family systemic perspective which allowed me to take a step back and look at, not just what I’m doing, but how the four of us were interacting with each other. My knowledge helped me know that there was a way that I could nudge family dynamics in one direction or another to affect some change. It was around that time that I thought there might be a broader audience for this. That’s when I started to work on getting my individual articles published. I always had a dream that one day I’d be able to gather the articles into a book. It may have taken a little bit longer than I anticipated, but life with twins, as you know, doesn’t go quite as smoothly as one would hope.
TM: You spent fifteen years as a therapist working in relationships and focusing on parenting and mental health issues. A lot of us have difficulty not bringing work home. It sounds like as a therapist and a writer it could be hard not to. What are some of the challenges you within those roles at home?
JS: One of the challenges for me is that my work is a trigger for what I’ve been through in my past. Part of my mission to be a good, involved dad stems from what I didn’t have growing up and the difficult childhood I experienced. The work I’ve done as a therapist and the work I’ve done in all areas outside the home can be a trigger for me in terms of, “This makes me feel like I did back then.” I try not to infect my present-day family with the after-effects of what I went through growing up or what I’m working with other people on. That’s probably been one of the biggest challenges. My family will be the first to admit that I wasn’t always successful at that. But I do try to be open about it. I don’t want to be a dad who pushed his family away when he was having a hard time. I wanted to learn how to communicate and let them know, “I’m having a hard time. It doesn’t have anything to do with you, though.” There are times that the love of your family and kids can really be a powerful influence and have a powerful impact on how I experience the world in the present day. Yet, there were times that I was affected by what I was doing or what I went through and that ended up coming home into our house. I spent a lot of time to make sure that impact was limited, but I was also surprised by how much these two kids loved to give; I had never anticipated that. When I thought about the things I would go through as a parent, it turned into one of the articles in the book called “What I Have Instead.” I knew going into parenthood the kinds of things that we as men feel that we have to lose. We won’t have alone time or have much time with our wives. It will be harder to do the fun things that we wanted to do. I never considered the upside of being a dad, or being part of a family, or the way love can multiply when there are four people together who really genuinely feel for each other.
TM: That’s very true. Following on that theme and borrowing from what we consider preconceived notions about what we think a man and a father should be and how we should respond to and raise our kids… how have Dorit and Lucas challenged you most as, not just a man, but a father?
JS: They are fifteen-and-a-half right now. Teenagerhood leaves me speechless sometimes. With twins, you don’t have a chance to practice and say, “We raised our first child this way, but let’s tweak it the second time around.” You’re really dealing with both at the same time. One of the things we’ve learned in the past year is when one of our twins starts to have a difficult time, the other struggles as well. They are so interconnected. That’s been one of the biggest challenges that we’ve faced more recently. When they were growing up, I felt this constant sense that I had to grow. I wasn’t quite enough of a man to be the dad that I felt that they needed. They would reach this new developmental phase and I would find that I had to step up my game a little bit and face things that I was really uncomfortable with. One of the more funny examples has been learning how to change their diapers, how to use the bathroom, and how to use a toilet. All of that stuff. If you had talked to me before I had kids, I would have been too afraid to even use those words. The whole thing was so uncomfortable for me. Now I share in my book some of the best conversations I ever had with my kids that happen while toilet training in the bathroom. There’s such an intimacy to learning how to use the bathroom and they end up being so dependent on you. By being there for them it created a bond that I didn’t know existed. If I hadn’t been able to overcome my immense discomfort I would’ve lost out on so much. That’s been the most amazing part and the hardest part––that I can never just stay who I am. I am constantly challenged to grow as a person. And I challenge myself to meet what they need from me.
TM: And as you say, we all need to look for those intimate moments with our kids. I was talking with a friend the other day. Just a couple of dads sitting, having a beer, and talking about things about fatherhood that annoy us. One of my pet peeves back when I was raising my twins was when people would comment about how my wife was going out and describe my time at home with the kids as babysitting. It made the hairs on my neck stand up and a teeth-gritted smile would follow. What misconceptions about fatherhood would you like to see people think differently about?
JS: So funny you mention that. To me that is one of the most offensive things you could say to a dad .. I’m completely with you on that. A friend of mine has a two-year-old and just had a baby, maybe two months ago. He said something about how he was the executive assistant right now and that’s the role he has to play. What was implicit in that comment is he plays a supportive role. His wife, the mom, is responsible for the kids, and he is involved. He loves being there; he’s taken time off work to be home. Even in that process, he still sees himself in a support role. That’s one of the things—which is going to be difficult—that I’d really like to see this next generation of men be able to step out of, and frankly the next generation of women be able to step out of. It shouldn’t be all of their responsibility to manage the parenting process. It is a team sport, so to speak. I actually have an article in the book called “Parenting Is A Team Sport.” Being on the same team and being able to work together makes so much sense. I remember when they were babies I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I felt very much like I was playing a support role to my wife. Obviously, things have changed and I’m really grateful for that and the fact that she was comfortable enough to make it easy for me to be involved because that meant she had to take a step back. I think too many men have the perspective that moms automatically know what they are doing as parents and thus we don’t and we should defer to them… that’s the biggest thing I’d like to see us be able to shift over the next ten to fifteen years in the next generation or two of dads.
TM: I think that’s a worthy goal. Gets me thinking back to when I first had my twin. The doctor that, “Surprise!” you were having two. That was a fun roller coaster ride. I was very anxious and very nervous and felt completely inadequate to the task. It just wasn’t something that I was prepared enough for. I lost the receipt. I couldn’t send them back, so I had to face up to the task. It’s been a fun ride; you learn as you go. What would you tell new fathers, especially fathers who are raising twins? What kind of advice would you give and how is it different when you’re moving into fatherhood with twins than it is when you’re having a singleton, one baby?
JS: I would love to hear your thoughts on this. I think, ironically, dads of twins have an advantage over dads of singletons—there are always two. You almost always get to hold one baby. That made a huge difference for me. If we had only one my wife would be the one who would hold the baby. She was nursing for over a year so that part of the process I wasn’t obviously as involved in. There were bottles but she was nursing whenever she could. So with two babies, I always had one baby while she was nursing, or while she was trying to put one to bed. Just that time I had, getting comfortable, is a huge advantage over singletons. Obviously, there is a whole slew of other challenges that go along with having twins, but I think to be an involved dad, that advantage of almost always holding one, really helped me. That first year was a complete blur/nightmare: how do we feed them, how do they sleep, when do we get to sleep… it was bordering on traumatic how challenging that first year was. For parents of twins, the thing to remember is that you get twice the practice. At the beginning that seems so overwhelming, but your ramp-up time to getting good faster. You’re doing it twice as much. I don’t think I’d ever changed a diaper before we had the babies. Within a short amount of time, I was changing diapers like that. It was crazy how easy it became. I was doing it several times a day with each baby. It was the practice, practice, practice. That makes such a huge difference.
TM: We had the advantage of having our daughter before we had our twins, but if I had to be honest and analytical, I would say my wife took the lion’s share of her care. When we had the twins we became an instant team. You don’t have a lot of options other than to learn to work together much better because it is now two-against-two instead of two-against-one. Having the twins and going through that challenge together really did add a dimension to our relationship.
JS: I know what you’re saying. It wasn’t necessarily two-against-two, but it was two of us and two of them. Our kids were born two-and-a-half months early, so they spent four weeks in the NICU. At one point, we shared a NICU with another family, so it was our two kids and their three kids. One time, we were feeding our kids: I was feeding one, my wife was feeding the other. Both of our hands were full in that process and we needed to get something that was over on the chair, a little bit out of reach. We looked at each other like, we’re not going to get it, we’re not going to be able to do anything. Then we looked behind us and saw the three babies. To me, that is extraordinary. At that point you’re outnumbered. You had that experience yourself, obviously at different ages, but in some ways, having twins and having them be the only children you have is both a blessing and a curse. We don’t ever get to do this process again, but on the flip side, we were always able to make sure one of us had one child. I can only imagine how challenging it must have been to already have a daughter, and then have twins and manage that whole family situation.
TM: It’s been an interesting ride, but the one thing I will say is that you will rise to the occasion. And no matter if it’s twins, triplets, quads… you will rise to the occasion. You might not know how yet, but you’ll get there.
JS: That’s the best part of the process. You’re constantly finding out what you’re capable of. You have a choice. You can say, “This is too much. I can’t do it.” But most men are going to step up and say, “Okay, I don’t know how to do this,” or “I’ve never done this before,” or “I’ve never done this at this stage of development yet but I figured the last one out. We’ll figure the next one out.” That ended up being one of the more enjoyable parts about parenting. Even though it’s constantly changing at each developmental stage, it triggers this project management, problem-solving side of things. How to figure this out, how can we do this, what if we tried it this way, what if we tried it that way? Not to be sexist in any way, just trying to pull on some strengths that men traditionally have. I think that’s more of the way that men tend to think. Not that women don’t, but men don’t think about applying those skill sets to parenting. That was such an interesting piece that I had never thought about. I happen to be very good at troubleshooting problems, and parenting is just kind of dealing with all kinds of things that pop up: how do I figure this out? Then you work it through and try something and it works. Or the next time you try something it doesn’t work, so you try again. You develop this skill set and portfolio of resources that you can call on when you have a new issue that you’re trying to figure out. That’s what you’re talking about—you figure it out and develop these skills. You just keep learning and growing along the way, and as long as you’re loving them, you’re fine.
TM: You mentioned your kids Lucas and Dorit are now fifteen. You touched on the developmental stages and how each unique stage taught you something new. What are some of the things that are different when they were babe-in-arms, to now that they’re teenagers, fifteen-and-a-half years old?
JS: You may understand this better than I do, but the saying that “Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems,” really holds true. The scale of problems that we dealt with when they were younger seemed enormous but wasn’t actually enormous. The scale of problems we deal with as adolescents is big and feels big. I’m working on another book and have been reading some of my old articles again from when they were three-and-a-half years old. I put a lot of thought and energy into trying to figure out what to do or how to resolve this. Some of those things ended up being really important and some of those things none of us could remember. That’s just a really interesting perspective to have that written record of. I look back at things that were really important, or I thought were really important, and they ended up not really having much of an impact at all. Now being fully immersed in this adolescent phase I realize that the scale of problems and how it affects the entire family feels a lot bigger at adolescence than it did when they were babies or toddlers.
TM: If you’re looking for a unique perspective on being a father of twins, Jeremy G. Schneider has written the book called Fatherhood in 40-Minute Snapshots, available, Jeremy, where is it available?
JS: It’s available on my website: www.jgs.net
TM: Jeremy, congrats on raising your beautiful son and daughter, Lucas and Dorit. We here at Twins magazine really enjoyed having you here.
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