By Amy Levin-Epstein
“Parents of multiples have triple the divorce rate.” This was the statement made from mega-multiple mom Kate Gosselin a few years ago on the premiere of the fifth season of TLC’s Jon & Kate Plus 8, before tearfully adding “I was thinking we were going to beat that.” Of course, Kate and her husband Jon have since split, and her statement left multiple moms wondering–is it true?
Even though the experts and parents interviewed for this story admit that it’s hard to tell if marital stress would be any different with one child–or without any children at all–all agreed that it isn’t easy. “We have less time for each other, twice the cooking, diapers, clean up, and expenses. We’re exhausted so we’re more irritable with each other,” says Matt Cohen of Woodbridge, Connecticut, who is the husband of Sarah Meshberg-Cohen and father to their 16-month-old twins. The good news: kids grow up, and you’ll have an empty nest (or at least, a diaper-less house) sooner than you can imagine. And might your marriage even mature through this time? “Of course,” says Pat Malmstrom, twin mom, and author of The Art of Parenting Twins. “You’ve had a very unusual experience together, a huge life adventure.” In that spirit, here are some tips to will help you divide and conquer–without dividing your union.
Parenting twins or more is like boot camp for your relationship. Here are some survival skills you can use to cope:
Issue: Early On, They Hit You Like (Two or More) Mack Trucks
“When you have one baby, you have these wonderful moments of mastery,” says Joan Friedman, Phd, herself a twin and mom of twins, and the author of Emotionally Healthy Twins. Unfortunately, adds Joan, with two, once you soothe or feed one, the other one is ready to tear your new confidence down.
Solution: Friedman advises couples to speak during the pregnancy about a game plan and “make sure you have help.” And once the babies are born, be specific about what you need from your husband. “Women often wait for their husbands to do something and if they fail, they get mad. They have to be absolutely upfront about what they need and ask [for it] in a nice way,” says Friedman, adding that this team effort will pay off for Dad: “With one baby, the mother takes over initially. But with twins, there are two babies home at the same time, dad has the opportunity to jump right in and bond.”
Issue: You Feel Isolated
When you’re at your wit’s end, your first instinct may be to call other new mom pals. But if they’re not fellow moms of multiples, their cries of “only 5 hours of sleep” may make you feel like crying yourself (you would kill for 3!).
Solution: Join the club–a mom of multiples support group. Your new pals can act as highly-trained babysitters–and you can reciprocate the favor, making this a safe, economical to hiring help or relying on an overwhelmed grandparent. According to Meshberg-Cohen, “We have monthly meetings. Moms can go and talk to other moms of multiples. [These groups] really help.”
Issue: You’re Too Exhausted To Really Connect
“My husband and I both work full-time so by the time we get home, make dinner and clean up, spend quality time with the kids, give baths, and get the kids to bed, we are extremely tired. Some nights we may have only have a 10-minute conversation without interruption,” say Jessica Glick of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, along with her husband Mike is parenting two sets of twins ages 4 and 6.
Solution: Reconnect in little ways, says Malmstrom: “One of the best things is to hug. You may not have time to talk. You may not even know what to say.” And remember that your husband isn’t just a babysitter–or another child. “Daily acts of kindness go a long way towards keeping a relationship strong,” says Flais.
Issue: Who Is This Man?
If you suspect a veil of sleep deprivation and baby spew isn’t making you see your spouse through rose-colored glasses, you might be right. “Dad will say I try to help but she doesn’t like how I’m feeding the baby, how I’m diapering, what clothes I put on,” says Friedman.
Solution: Realize why you may have turned more critical of your partner, particularly if you were more laid-back pre-pregnancy: “It’s reflective of the mother’s stress. She unwittingly becomes overly critical.” Again, ask for specific help, close your eyes, and think about sending them away…to college.
Issue: Money Is Tighter Than Tight
In this economy, a lot of families are struggling, and with multiples, it can feel like your money woes are multiplied. For example: “At the doctor’s you pay two co-pays,” says Meshberg-Cohen. And that’s not even counting double the medicine when they share bugs.
Solution: It’s unavoidable–kids are expensive and you’ll have to roll with the punches (to your wallet). “Every union will face real life-issues together, and regardless of the number of kids involved, both parents must work as a team to adapt and roll with things as they come,” says Flais. “When I was pregnant with each set, we worried about finances, but we found that you make it work with what you have,” says Glick.
Issue: You’re Just Not Getting Along
Even with a super husband, occasional help and a support group to call your own, the happiest marriage experiences bumps in the road–multiples or no babies at all.
Solution: Besides firming up a sleep schedule so you’re not snapping out of fatigue, remember why you’re here in the first place–love. “At times, my husband and I take our tiredness or frustrations out on each other, but at the end of the day, we still respect and love each other and tell each other that,” says Glick. And if you need the motivation to be cordial, think about who is listening. “Remember that your children look to Mom and Dad to learn about relationships and conflict resolution. They will witness that even when two people love each other very much, they will sometimes disagree–and what is most important for your kids to see is that Mom and Dad work together to resolve the problem and find a solution.”