Children are a blessing. Multiple children, a multiple blessing.
Multiple multiples? Where do you even start to count your blessings?
At the best of times, parenting is a challenge. Add several sets of children all going through the “terrible twos,” the “ferocious fours” or the troubled teenage years at the same time, and the thought is often enough to make someone go a bit crazy. Where do you find the strength and energy? What kind of support is available? How does your marriage survive when it seems that life is focussed on the children? How do you have a normal life, and what does a “normal” life even look like?
We sat down with two families in Canada’s Golden Horseshoe to discuss parenting multiple sets of twins, to learn what their lives are like, what unique challenges they deal with every day, and what advice would they give to other parents in the same parenting boat.
Multiples often run in families so news of expecting twins is not that surprising for some families. For Kim Tait of Oakville, the news that she was expecting a second set of twins wasn’t as surprising or shocking as you might think. She says, “I just knew. I think your brain prepares you for this type of shocking information. We weren’t trying for more kids, so when I got pregnant again, I knew it was (twins) and wasn’t surprised when they told me.” For Lyndsay Petican of Burlington, the news was taken pragmatically. “We were like yes, this is what we do! We make twins. We already had the infrastructure, like car seats, cribs, and highchairs,” she explains.
We asked both families what they did differently with each set, or wish they had. For the Taits, they agree they became smarter the second time around. “With the first set we both tried to be up all the time to feed them; we realized with the second set that it’s impossible. So, we split the night up, doing shift work. My husband liked staying up late so as soon as my older daughter went to bed, I’d go to bed and wake up at 4 a.m. and start my day then. The babies would eat around 2-3 a.m. and then again around 5-6am. Feeding two crying babies in the middle of the night on no sleep is no party, but we found a system and stuck with it. It became easier with time.” For Lyndsay she explains that she definitely has a different viewpoint on parenthood, perhaps as any second time parent might. She tries to remember that “everything is a stage, and where newborn twins is really hard, it too is just a phase.”
As her kids started school, Lyndsay is learning from her actions with her older girls. She kept her daughters together until grade one, and then had them separated in school, as they began wanting their own friends and experiences. She’s been thinking of separating her sons earlier so they can grow more independent.
If there’s any advice either family would have liked to have in advance of having their second set of twins, it would be, according to Lyndsay, to “just be kind to yourself, try not to fixate on what you can’t do, and enjoy the things that you can. It is really hard at the beginning but it pays off in dividends doubly later.” For Kim, she said knowing what to expect probably made things a bit worse. “I knew it was going to be insane, and it was. We had four little boys in diapers at the same time.”
Many couples struggle with maintaining the romance in their marriage once kids come along. We wondered if having not just one, but two sets of children, and maybe even a singleton or two in addition, changes this part of their relationship dramatically? Or, does it strengthen a marriage in ways other couples might not understand? According to Lyndsay Petican, “My husband and I work as a great team… we have to. We try to get alone time where we can by grabbing a breakfast date or a quiet cup of coffee before all the kids awaken. We found it was easier when I was working to meet for breakfast rather than going out for dinner. We had a lot of our date nights by just making dinner and hanging out. Once every couple of months we go out for dinner and every year we have a kid-free vacation to Vegas or Nashville to relax.”
Kim’s experience is a bit different. “I would be lying if I said it didn’t have an impact on our marriage; this is hard. We are both working full-time, I commute an hour and all the kids have activities, so we are running in different directions all the time. Our kids are still young, so they need us for a lot of things; for now, we divide and conquer and at the end of the day we are exhausted and start all over again the next day. We don’t have a lot of time to just sit and talk, but as they say, this is a season of life, it’s constantly evolving and changing. Date nights are a challenge too. They get expensive quickly as we tend to have to hire two people to watch the kids. Add dinner and a movie and the cost adds up. So we don’t get to do it much unfortunately.”
Self-care is an aspect of life that is challenging for all parents, but even more for parents of multiples. Lindsay says her children’s nap time is very important to her, she tries to work out during one of the nap times, and online shopping has become very important to her, in order to keep her sense of self sometimes.
Support from family and the community is also invaluable as parents of multiples sometimes feel isolated because they can’t find time for themselves or time to leave the house to run errands or take part in recreational programs with all their children. Both women agree that without either a nanny or family members to help out, life would most definitely be more challenging. Lyndsay explains that with her first set of twins she “hung around singleton moms and felt very sad about the activities that I didn’t feel I could manage on my own (i.e., swimming, hikes). I spent a good bit of time grieving the maternity leave that I thought I would have. On my second mat leave with my boy twins I hung out with a lot of twin mamas; we mostly hung out at other people’s houses to keep all of our kids contained and less stress-free.” For her own well-being, and so an outing wouldn’t end up in tears (either the children’s or her own) she stopped signing up for programs that she knew were going to be unsuccessful for their family dynamic. Lyndsay also had support from her Mother-in-Law who would watch the boys to allow her to leave the house by herself and run errands. That was a much-needed break.
For the Taits, who have no immediate family nearby and have full-time jobs that often require travel, a nanny was the only way they could survive. When the nanny wasn’t available or one of the parents was out of town, their kids became used to doing their homework at a sports arena while the other siblings had a hockey practice. “We just drag them all along,” she explains.
We wanted to know if there exists any extra government of community support for parents with multiples. Lyndsay explains that she joined a twin mom group and they were a great support during maternity leave. “Maternity leave with twins is not relaxing, a longer maternity leave of two years would’ve really been great as you only received one year (when I was on mat leave).” She recently began volunteering with the Halton Breastfeeding Connection to support new moms and new twin moms with breastfeeding. It’s her way of giving back. For Kim, she wishes there had been more financial support when they had to have two nannies. “There is a maximum we can deduct for childcare on our taxes; we have definitely exceeded that each year. I wish there was flexibility there!” They have, however, found some support with rEcess Oakville, a respite program that offers free care to children with disabilities and their siblings while their parents enjoy a night out once a month.
For all the joys that multiple multiples bring, there are of course, emotional challenges. As might be expected, for both women, finding individual time to spend with each child is difficult but much-needed. For Kim, who has an older singleton daughter, she especially tries to spend some alone time with her because she knows her daughter needs that alone time the most. Both women agree that finding quality one-on-one time with each child is what they have the most mom guilt about.
Every parent wishes they could bond equally with their kids. For parents of multiples, it can seem like a daunting or impossible pipe dream. Lyndsay’s advice to new parents of multiple multiples is “be kind to yourself. Some days one child is needier than the other and then the next day it changes. It will not always be fair and equal, but you try to do the best for those kids and their own temperaments.” For Kim, her family has its own challenges, as her two youngest twins both have special needs, so she realizes she must spend more time with them. Her son Zackery is on the autism spectrum and she expresses, “he has definitely taught me so much about humans in general. I thought I knew how to parent, but boy has he challenged me in absolutely every way. There are days where all our focus is on him. His twin has moderate to severe ADHD, so he is always very busy. I make a point of spending time with my daughter alone, but I know this is a constant challenge and I’m very aware of it.”
Aside from bonding and finding time for each child, what seems to be the biggest challenge of having multiple multiples? “The price of daycare for multiples is crippling,” says Lyndsay. It can be as much as a second mortgage. Kim explains for them, it’s time management and not having a big safety net. That frustration of the unknown from day to day, makes this really hard sometimes. It especially hits home when there are health emergencies and everything seems so overwhelming.
We wondered how their families are coping with the isolation and quarantine of Covid-19? Lyndsay admits, “So much togetherness time has the increased the sibling fighting. My kids are happiest when we go out on adventures, but with limited adventures and limited contact with friends, especially for my 10-year-olds, this has been especially difficult. But in many ways, it has been easier too. Lindsay explains, “Our mornings are way less hectic. We let the girls sleep in. We don’t have to rush to make lunches. My husband has been home to help a lot more as he hasn’t been travelling for work.” And Kim agrees, “I think there is where big families shine. I can kick them out into the backyard, and they all play together and can entertain themselves (and each other). I think having a single child might be harder than five!”
In conclusion, the greatest joy for both families is seeing how all their children interact and love each other. For Kim, who herself is an only child, she didn’t understand the dynamics of siblings before she had children. “Watching the five of them interact is fascinating to me. I love just sitting back and watching them work through something together without us intervening. My daughter being the oldest, tends to take charge and all four boys listen to her lead. I think she will benefit from this role in her own life. And certainly, for the kids to have each other once we are gone is reassuring.”
For parents of multiple multiples, life is definitely busy, crazy, fun, exhausting and so much more. It’s parenting, multiplied. It’s also blessings, multiplied.