Parents with new babies are always sure to attract attention when they go out in public, and when that stroller holds two, three or four babies, that attention is… well, multiplied! “Are they twins?” “How do you find time for yourself when you have triplets?” “Your quads are adorable!” Friends and strangers alike usually can’t help but refer to your babies as a package deal (“the twins” or “the triplets”). So how do you make sure your children grow up feeling unique and valued as individuals while still embracing their lifelong special bond?
Recognize their differences
“First of all, I would stay attuned to the differences that emerge [among your children] and emphasize those,” suggests Indianapolis counselor Lindsay Gayle, LMHC. “You should also separate the multiples as much as possible. For example, if your school has three Kindergarten classes, try and get the triplets in separate classrooms so that each child can develop his/her own identity.”
Shelagh Fraser, mother of twin girls who are in the sixth grade at The Orchard School, says fortunately her family never referred to the girls as “the twins.” “We figured that such a label focuses too much on identifying them as a unit rather than as individuals,” she says. “Twins are sometimes forced and expected to be the same. My girls, however, are fundamentally very different people and as they get older, I have been treating them more as siblings and less as twins.”
“Twins who aren’t encouraged to develop their own sense of self often feel guilty, frustrated, disappointed or confused when trying to go about their daily lives as adults,” says author and psychotherapist Joan A. Friedman, PhD. Friedman is the author of Emotionally Healthy Twins: A New Philosophy for Parenting Two Unique Children and The Same but Different: How Twins Can Live, Love and Learn to Be Individuals. She’s also an identical twin and mother of five, including fraternal twin boys.
“Parents really need to separate their twins so that each child can feel like he/she is an individual who can be on his/her own,” says Friedman. “Take single pictures of each child, have separate photo albums for each one, sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to each child and have separate birthday cakes. All of these things can help foster a sense of individuality for each twin.” Friedman also suggests buying a single stroller so that each child can be taken out separately to spend one-on-one time with parents and grandparents. The same tips can be applied to triplets, quads and other multiples.
And although it may be tempting, experts recommend refraining from dressing your multiples in the same outfits on a regular basis or encouraging that they look alike – for example having the same hairstyle. Some siblings might like to look the same on occasion, but it should be their choice. Also, if possible, allowing each child to have his/her own room, or at least an area that is just for them, lets multiples have some alone time to develop their own sense of self.
Appreciate their special bond
That’s not to say that multiples shouldn’t celebrate their one-of-a kind relationship. Amy C. says her five year-old triplets love being together and often introduce themselves by saying, “We are the triplets!” But Amy adds, “We spend lots of time talking about how even though they are triplets, God made each one of them special. We talk about how each of them is really good at different things, and even though they look a lot alike, they are different too, which is really fun!”
Having a twin or triplet really is a special kind of sibling relationship. Who else can say they have been with you from the very beginning? Encourage your multiples to appreciate what makes their connection such a unique bond.
Learn from other parents
Raising multiples can be daunting, but thankfully there are resources and support groups to help. Laurinda Oliver of the Northside Twins and Multiples support group says that the emotional and practical support she’s received, as well as the advice on parenting and even the great deals on baby gear and clothing from fellow members have all been extremely helpful to her. “I have really appreciated becoming part of this group. The caliber of educational speakers we have at meetings is exceptional and I feel privileged to be part of such an informative, friendly and supportive group.”
Another opportunity to share common experiences and celebrate your multiples is at The Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio. Twins Days is the largest annual gathering of twins and other multiples in the world and takes place the first full weekend of August.
Whether your baby arrives on his own, or with a sibling or two in tow, each child deserves to develop his own interests, talents and unique way of looking at the world. Enjoy your front row seat as you watch their journey unfold!