You’re having twins, except you already have an older child. Dealing with all three can be a challenge. Here are tips on raising twins after a singleton.
When the idea of raising twins sunk in, the next question was how I’d care for two babies plus a three-year-old. I had been expecting to juggle a preschooler and a baby, not two babies.
“I’ll be raising twins… and my toddler, too,” I told myself. I had no idea if I could handle it.
Raising twins after a singleton
Follow these tips to help you and your older child transition to life with twins:
Keep your older child occupied while you nurse or feed the twins
It’s tough feeling tied to your twins while nursing, pumping or holding two bottles. You can’t exactly stand up right away if your older child needs you. What to do?
- Give him tasks to do. Encourage him to fill his big brother role by asking for his help. Things like putting diapers in the diaper box, sorting socks or putting toys away.
- Read with him. Sit next to him and have him turn the pages of a book while you read the words aloud.
- Give him a time frame. Your child may just need the reassurance that you’ll be with him soon. Explain that in 15 minutes, you’ll play trucks with him, right after the babies take their bottles.
- Ask him to entertain the babies. While the babies nurse, he can talk to them, shake rattles, sing songs, make funny faces or show his favorite stuffed animal.
- Encourage bonding among all three. Sometimes your older child just wants to sit and cuddle with you. He can snuggle up to his twin siblings as well, gently caressing their arms and legs, maybe kissing the tops of their heads.
- Gather new toys and items he can tinker with while you’re busy. These can be simple dollar toys or even household items. Then when it’s time to nurse, introduce a new item to keep him busy.
Lower your standards
One of the most reassuring messages I repeated to myself was that this madness is temporary.
My house will be messy with mirrors not wiped or windows collecting mildew, and that’s okay for now. Meals won’t consist of freshly-cooked dinners every night. Instead we’ll rely on take-out, frozen food or donated meals. My daily attire will include nursing tops, yoga pants and wet hair cinched into a bun.
Set your expectations low because your household will feel chaotic. Adding on extra chores and the guilt for not maintaining your norm can make you miserable. Instead, realize that this is temporary. In a matter of months, you’ll adjust and resume your standard of living. (Mostly.)
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Keep things organized
With an older child, staying organized becomes even more important. Sure, you can eat dinner much later, but your three-year-old is going to want his meals like he always does. Besides, it’s a good idea to maintain regularity as much as possible for him. The best way to do that is to organize and prepare. For instance:
- Cook the night before or when another person is in the house. You’re not left with all three kids as you scramble around the kitchen.
- Cut, dice, and serve food a few minutes before dinner time. Once your child is hungry, their plates are ready to go.
- Get bath- and bedtime items ready throughout the evening. At bath time, you’ll already have the pajamas, diapers, milk and towels set.
- Pack diaper bags long before you step out of the house. Expect the needs of your day and pack any supplies or food for your outings. Pack the stroller with your sunglasses, keys and phone if you plan to take them for a walk soon. Better yet, pack these items not before you need to leave, but after you’ve just gotten home from an outing.
- Take advantage of nap times. This is the blessed time when I either: a) prepare for when the babies wake up, 2) get things done around the house, 3) spend time with my singleton, or 4) relax.
- Batch-prepare his snacks and meals. For instance, if you’re going to slice an apple, slice a few more to serve tomorrow.
Encourage independent play
I’ve long been a fan of independent play. It’s not always possible to spend our every waking moment entertaining or being near our kids.
First, they need time to explore on their own. They can’t expand their wings if we’re there cramping their space every second. Allow them to question, make mistakes, and choose the direction they want to explore. They’ll know when to come back if they need reassurance, and you can always be nearby to do so.
Second, babies and kids need time with one another. You know those cute videos of twins laughing at one another? My twins do that when adults aren’t around (or at least they don’t think we’re around). They’ll sit next to each other, and one will start laughing at the other one. Soon they’re both cracking up in that cute baby twins way.
Meanwhile, I’m putting dishes away, knowing that this moment may not have happened if I were nearby.
And finally, kids playing on their own is good for you. Parents feel pressured to always engage with their kids, and sometimes it’s not fulfilling. We get bored. We’re burned out. And the guilt that we’re not doing a good job when we’re not engaging with our kids is an unrealistic demand.
Ask for help
Now more than ever will you need help. You almost need one adult for every child. If you could get an extra one to cover the household, that would be even better. My mom stayed with us a few weeks after the twins were born, and it helped because each child had at least one adult.
A long-term helper is ideal because that person is familiar with your daily routine. They know when and how to change the diapers and feed the babies. They’re familiar with your singleton’s preferences and where to fetch the yogurt he likes. You don’t need to give as much direction because this person has become part of the household.
If someone isn’t able to stay for several days or weeks, weekend visits would be the next best thing. Friends and family can drop off food so you don’t have to cook, or paper plates and utensils so you don’t have to wash. They can play with your older child while you nap, run errands or go for a walk.
Empathize with your older child
Your older child will test your patience like crazy. It can start as early as the last few months of your twin pregnancy when you’re extra tired and changes in the home are more obvious to him. I’s likely to peak during the early weeks with the twins.
I lost my patience a lot more during those short few months than I ever did all the three years prior with just my singleton. It’s not easy.
How can you manage caring for the twins and meeting your older child’s needs without going crazy?
Show empathy. Yes, it’s hard, especially as your three-year-old disobeys, regresses, or says outright hurtful words. You’re more likely to react and yell, drag him by the arm and tell him to stay in his room.
But, as challenging as adjusting to life with twins is for you, it’s even harder for him. He doesn’t know how to manage his emotions as well as you and I do, and all the defiance and regression stems from his own vulnerability and confusion.
He needs you.
So when he acts up or misbehaves, don’t think of it as another hassle to solve or a personal attack on you. Instead, remind yourself he needs you to help him manage. Just as your newborn twins need you to hold them when they cry, so too does your singleton when he’s upset.
It doesn’t make it any easier for you when it seems the next best solution is to stop his outburst as fast as possible, but in showing empathy, you curb the behavior more effectively in the long-run. And most importantly, you’re letting him know you’re still his mom, regardless of twins.
Spend time with your older child
Here’s the rough part. As limited in time as you already are, it’s still important for you to spend time alone with your older child. Connecting with him for as little as 10 minutes can prevent whining and even tantrums.
Plus, it’s important for your child to feel like he still has you in his life. That the twins haven’t replaced his special place in your heart.
You don’t have to do anything crazy—a simple game, a snuggle on the couch, or a quick walk around the block. Take advantage of the times your twins are napping to be with your older child even for just a few minutes. These special times, no matter how short they are, could be all he needs to know everything is still all right.
Tend to your older child first
The crying newborn (or two) or the crying toddler—who do you go to first? The older one. Here’s why.
- First, he’ll remember more of this than either of his siblings.
- Second, you don’t want to send the message that he’ll always have to wait, or that the twins get the attention first all the time.
- And third, by default, you’re giving priority to your twins most of the time anyway because they’re more dependent on you.
Balance their needs by remembering that those of your older child are just as important.
Give your older child an “out”
I enrolled my eldest in preschool a few months before the twins arrived and he was able to adjust to school in time for the twins’ arrival. School became a place that was just for him—an escape from the madness at home.
It’s hard for our older kids to handle the babies’ cries, the lack of attention, and change in routine. Going to school gives kids the predictability they crave.
Whether it’s preschool, lessons, the playground or weekend stays at grandma’s, providing your child with a regular outing helps him reclaim a space that’s his. A place that isn’t tainted by anything baby-related. Where he can get away from the cries and the constant “Be quiet, they’re sleeping” and be free to explore on his own.
Your singleton’s routine also provides you with a breather. The hours my eldest was in preschool afforded me some rest—it was one less child to attend to. And since my eldest stopped napping, I wasn’t always able to rest even if the twins were sleeping. With him in school, I could use those hours to rest or get things done.
Just make sure your child enjoys these outings. If he returns from grandma’s house more upset, he may see these activities as time away from the family or being sent away.
Your singleton isn’t special because of the twins
I made the mistake of telling my child he’s special because he was going to be a big brother to twins. I figured he needed an extra reason to love his brothers. Being a big brother to twins would set him apart, wouldn’t it? Make him extra special?
No—he’s special because of who he is, not because of his twin brothers. Making his brothers the reason would place his value on others, not within himself. He’s special, whether he has twin babies, one baby, or no baby.
I stopped tying his “special-ness” to having twin brothers and instead made having twins simply an exciting change to look forward to. “We’re going to have two babies—isn’t that neat?” I would say, and leave it at that, with no mention of how special or lucky he is.
Refer to the babies by name
Another common mistake is to address your twins as “the twins.” This is fine in moderation, but done too much and your older child will see a divide between him and his new siblings.
Try to foster a relationship among them. He’ll develop his own special relationships with each baby, and it helps to treat the twins as individuals, not lumped together as the twins.
My eldest likes to play a game he made up with one of his twin brothers where he’s on a “boat” (our reading chair) steering a helm (a pillow). He only does this with that one twin.
Meanwhile, he also likes playing peek-a-boo with the other twin in the crib. He’ll hide below the crib and pop up, making his twin brother giggle with glee. Again, something he only does with that twin.
Each twin is more likely to develop their own unique relationship with their older sibling.
You’ve already been through this at least once. You’re no longer a first-time mom and have learned a thing or two the first time around. Still, welcoming twins into your home will be a new experience with its own challenges, especially as you juggle them with your older child as well.
But with the tips above, you’ll be able to handle the transition from one to three!
FREE 5-day email course
Feeling overwhelmed with what to do when your twins arrive? Get my FREE 5-day email course, Bringing Home Twins: How to Survive the Early Weeks with Newborn Twins! This free course will help you feel better prepared to welcome your twins home. Sign up below:
Get more tips:
- How to Avoid Excluding Your Non-Twin Child
- Check Out These Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Twins
- Just Found Out You’re Having Twins? Here’s What You Have to Do:
- From Feeding to Sleeping: How to Take Care of Twins
- Two vs. One – Comparison of Twins to a Single
What are your concerns and questions with raising twins after your singleton? For parents who don’t have twins, what tips can you add when you welcome your subsequent kids? Share them in the comments!
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