nYou’re having twins, except you already have an older child, and dealing with all three can be a challenge. Here are tips on raising twins after a singleton.
I’ll be raising twins… AND my toddler, too, I thought to myself.
Before I knew I was having twins, I was barely adjusting to the idea of even raising two kids, much less three. I had no idea if I could handle it, and wondered how in the world other twin moms survived this stage.
Was it a matter of resorting to sleep deprivation, eating junk food, and not showering for days? Do older kids have to tough it out and accept that they’ll need to share their parents moving forward? Is it true that twins won’t have the same attention as a singleton baby would have?
Raising twins after singleton
Having twins after a singleton is a unique situation. On one hand, you know the temporary madness of the newborn stage eventually goes away. But you’re now dealing with two babies on top of the toddler you also have.
Perhaps you had also been expecting to juggle a preschooler and one baby, not two. Or you’re worried about how your toddler will adjust to not having you to himself 24/7. As the “only child” until this point, he has no experience with, much less the concept of, having siblings.
Then, once the twins are born, they might have their own separate needs as well. One could have jaundice while the other isn’t gaining weight. Or one has a shallow latch on while the other doesn’t sleep well. And they won’t wake up, burp, feed, sleep, poop, or do everything synchronized just yet.
All that, on top of a clingy toddler who’ll be adjusting to his crazy, new life.
Thankfully, I did indeed survive those crazy weeks and months. Raising twins after a singleton is possible—all without feeling depleted or miserable. How?
Follow these tips to help you and your older child transition to life with twins:
1. Keep your older child occupied while you 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 can you do?
- Give him tasks to do. Encourage him to fill his big brother role by asking for his help. He can put diapers in the diaper box, sort socks, or tidy his toys.
- Read together. Sit next to him and have him turn the pages of a book while you read the words aloud.
- Give a time frame. He may 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 drink their bottles.
- Ask him to entertain the babies. While you feed or change the babies’ diapers, he can talk to them, shake rattles, sing songs, make funny faces, or show his favorite stuffed animal.
- Encourage bonding among all three. He can snuggle with his twin siblings, caressing their arms and legs and 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. When it’s time to feed, introduce a new item to keep him busy.
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2. Lower your standards
One of the most reassuring messages I repeated to myself was: this is temporary.
The bathroom mirrors will have watermarks and the windows will collect mildew, and that’s okay for now. You won’t eat freshly-cooked dinners every night and instead rely on take-out, frozen food or donated meals. Your daily attire would be nursing tops, yoga pants and wet hair cinched into a bun.
Set your expectations lower than usual because your household will feel chaotic. Adding extra chores and the guilt for not maintaining your norm can make you miserable. Realize that this is temporary. In a matter of months, you’ll adjust and resume your standard of living.
3. Keep things organized
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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. Maintaining regularity will also keep his anxieties at bay and help him get through this stage.
Here are a few ways to organize and prepare:
- Cook the night before. You’re not left with all three kids as you scramble around the kitchen 30 minutes before dinner time.
- Cut, dice, and serve food a few minutes before dinner or snack time. Once your child is hungry, his plate is ready to go.
- Get bath- and bedtime items ready throughout the evening. At bath time, have everyone’s 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 after you’ve returned home from an outing.
- Take advantage of nap times. This is the blessed time when I either: a) prepared for when the babies woke up, 2) got things done around the house, 3) spent time with my singleton, or 4) relaxed.
- Batch-prepare his snacks and meals. If you’re going to slice an apple, slice a few more to serve for tomorrow.
4. Encourage independent play
I’ve long been a fan of independent play.
For one thing, kids need time to explore on their own. They can’t expand their wings if we’re there cramping their space every second. Allow your older child to question, make mistakes, and choose the direction he wants to explore. He’ll know when to come back to you.
Second, your kids need time with one another. You know those cute videos of twins laughing at one another? My infant twins only did that when adults aren’t around (or at least they don’t think we’re around).
Meanwhile, I was able to put 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 we get bored and get burned out. The guilt that we’re not doing a good job when we’re not engaging with our kids is an unrealistic demand.
5. Ask for help
Now more than ever will you need help.
A long-term helper is ideal because that person becomes familiar with your daily routine. She knows when and how to change the diapers and feed the babies. She’s familiar with your singleton’s preferences and where to fetch the yogurt he likes.
You don’t need to give as much direction because she has become part of the household.
If someone isn’t able to stay for several days or weeks, weekend visits—once allowed—would be the next best thing. Friends and family can drop off food and grocery staples, or pass down outgrown baby clothes and gear.
6. Empathize with your older child
Your older child will test your patience—there’s no doubt about that. His behavior 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. And it’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 with only my singleton. 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 he 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 the defiance and regression stem from his own vulnerability and confusion.
In short, he needs you.
So when he acts up or misbehaves, don’t think of it as another hassle to solve or a personal attack. Instead, remind yourself he needs you to help him manage his emotions. Just as your newborn twins need you when they’re hungry, so too does your singleton when he’s upset.
In showing empathy, you curb the behavior more effectively in the long-run. And more important, you’re letting him know you’re still his mom, regardless of the twins.
7. Spend time with your older child
Here’s the rough part. As limited in time as you already are, it’s important for you to spend time alone with your older child. He needs 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 grand—a simple game, a snuggle on the couch, or a quick walk around the block will do. Until now, my son still remembers when he and I went to a coffee shop. He can still recall exactly what he ordered and where we went because that outing meant so much to him.
Connecting with your child for as little as 10 minutes can prevent whining and tantrums. Take advantage of the times your twins are napping to be with him. These special times, no matter how short, could be all he needs to know that everything is still all right.
8. Tend to your older child first
The crying newborn (or two) or the crying toddler—who do you go to first? The older one.
For one thing, he’ll remember more of this than either of his twin siblings. While your twin might feel upset for waiting, your older one will have a clearer memory of it.
You also 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. Just because he’s older doesn’t mean his needs always come second (or third).
And by default, you’re giving priority to your twins most of the time anyway because they’re more dependent on you. Share the priority with your eldest from time to time. Balance their needs by remembering that those of your older child are as important as the twins’.
9. 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 by the time they were born. School became a place for him—an escape from the madness at home.
The babies’ cries, the lack of attention, and the change in routine were difficult for him to handle. Going to school gave him the predictability he craved.
Whether it’s preschool, lessons, day camp, or 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 constant “Be quiet, they’re sleeping,” and be free to explore on his own.
Your singleton’s routine also provides you with a breather. Since my eldest stopped napping, I wasn’t able to rest even if the twins were sleeping. With him in school, I had one less child to care for, and 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.
10. Your singleton isn’t “special” because of the twins
I first 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?
Instead, it backfired. You see, he’s special because of who he is, not because of his twin brothers. Making the twins the reason he’s special would place his value on others, not within himself. He’s special, whether he has twin babies, one baby, or no baby.
I stopped saying he was special for having twin brothers and instead made having twins 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 was.
11. Refer to the babies by name
Another common mistake is to address your twins as “the twins” 24/7. This is fine in moderation, but done too often, and your older child will see a divide between him and his new siblings.
Instead, foster a strong relationship among them, right from the start. He’ll develop his own special connection with each baby and treat them as individuals, not lumped together as “the twins.”
My eldest liked to play a game he made up with one of his twin brothers where they were on a “boat” (a chair) steering a helm (a pillow). He only did this with that one twin.
Meanwhile, he also played peek-a-boo with the other twin in the crib. He’d hide below the crib and pop up, making his twin brother giggle with glee. Again, something he only did 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 with your eldest. You’re no longer a first-time mom and have learned a thing or two the first time around. Still, welcoming twins will be a new experience with its own challenges, especially as you juggle them with your older child as well.
Keep your older child busy while you tend to the twins or by encouraging independent play. Show empathy and spend quality, one-on-one time together. When you can, tend to him first, instead of leaving him last all the time.
Give him a consistent place that’s solely his, and remind him that he’s special for who he is—and not because of the twins. Refer to the twins by name to avoid creating a divide between him and his siblings.
Then, make changes at home, from lowering your standards for now and keeping things organized. And finally, rely on others to help, whether with your household or hand-me-downs.
With the tips above, you’ll be able to handle the transition from one to three. And when you start feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself that life will work out, as it always has.
p.s. Check out the book Twin Trouble by Rosemary Wells to help your singleton get ready for twins:
Get more tips:
- How Caring for Newborn Twins is Different from Singletons
- 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
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and download a preview chapter of my guide, How to Sleep Train Twins—at no cost to you: