The Best Parenting Advice We Were Ever Given
With Bonus Tips for Twins
Very early in our pregnancy, we went in for our first ultrasound. The tech said, “there’s the heartbeat,” and my husband and I smiled at each other. Then she said, “oh wait, there’s another one,” and we just looked at each other.
After an uncomfortable silence, she said, “twins are a good thing?” and her voice went up in a little question mark?
From that moment, it was game on. What did we need to know? Do? Buy? Prepare? We read all the books, took all the classes, joined all the groups.
A funny thing happened. The bigger I got, the more unsolicited advice we were given. It wasn’t all bad, though. There were some gems, and some of those gems turned out to be gold nuggets, priceless even. Here are some of our favorites.
Let Them Be Who They are —
Foundational. Before we had kids, I think we thought they would turn out to be who we wanted, or that we would have a more significant role in shaping them. It sounds odd, but who they are is who they are, and who they were from infancy. Of course, as they continue to grow, develop, and learn, their personality, preferences, and aptitudes continue to be revealed. But mostly, they are who they are with new layers. It’s fascinating.
Rather than mold them, we try to focus on celebrating them, honoring them, enhancing their strengths, and boosting their confidence to be uniquely themselves. They are already masterpieces. We are along for their journey, guides of a sort. We haven’t abdicated our responsibility, but we aren’t determined to turn them into anyone or anything.
Travel Early and Often —
This is almost a mantra for us at this point, six years later. Our kids have been to Australia, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Fiji , both coasts, and nearly half the states, and more. I write about travel often, so I won’t get into all the benefits, but I will reinforce two reasons it matters so much to us.
First, vacation brings out the best in all of us, and sharing incredible moments in incredible environments, while we are at our best, makes for the very best memories. Second, early travel builds resilience, breeds tolerance, teaches acceptance, fosters patience, broadens perspectives, and enhances appreciation. There’s really no substitute.
Teach Them What Matters to You —
When you’re a parent, you feel a sense of obligation about what your children should know, and when they should learn it. That’s natural. But if you can set aside or perhaps minimize the stuff that they will undoubtedly learn, like how to ride a bike, swim, say their ABCs, use the remote, and even potty train, and focus on the art of learning, quality of thought, and exposure to ideas, they will absorb what you do (which they’ll do anyway, but in this case, you can be deliberate about what you model).
For example, it’s important to us that they are good global citizens, so we prioritize travel, cultural immersion, and experiential learning. In another example, my husband had a tough time sleeping most of his life, so we shared solid sleep habits very early on and reinforce them at every stage, which means as parents, we often have to sacrifice evening plans if they interfere with bedtime routines. Whatever, it’s temporary.
As a woman and a leader, it’s important to me that our girls know how to hold their own and that they, and my son, can articulate what they want and respect others. In these cases, we want to be sure to set the stage. On the other stuff? We can outsource it, or let them figure it out or trust that one way or another, they’ll learn the basics. But for the things that really matter, that was hard for us to learn, or that is a gift they’ll appreciate for a lifetime? That’s where we invest. It’s often not a one-and-done proposition, but the repeated investment is worth it as they grow and process at increasingly sophisticated levels.
Start Talking to Them in the Womb —
This is splashed on every parenting magazine cover and on the walls at pediatrician offices nationwide, but we really took it to heart. Starting in their first few weeks, at bedtime, we would ask them about their day and share ours. They couldn’t answer, of course, so the discussion was very one-sided, but we were modeling the art of conversation and establishing a routine. And when they started to talk, wow! We were blown away with their contribution, observations, questions, self-expression, and more.
We aren’t to the teen years yet, but mothers of teens assure us that practicing during the early years will set a tone, for being in it together, on the same team, and when the conversations get heavier, full disclosure perhaps won’t feel like such an intrusion.
Bonus Twin Tips —
These next two tips are especially for my mothers of multiples — I got your back mamas!
Supplies on Every Floor —
So basic, but such a lifesaver. Inevitably what you need will be upstairs while you’re downstairs changing Baby A. Or Baby B will fall asleep downstairs and Baby A’s pacifier will be upstairs, and you’ll need a potty break, and the dog needs out, and why can’t you find anything when everyone is screaming?! Just double up. You already are (right?), and it feels extra redundant, but you can sell all the stuff or re-purpose it later, and it will make life infinitely easier right now, which is critical with multiples from birth to 18 months (or so).
We had cribs upstairs, and a pack-n-play on the main level, and a pack-n-play in the basement. We had a diaper pail and changing station on every level. We had a play area and bottle warmer on every level. We wore the babies all the time, but sometimes you need to set them down and know they are safe and secure without running upstairs or downstairs. It sounds so silly, but twins are hard enough. Take each day as it comes, don’t look too far ahead, and keep everything where you need it. Trust me.
Same Schedule —
This advice is pure gold. Highlight it and print it out. It feels a little dictator-ish at first. Your instinct says to give your babies what they want when they want it, but here’s the thing: If you follow the eat, play, sleep early routine, and they aren’t on the same schedule, you will be in production mode 24-hours a day.
Think about it. If one eats every two hours and one eats every three, but they aren’t consistent or synched, you will be feeding and diapering around the clock, and no one will be sleeping.
On the other hand, if you set the schedule (and the tone) from early on, you can steal precious moments to sleep or at least rest, plus you’ll all fall into a routine that you can count on. You may even be able to leave the house occasionally. We used to joke that the twins ate, played, slept, burped, pooped, farted, and giggled in unison. Sorry if that was TMI. It helped us all maintain our sanity. And still does. Now all three are synched up. Four if you count the dog.
One More Note —
Finally, as I thought about our experience, I wanted to add a piece of advice that wasn’t passed to us, but rather turned out to be true from our own experience.
Don’t Assume You Know What’s Best in Advance —
We are relatively smart. Pre-kids, we both had thriving careers, great friends, social lives, and were moderately interesting. We thought we were prepared for becoming parents. We even practiced on a puppy. And yet, we also thought we knew how it would go, and in some ways, planning turned out to be very beneficial, and in others, it’s downright laughable. You just can’t account for everything until you’re in it, and you feel it, and even then, sometimes everything changes.
For example, I couldn’t imagine myself as a SAHM, and my husband couldn’t picture himself as a SAHD, and yet, we’ve both done stints as the primary caregiver. We both set aside our careers for a few years and focused on our family.
We didn’t anticipate twins, we didn’t know what it would be to have three, we didn’t really understand what it meant to have them so close together. Every decision we’ve made felt right at the time, had pros and cons, good and bad implications, but every stage is fleeting, and there is so much learning on the fly. All that to say, don’t feel like you have to live with your choices, or be the parent you imagined yourself to be, or that you can’t change your mind.
The dance between motherhood and career, fatherhood and career, all of it, is fluid. Your children are changing dramatically, your priorities shift, opportunities come and go. If you make the most of the present, do what you can when you can, and evolve as needed, you’ll do what’s right for your family. It’s your life, so do it your way, and because it very well may be the most important thing you do, give it your best, enjoy the ride, and savor every single minute.