Parenting Multiple Toddlers
Without doubt, the toddler years with your twins, triplets or more will be full of laughter and amazement, not to mention CEO-level management. It is a time during which you will see clear evidence of the bond that has been forming between your children since the moment they were conceived. There are also many common challenges parents encounter while raising multiple toddlers. The bottom line is that these little people, while only 2 or 3 years old, are thoroughly convinced they rule the roost. That's the bad news. The good news – you're not alone!
A little advance mental preparation goes a long way toward long-term sanity. Knowing what's coming will ensure that you are at least one step ahead of those of us who had no idea what we were in for.
1. It Will Be a Very Noisy Time
Two- and 3-year-olds are notorious for having an opinion on nearly everything. They are also prone to needing to express those opinions – loudly – at each and every opportunity. That in itself makes for a potentially deafening environment much of the time. However, put two, three or more toddlers with opinions in a room together, and you'll quickly find value in construction-grade earplugs.
Additionally, toddlers don't merely express their opinions; they need to be sure you've heard them. They don't really care whether or not you agree, but they do require an indication that you're listening. Until they receive that acknowledgement, they will continue to repeat the same comment or question over and over (and over) until you respond – and then possibly a few more times even after you've acknowledged them. Be prepared to make the words, "uh-huh," "OK" and "yes" staples of your vocabulary.
Be careful, though, that you don't become too unaware of what they are saying as you respond so carelessly. One day, my boys were communicating why it was so important that they retrieve and consume a bag of marshmallows, and in my state of exhaustion, I uttered several "uh-huhs." Before I knew it, they were on the dining room floor devouring the contents of the bag hand over fist. Needless to say, it did not go well when I informed them I had "misunderstood" and that the marshmallows needed to go back into the pantry.
2. The Art of Childproofing Will Be Taken to a Whole New Level
Toddlers love to explore. Multiple toddlers tend to take the concepts of exploration and adventure a few steps further and – trust me – they will get into things you never imagined they would (or could).
You've likely seen the pictures of one twin standing on the other twin's shoulders in order to retrieve the ice cream from the top shelf of the freezer. I had to screw the floor vent into the floorboards in my sons' room because they continued to remove it – even after it had been secured with professional-grade carpet tape – and stuff everything under the sun (including the contents of their diapers) down it. My friend, Mollie, found her boys straddling the tops of their crib headboards as if they were on their own personal broncos even though they can't yet climb up onto their chairs at the kitchen table by themselves.
Multiple toddlers barely speak your language, but they have a way of communicating with one another to strategize a way of reaching the tallest spot in the house or opening anything with a certified childproofing mechanism. In fact, most childproofing mechanisms don't work for too terribly long with multiples. These days, if I need an outlet cover or a door knob cover removed, I just call on one of my boys. The lesson: If it gets too quiet in the house and you know they are not asleep, be very concerned.
3. Potty Training Requires Utmost Patience
Most parents dread the potty training process. In fact, I've known many a mom who has claimed that, in the end, the person who really needed to be potty trained was she, not her child. The reason for this is that when you are in a store and your child announces – just as you are ready to enter the check-out line with an entire cart full of purchases – that he needs to go potty, it's sometimes easier just to say, "It's OK, honey; you have a Pull-Up® on."
Regardless of the training program you use, it's a safe bet that your multiples won't take to using the watering hole at precisely the same moment or in precisely the same manner. Sounds frighteningly familiar to the sleep training routine you went through when they were 6 months old, doesn't it? I can almost guarantee that, for awhile, once you get child No. 1 out of the restroom, having ascertained to the best of your ability that child No. 2 does not have to go (and even possibly after convincing her to try anyway), child No. 2 will announce that she now has to go – right now – or else. And rest assured, it will be the day you decided to try putting them in real underwear, so you won't even be able to rely on the Pull-Ups®. What you will be able to rely on is the fact that a clean-up request will be announced for Lane 6 momentarily.
Patience is the key when potty training multiples. It may not even be worth it to form a strategy for this task because when and where they use the potty is one of the few functions over which children have complete control. It's also a good idea to keep a training potty in your car for emergencies. The answer to "Can you wait three minutes until we get home?" is typically going to be "No."
4. They Are Finicky, and They'll Switch on a Dime
Know that the minute you produce the apple juice your 2-year-old has requested, he'll decide he wants orange juice – and will accept nothing less. The issue when you're raising more than one toddler at the same time is that the instant Katie decides her apple juice isn't going to work, Kelly will insist that hers isn't going to work either. Same goes for shirt, pant and shoe selection.
Another enjoyable experience: One of your toddlers asks to watch Finding Nemo while the other insists on watching The Wiggles. Negotiating that dispute is always fun, but I can assure you that as accommodating as I try to be many days, I will not be purchasing another TV to help such situations!
I have one child who likes for me to sing to the radio in the car and one who would have you think such an activity is doing irreparable damage to his ear drums. They both scream, one for me to sing and the other for me to stop. As you can imagine, there is no good solution to this other than turning the radio off, attempting to tune the kids out and singing a lullaby to myself.
You must determine when you will draw the line on the constant need for modifications and know that the point at which you choose to draw the line can change at any time given how much sleep you had the night before or how many times you've had to go through the change routine already that day. I usually try to make it quite clear up front that there is time and opportunity for one choice per meal, outing or movie watching session.
5. There Is No Such Thing as a Family Meal That Consists of Fewer Than 20 Options
At some point you will likely determine it's time to begin serving "family dinners," whereby you all gather around the table for a delicious, healthy meal you've slaved over, accompanied by some good old-fashioned family conversation. Such intentions are absolutely to be admired. Be prepared, however, for the fact that in all likelihood, your toddlers won't like what's being served (and if only one does, the other may well suddenly change her mind, as I mentioned earlier).
I used to become so frustrated when I'd cook a nice meal, only to have it accompanied not by conversation but by constant screaming for cereal, marshmallows or pizza, that I devised a solution that does indeed work about 60 percent of the time. I put applesauce, yogurt and a fruit or vegetable that I know they like on the table with the other menu items. This way, there's something I am certain they will eat even if it's not what they'd order off the menu given the choice, and my husband and I don't find ourselves having to stand up every four seconds to retrieve such an item from the refrigerator or pantry.
6. It's Expensive
Obviously, you're going to be dealing with multiple shirts, shorts and shoes for the next 16 years or so. However, the toddler years with multiples can be expensive for more reasons than just clothes. It is usually during these years that we start signing our kids up for music classes, parent/tot swimming classes, mother's-day-out programs or – for the extremely optimistic fathers out there – golf lessons.
In most cases, you will be responsible for registration and participation fees times two or more. Be sure to inquire whether the program offers a discount for multiples. Oftentimes, at least the registration fee will be reduced. For mother's-day-out programs, the second child's registration and participation fees are often discounted.
Although it can be expensive, try not to opt out of such activities for financial reasons alone. The time away from the house (and the kids if it's a mom's-day-out program) and the social opportunities for the kids are both important. One trick we've used is to set aside holiday and birthday money given to the boys instead of spending it on yet another toy. When it comes time to pay the program fees, the money is available. Plus, the grandparents from whom the money often came in the first place are thrilled to be funding such an experience for their grandchildren.
7. You Are Going to Need a Hobby That You Greatly Enjoy
There is a reason the term "The Terrible Twos" has gained a lot of notoriety. It's a time during which toddlers learn a great deal, which is exciting to watch. It's also a time when you will be challenged almost constantly in terms of your ability to be patient and calm and possibly not to shout "Shut up!" at the top of your lungs as everyone vies for your attention simultaneously for the sixth hour in a row.
It will be critical to your sanity during this time to have a hobby you enjoy and can lose yourself in as often as necessary. Older pastimes such as knitting, quilting, crocheting and sewing are once again attracting young moms. Park districts as well as retail stores specializing in these pastimes often offer reasonably-priced courses in the evenings or on weekends if you are a beginner. It's a great way to get out, meet other women and work on a project that has an end date in sight and doesn't scream at you as you work on it. Other options: yoga, photography or cake decorating. Park districts almost always offer interesting courses for beginners at great rates. Check out their offerings list for next session!
8. It's Going to Be Messy
Toddlers have little to no need for order and cleanliness. Find me a toddler's room that is cleaned by him or her on a weekly basis and, well, I'm moving in with you for a week to absorb your strategy. Play-Doh® will end up on the floor (but hopefully not in the carpet); crayon will end up on walls (buy the washable kind); sippy cups will spill (even though the manufacturer claims they are spill-proof); and more urine will likely hit the floor than the cute little potty bowl. I know without a doubt that I could clean all day, every day, and be able to start all over again once I was finished.
Keep the following running through your head: "I have toddlers. The house is going to be messy. It won't last forever." If it gets to a point that is intolerable to you, hire a cleaning service to come every two weeks to at least clean bathrooms, dust and vacuum. Those are the things you probably won't get to after you've wiped up the Play-Doh®, crayon, spilled milk and urine (over and over again). Believe me, the money is worth it. After all, they say a cluttered house creates a cluttered mind. I don't know about you, but if my mind gets any more cluttered than it is already, I'll turn into someone else.
Occasionally, even amidst the endless tossing of toys, demands for one more bedtime song and orders to retrieve a blue plate instead of an orange one, I can understand the toddler mindset. After all, who wouldn't make the most of an opportunity to draw with reckless abandon on walls, decide the Monsters, Inc. character on his dinner plate is too scary to eat off of or express every opinion she has?
As Clair Adams Sullivan said, "Our children are here to stay, but our babies and toddlers and preschoolers are gone as fast as they can grow up, and we only have a short moment with each." I will try to remember this the next time Henry informs me – with as much frankness and as little apology as anyone his age can – "Me no like Mama sing song. Hurt me ears."