|3 Small Individuals|
19. But you’re their mum, surely you can tell them apart?
So the other day the thing I dreaded occurring happened; I yelled at one of my son’s “Rufus, Edwin, oh whichever one you are, stop pulling your sister’s hair”.
Ok, so I wasn’t actually terribly angry with myself, as speed was of the essence due to my poor daughter’s terrified face. But I was a bit surprised that I hadn’t immediately known which of the boys was pulling her hair.
You see, to me, they look completely different. To the point that the other day whilst looking at photos of my lovely children, I found myself thinking ‘oh Rufus looks just like Edwin in that picture’. And then I was surprised that I had even thought that. Of course he looks like his brother. They are identical twins.
I haven’t, until very recently, read much about the theories of raising twins. I haven’t had time if I’m honest. The pregnancy was a disaster from beginning to end so I didn’t exactly have time to sit down with a book and consider my twin parenting perspective, and then they were born, and I didn’t have time sit down full stop.
So I based my parenting style on instinct, on the model of parenting I had been shown by my own Mam Bach, and through discussion with their other parent, my husband. Together he and I cobbled together a theory that we wanted to very much treat them as individuals. We didn’t want to refer to them as ‘the twins’, we certainly didn’t want to dress them the same, and we didn’t particularly want to treat them the same. Yes, we would of course love them equally, and be as generous with one as with the other, but not presume that if a certain song soothes one then it will soothe the other. We were prepared to separate them at night if one was having a sleepless night and the other in need of some peace and quiet. They had names, and we used them. We respectfully asked (with mixed success) our families to not refer to them as the twins. In our heads they just happened to be born on the same day.
Needless to say we still hear the ‘twin’ label a lot, from passers by who stop to ask the obvious ‘are they twins?’. To the point that my daughter, following yet another passer by showing an interest in my sons, asked me if her surname was Milling. To which I replied yes, and I was proud that she knew this. However, then she asked “and is *my boys’ surname ‘Twin’ mummy?” It was then that I realised that we had both succeeded and failed in our approach to having twins in our family. We had succeeded in so far as clearly ‘twin’ wasn’t how she primarily identified them. We had failed in so far as we obviously hadn’t managed to explain enough to our daughter what being a twin meant.
I’ve always felt it important that my sons both know I see them as separate and individual, and one of the things I found most frustrating in the early days was that I couldn’t mother them in the style that I wanted to. Personally I am very child led to begin with, I feed on demand, allow them to sleep when they want, for as long or as little as they want, and if they need a cuddle they jolly well get one. As the child grows so does their understanding that they aren’t the centre of the universe and that they will be ok if they have to wait a couple of minutes for their milk. Try following those guidelines with two newborns and you soon fall foul. So there were many times when one wanted feeding and wanted feeding now, and I was unable to respond as I was still feeding the other child. There were most certainly times when one just needed a cuddle and I couldn’t give them one as I was dealing with the other baby. I used to call them the double melt downs. But, as most parents do, I just did my best. I made sure that when I was dealing with one he knew that at that moment he was everything to his mummy. For those precious few minutes he was the centre of my universe, an extension of me, or whatever he needed to be in order to feel safe.
Now that our sons are nearly two (next week, they turn two, I can’t ruddy believe it) I am slowly gaining the odd glimpse of time within which I can turn my mind to something productive. One of the things I have been reading is (as I’ve mentioned before) Winnicott on the Child, the Family and the Outside World. I have found this rather validating, as he also looks at these issues about a mother not being able to meet two infants’ immediate needs at once. He says ‘as a matter of fact she will find her aim is not to treat each child alike, but to treat each child as if that one were the only one. That is to say, she will be trying to find the differences between each infant from the moment of birth.’
And here comes the bit that makes me feel bad on the odd occasion that I do get them muddled; he says ‘She, of all people, must know each from the other easily, even if she has to tell one at first by a little mark on the skin (Edwin had a tiny birth mark on his lip when he was born) or by some other trick (we left their hospital tags on at first). She will usually come to find that the two temperaments are different (when they were tiny we used to call Edwin ‘thumper’ and Rufus ‘tree hugger’ and those labels remain true even now) and that if she easily acts in relation to each as a total personality, each will develop personal characteristics.’
Winnicott goes on to talk about the huge importance of them being treated as two individuals, and this sentence really stayed with me ‘it is essential in every case that there should be no confusion among the children themselves, and for that there must be some person in their lives who is quite clear about them.’
Thankfully, despite my lack of any real research nor any vast amount of time spent reflecting on it, I seem to have stumbled upon what I consider to be a healthy approach to parenting twins. It is quite validating to know that you aren’t getting it all wrong, even if you know you’re not getting it all right either.
I guess our job as parents of twins and a ‘singleton’ (gosh I hate that word) is to parent as though we have 3 distinct, quite separate, and rather adorable children.
*Elspeth refers to her brothers as ‘my boys’ which we think is rather lovely, a sense of ownership over them.