Parents: Balancing everyone’s needs. (written for multiple birth parents but applies to all parenting!)

Parents: Balancing everyone’s needs. (written for multiple birth parents but applies to all parenting!)

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“To each child according to their needs and from each parent according to their ability.” (apologies to Karl Marx).
This self-improvised maxim has kept me calm during those moments when I am holding one crying baby and feeling guilty that the quiet one is being “ignored”;when both babies are left in their cots for longer than I would like because my three year old really needs me to dress up as a pirate NOW!; and when my three year old watches too much TV because it allows me time to settle the babies properly. The crying baby needed me in that moment while the other one was relatively settled, undoubtedly they will swap places at the next nap time or even in a few minutes. My three year old is old enough to make upsetting meanings about Mummy being too busy with the babies to play with her while the babies are more likely to accept that after their nap they sometimes lie quietly in their cots. And lastly, the babies need a quiet, relaxed bedtime routine without Little Miss Three poking at them as they feed. Of course, she is perfectly happy to be watching TV; it’s me who feels badly about it.

And that brings me to the other part of the maxim, my ability as a parent. Perhaps capacity would be a better word (but it would stray too far from Marx’s adage!). No matter how competent (able) I am I have my limits, a finite supply of energy, and an all too human need to have Me Time. Being a parent educator as well as a parent of five myself, I am very good at beating myself up about anything less than perfect parenting. Trouble is, there is no such thing as prefect parenting so I get the guilts very often. Research tidbits whiz around my head, admonishing me about all manner of parenting practices: the effects of stress on a baby’s brain, the effect of parental misattunement (not being tuned in) on children’s attachment style, and the proper and improper use of time out. I bend over backwards trying to follow the best practice recommendations of the research. After all, I must practice what I teach- right? Yes, I must try to practice it but no, it is unrealistic to expect that anyone can be calm at all times, attuned 100 % of the time or forever able to resist the lure of “Go to your room young lady!” However I also teach parents that all we have to be as parents is “good enough”. I teach parents that repairing parent-child relationships after inevitable ruptures is a valuable life lesson in itself. It is good to be well-informed and to hold ideals about parenting. These ideals serve as our guide and as a beacon. Perhaps you have heard the expression, “Reach for the moon, even if you miss you will land amongst the stars.” It’s the same with parenting. I aim to wait until my children turn two before letting them watch any TV or DVDs.
I aspire to read and sing with them all every day. I am committed to their healthy diets. Am I 100% successful? No. But because I aim to be as much as I can, I probably end up achieving a respectable score of 80%.

My first point, “each according to her need”, is so important with twins and higher order multiples. They are not the same person! I think of it this way.

If twin 1 had asthma would I give twin 2 the Ventolin? Of course not, she doesn’t need it! Same applies to every aspect of parenting multiples: try to provide each child with what she as an individual needs. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish give some excellent guidance on this approach in their book, “Siblings without Rivalry.” Here are some tips from their book:

* “Children don’t need to be treated equally. They need to be treated uniquely. ”

* Give according to individual need: instead of giving equal amounts automatically, ask each child, “How much do you need?” Even if they reply that they want the same, they are learning at needs can vary and that’s OK.

* If a child complains that her sibling got more than she did, don’t buy into the argument that each got the same. Simply acknowledge that she still wants more and then address that need- nothing to do with her sibling.

*Instead of saying, ‘I love you the same”, tell your child what you love about him that is uniquely “Him”.

* If a child complains that you spent more time with his brother, don’t feel you need to set aside equal time for him to match it.
Acknowledge how hard it is to wait while you are busy or that he feels left out and reassure him that you will be with him when he needs you too and then it will be his brother’s turn to wait. “I try to spend time with each of you when you need it. ”

As for “from each parent according to their ability”…. somehow arrange some sleep for yourself and some time out doing something you love and I assure you, your capacity will increase. Be kind to yourself and if you find doing that to be difficult try to treat yourself as you would treat a friend. What would you say to a friend in your situation? I bet you’d be a lot nicer and more understanding! Now be that to yourself. I’m off to settle a baby or two and I feel able to do it because sitting at the computer writing has re-charged me.

Good luck finding what re-charges you so that you can give your little individuals what each needs as best you can.

Yael Clark, Psychologist


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