As a mom of five I know how hard it is to squeeze out time for everyone in the family, including myself. Starting off this parenting journey as a single parent of one working part time, to a full time parent of five working overtime, I know the challenges of carving out special time for each family member, especially the ones who aren’t part of a set. We have an eighteen-year-old son, six-year-old BBG (boy, boy, girl) triplets and another son, who’s fourteen-months old. I try to understand the needs of each child in their particular developmental stage, but with three simultaneously in one stage while two are in another, I tend to “stack the deck” in their favor because, as my mother always said, “majority rules.”
Initially I thought that encouraging the individuation of each of the triplets amongst themselves would be my greatest parenting challenge, but I was wrong. It is creating individual time for our singletons, while balancing the pseudo fame of our triplets that is more of a challenge. As it turns out, the triplets have become individuals all by themselves without any help from us.
In my book, Magical Multiple Moments, I interviewed or surveyed over two-hundred-and-fifty moms of multiples. Making other siblings feel special while raising multiples was number one on the list of greatest challenges. It was an overpowering landslide victory of forty-seven percent compared to time management which was the next greatest challenge coming in at twenty-five percent. (See chart below)
GREATEST PARENTING CHALLENGES OF PARENTS OF MULTIPLES
Excerpt from Magical Multiple Moments by Julie Gillespie
1. Being able to give individual attention to all the children in the house (47%).
2. Time, organization and energy to do everything (25%).
3. Sleep, lack of it, or results from sleep deprivation (10%).
4. Managing sibling conflicts or disciplining the children (9%).
5. Finances (9%).
6. Finding time for partner (9%).
7. Dealing with the public or going out in public (8%).
8. Asking for help (5%).
9. Keeping sanity or preventing effects of stress (5%).
10. Carving out time for ones-self (4%).
It is true our triplets get a lot a “special” attention our singletons don’t. Each child has to find his or her own way, whether he or she is one of two or one of five. Long before we decided to have more children, my husband and I adopted a policy of being “good-enough” parents as opposed to “perfect.” Whether parents have a set of twins with one sibling or a set of quintuplets with four singletons, it’s always a challenge to make time for each.
Try to set aside time to tell each one separately how special they are. Blending and creating the threads that bind a supportive family takes time and energy. One suggestion I took from one of my interviewees is to take time at the end of the day to praise each child separately. Before bedtime, I try to kiss them to sleep letting each child know something they did that day that touched me is some way or made me proud or cheerful.
It takes practice to make a mental note during the day of what positive things the kids have done and remember it by the end of the day, especially if one is a “glass-half-empty” sort of person. It is especially hard if one is the sole disciplinarian. If a few days go by and you haven’t completely checked in with each one in a perfectly loving way, don’t beat yourself up.
Spending time with one child alone, away from the other siblings is also important. I go solo as often as I can to watch my older son’s athletics. This is his time to have me to himself. He may tell me he doesn’t care, but I know he does. Now that the triplets are mobile, energetic kindergartners, it’s really a necessity for them to stay at home during these sporting activities. All too often I learned the hard way having brought the dynamic trio to an event and then having some fiasco. I’ll never forget the time that the ref had to stop the entire baseball game to tell the kids to stop leaning on the fence or how embarrassed my older son was when one would go running out to the third base line to say “Hi” to their brother.
Looking back I’m thankful we’ve had these times together because in just a few short months he’ll be off to college. Even though he’s by far the most mature, my parenting compass still points me towards support for him because we’re never too old to have parental support.
The next trick is finding what works for what age group. Each developmental phase requires a new variety or approach and sometimes even within the phase of development, what works one day doesn’t work the next day. For the baby, weekly “Grampy-walks” are the key, while, techno type works for our teenager. Every weekend my father comes and takes the baby out for a walk to the local coffee shop. It’s been over a year and to my surprise my son is a local “coffee-shop- celebrity.” While visiting the “Il Doce Café” last week several of the “regulars” came up to me and Nicolas to say hello. They could tell me what yogurt he liked to eat and how his gait was coming along.
My teenager thinks answering his cell phone is passé, but he does “text.” The days of tucking my teenager into bed are gone, but I can send him a text before I go to bed as his bedtime far exceeds mine. I’ll text him a say something like “I saw your paper you wrote for class on my computer and it reads well.” He may text back or he may not but at least I know I’ve checked in.
Being in a large family has its advantages and disadvantages. For our two kids who are not part of the set of multiples my sense is that they may at times feel slighted. I get labeled by the other parents at school all the time, “Oh, you, you’re the ‘triplets’ mom, right?” Nicolas and Tim get the same treatment. “Oh, here comes Nicolas, he’s the ‘triplets’ little brother.” I don’t think my infant has an opinion as of yet, but I know my older son is a little tired of all the hoopla.
To me, raising many children at once and being able to attend to all their needs is like making a quilt. Only one piece at a time can be put in place. The squares need to be sewn delicately and carefully while keeping the seams as even as possible. All the fabric colors and textures may not be the same, but when blended together in the right combinations they compliment each other. One has to be careful not to rush the stitching. And, even if one is careful, sometimes the pieces aren’t right, and the whole thing has to be tugged apart and redone until the pieces fit together again properly. But in the end, the more time one takes in the prep work, the more polished the finished product becomes.
*Julie Gillespie, mother of five, author, physical therapist, and blogger is a graduate of Mt. St. Mary’s College and the University of Southern California. She is widely recognized as an authority in the field of women’s health physical therapy. Most recently she’s published “Magical Multiple Moments” a book about raising multiples in the first five years. You can find her at: triplettales.net, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or on facebook.