If you've ever flown on an airplane or given birth to multiples, you've likely been told: "Place the air mask securely on your own face before assisting your child."
As the mother of toddler twin boys, I think this flight-safety patter sounds like a sensible self-care metaphor for parenting on the ground -- except when it's impossible.
Take the "emergency phase" with twins -- the early weeks home with two newborns. You may be caring for preemies while also recovering from major surgery. You may be estranged from sleep, wobbly with hormones, and crazed with worry. It's a challenge to get to the bathroom, much less leave the house. "Take care of yourself first" isn't exactly an option. It's more like, "Take care of your child, and then your other child, and if need be... your other child." Nod at the person who is your partner. Rinse and repeat (or just repeat).
Parenting multiples frequently means putting your own needs utterly aside, or at least postponing them. Some kind of self-care is of course essential -- but don't let the pre-flight imperative to "put yourself first" become one more thing that feels like failing. This may be true with any number of kids, but with twins or more, the adult-to-offspring ratio is automatically skewed against downtime for moms. Those windows of time will open up, but probably not as often as they are needed.
The ideas listed below are free and doable. If they don't work for you, the world remains on its axis. Sometimes it's just a matter of remembering yourself. Obviously, adding extra childcare, going out to dinner or getting a massage are excellent options, but I'm talking about what's realistic day-to-day.
I like to think that numerous mini-interventions can accrue over time into self-care, and, I should add, everything does get easier.
Here are seven things that have worked for me:
1. Find other twin moms. I joined my local twins club while pregnant, and the support groups were incredible fonts of both tactical advice and moral support. Friends I made there are my go-to child-rearing brain trust. Those who have been in the trenches understand. In addition to clubs for parents of multiples -- or if you simply don't live near one of those -- other twin/triplet resources and online forums can be invaluable. At the bottom of this article, I've listed a few I love.
2. Lower your standards. You can do this slightly, or make it a limbo competition to see how far you can bend, shimmying your shoulders in wild balance. For example, I've reconsidered my definition of "neatness" rather than expend precious time and endless energy tidying and cleaning. Sometimes it's better to walk away from the toy vortex and ignore the lingering laundry.
3. Do something (kind) for your body. Go for a walk. This can be the ultimate reboot for you and your twins. Or, find a cluster of minutes to lie down, no matter how briefly -- I've researched this one extensively. Small chunks of time are viable. A good shower or even a bath can be cathartic. Exercise? Consider training for a marathon. Ha ha! Just kidding. But seriously, simple stretching or easy yoga can be glorious and empowering. Do something sanity-promoting, even if it's just thinking a kind thought directed at yourself.
4. Ready your replies to inane input. Almost every parent of twins or more will eventually encounter nosy questions and unwelcome opinions. The speed at which people's thoughts travel from id to speech can be instantaneous upon sighting a double stroller on the sidewalk. When my sons were babies, as I strolled peacefully along with them, some random woman announced, "I'm glad I'm not you." "Me too, b*tch," I said back. OK, I did not say "b*tch," but I did have the rest ready, and it felt great.
5. Connect with your pet, your partner, the sky... or a snack. Tending twins often demands that you direct your attention outward. Lately I've made it a practice to notice small things at the perimeter of my parenting experience -- checking out the sky, the trees, the ground. One of my "reward" activities is curling up with my dog. The other day I devoured a chocolate chip muffin and enjoyed it so thoroughly I think I burned off calories through the exertion of pleasure.
6. Make lists. These can include a "to-do" list, but also a "might not do" list. This can be crucial for triage. When I was hugely pregnant and in agony, a friend suggested I enumerate all the things I would do when I had mobility and vigor. Simply writing down ideas like "walking" and "sleeping on my stomach" seemed like a promise to myself. I kept those promises, and when I find old notes, they are a record of an era that makes me smile.
7. Congratulate yourself. I read a triplet mom's posting online somewhere saying that every night, she would tell herself she'd done a good job; she congratulated herself on getting those kids fed and through another day. There are such ridiculous standards set forth for parenting, and our own love for our children drives us to want things to go smoothly. It's so rare that we are witnessed for the heroism of our efforts -- but truly, it should be celebrated every day.
In conclusion, if you only do one thing from the list above, I would pick finding other parents of multiples. This may be your tribe. If you aren't near a twins club, or if, like me, you want to double down with groups online and multiples-specific resources, check out the following excellent ways to connect:
Twin Love Concierge: Expectant parents of multiples classes, concierge services, twin and triplet support, Facebook groups.
Reddit Parents of Multiples: Information, rants, support.
TWINS Magazine: Interesting articles, practical ideas.