Monday, May 3, 2010

Love. Love Will Keep Us Together.

Recently one of my clients expressed her concern about how she was going to keep her marriage strong with the addition of twins to their family of three. It's a completely understandable fear as the world tends to bombard expectant mothers of twins with all sorts of negative stories about how difficult life is going to be and says unhelpful things like "you'd better get your sleep now" or "double the trouble" when you mention you are having twins. This is one of the reasons I started writing and coaching parents. Life with twins can be crazy and occasionally difficult, but life as a parent to twins can also be a joy. And if you are lucky enough to have a partner you are in love with, bringing twins into your family can strengthen that bond.

I have written before about what a wonderful and supportive husband I have. I know how lucky I am (as I was married previously and didn't do such a great job choosing that time). Even though I was starting out on this journey with a great guy, the shift to being "mom and dad" was a tough one for both of us. Not just tough, but extremely complex and emotionally draining at times. While we, of course, expected some sort of change when our children were born, we weren't prepared for the enormity of it. Sleepless nights, constant visitors, the pressure to provide financially, diminished sex drive all contributed to a major shift in what was previously a very easy relationship. Add to that redefining roles (I became a stay-at-home mom) and starting a new business (my husband's big opportunity came just at the time the children did). We definitely had our hands full.

I had read somewhere along the way that more couples divorce during the first year of being parents that at any other time. Having been through that stage I can definitely see why. If one is unprepared, has no outside support, no knowledge of how to cope and no parenting skills (or communication skills) one would be very lucky to make it past that year unscathed. So many marriages are undone by the arrival of a singleton; would twins make it even worse? No. Not if you are smart about it and a bit proactive.

Before They Arrive
Before your babies arrive, it would be best to try and talk about what your visions are for being parents. What do you expect?  What do you see your roles being? What parenting style do you think you may have? Who will do what? We were sort of blissfully ignorant and no one told us how much having children changes who you are as a person. You know how people always say "marriage is work"?  This is when it really is work. Once we had kids was when we realized we had to work at staying connected to each other.

Get Help
If your goal is to be at least a shadow of your former self, then this is rule number one. My husband, smart man that he is, insisted on the hiring of a postpartum doula. I fought it. I said it was bourgeois. In the end I hired two. Yes, I had 24 hour help in the beginning. It was a fortune, but the best money I ever spent. I know that, financially, that is not possible for everyone. If you can't hire help then just ask for it. Take anyone who asks if they can help, up on their offer. People will offer to cook food for you. Say yes. People will ask if they can help with the babies. Say yes. People will ask if they can get your groceries, run your errands, return unwanted baby gifts. Whatever they offer to help with, just say yes. It was hard for me, as a very self-sufficient person (in addition to being a control freak about a lot of things) to let go of all that I used to be able to do without "bothering" anyone. Try to remember that it is actually nice for people to be able to help you. Plus, if you are spending your free time doing all of these things that others can help you with, you are not spending time with your partner, you are not spending time resting so you might actually be able to stay up through dinner with your partner, you are not taking care of yourself so you can be the happy, relaxed partner and parent you want to be. 

Involve Your Partner

One of the great parts about having twins is that your partner is needed so much more than if you were to just have a singleton. It is pretty hard to breast feed two newborns by yourself at 4 in the morning. It is pretty hard to bathe two newborns at the same time if you've never done it before. If you plan to spend one on one time with your babies you certainly can't do it yourself! So often what drives a wedge between parents is the father feeling left out or useless or incompetent; needing your partner to be more involved opens the door for more co-parenting and thus, more bonding between the two of you. I definitely needed my husband a lot in the beginning. But it was still tough for us to make that shift.  Dr. Joan Friedman writes: 

"...although fathers appreciate their new role as involved parent and caretaker of two new babies; it may be tough for some men to take orders from their wives. With two babies, moms seem to be endlessly giving orders and may not be very gentle or diplomatic when they do so. Or they may accuse their husbands of not doing 'it' - changing, rocking, feeding, burping - the 'right way', so fathers become angry or resentful and feel unappreciated."

Was Dr. Friedman at my house? Seriously, that could have been written about me directly. My poor husband couldn't do anything right as far as I was concerned. Even today he has to put up with me telling him how to do things "better". I have learned along the way that it is actually really important for your children that they see that things can be done in different ways. Imagine feeling that there was only one person in your life who could help you! It is so important for them to see that Daddy does bath time one way and Mommy does it another way, but both ways are fun. It is great for the kids to see that Grandma cuts their toast in triangles and Mommy does it in squares, but both ways are yummy. That realization helped me put a large portion of my disapproval away. Watching my husband with our children makes me love him even more. It reminds me of why I fell in love with him in the first place. And that reminder goes a long way towards keeping our marriage happy.

Learn, Grow, Get Support

The more support you have outside of your marriage the stronger your marriage will be. You need to find people who can understand where you're coming from. As a parent of twins you may begin to feel disconnected from your friends who have children of different ages. Only another twin parent really can know what you are going through. I'm a big fan of the Mommy and Me class.  The more you can learn about how to be a better parent, the happier you are.  The happier and more confident you are, the more at ease you are at home. Here in LA we have tons of classes for new moms. One of the most popular is run by Sue Darrison and is geared specifically towards parents of multiples. It's the only one I know of that is just for twins and you need to get on a waiting list pretty much as soon as you know you're pregnant. But even if you're further along, it doesn't hurt to call. It doesn't have to be a class just for twins though, a good Mommy and Me (or Parent and Me) class will give you so much valuable information and will connect you to other mothers with children of the same age. 

Another great place for support is your local MOMS club.  It's mostly for SAHMs as the bulk of their activities take place during the weekdays.  I have made lifelong friends through my MOMS club. Even better, my children have made what I think will end up being lifelong friendships through it. Join a multiples club. I can't stress it enough. Two of the bigger ones here in Southern California are WLAPOM (for most of Los Angeles) and SFVMOMC (for mothers in the San Fernando Valley and area close to it). There is also the National Organization Of Mothers Of Twins Club (NOMOTC). Share everything you learn from the classes you take or books you read with your partner, involve him as much as you can so that you continue to grow as parents together

Lastly, I would highly recommend therapy either with or without your partner. It would be wonderful if you can find someone who has experience dealing with twin issues like Dr. Pamela VaradyDr. Joan Freidman or Dr. Jenn Berman.  In addition to couples counseling and one on one sessions, Dr. Varady runs amazing support groups for mothers of multiples that focus on child development. She is the mother of twin boys and has been invaluable to our family. I love Dr. Friedman's book "Emotionally Healthy Twins", she is a twin and the mother of twins. I believe she also still sees clients for counseling. Dr. Berman is also the mother of twins and a therapist who, in addition to personal counseling, also runs a support group for working mothers of twins.

Express Yourself

Even though the last thing you may feel is sexual, affection and physical contact is so important.  You want your partner to know you care and appreciate him and you want to retain a sense of connection. The idea of sex with my husband after I "pushed two human beings out of my vagina" (as my friend, Joy, likes to put it) was nothing short of disturbing to me. The exhaustion, the feeling of being overwhelmed on every level, the incredibly un-sexy night time routine of wearing giant underwear and a frozen maxi pad to ease the pain of my sex drive was at an all time low.  We forced ourselves out for date nights (usually with me falling asleep at the table), we even went away for a night (or maybe two?) when the kids were about 4 months old. All I wanted to do was sleep but I knew it was important to spend time with him without the distraction of the kids. It was so hard for me to leave the babies behind but I want to stress to you new parents that as long as you have a trustedcaregiver, go away for a weekend when the kids are babies. It is actually SO much harder when they are older! I wish I had realized that when they were little. I would have taken advantage of it more. Even though the alone time with my husband was sporadic it would remind us of how much we love each other and how strong our commitment to making this work is. Glimmers of the flirting and the sexual attraction would return. All was not lost!

My girlfriends and I often talk about how hard it is to keep the sexual side of our marriage at the level they once were (or even in relative proximity). I won't lie, it's really tough when you have kids. But you must make your marriage a priority. There is nothing better you can give your children than parents who are in love with each other. My parents have been married since 1966 and still think the other is their best friend. Growing up, that gave me so much security. As a young adult it gave me hope. Show your children how much you like your partner; kiss him, hug him, be affectionate in front of them. If you argue, try not to do it in front of the kids but if you do, please show them that you make up as well. I've noticed that keeping the thought that I am giving my children something wonderful by working on my marriage helps me be more loving to my husband. And by giving my children that, I get something wonderful in return: a loving family.
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3 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Stephanie Dolgoff said...

Great post, Miss Gina! Every marriage is different, of course, and my husband and I like to joke about how fortunate I feel that our twins stomped out our sex drives in equal measure. Having twins to me is an exercise in cutting everyone--my husband, my girls and myself--huge amounts of slack. That's been my lesson: How to go easier on myself, which I should have done well before the ladies made their debuts.

Stephanie Dolgoff said...

Oh, and I will always read a post that starts with a Captain and Tenille lyric.

The Twin Coach said...

Ah yes, I do know how much you love a pop culture reference.
;-) And thank you for your notes. I agree with you, too. It's not just MY sex drive that has dwindled....although I am sure my husband would beg to differ.

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