Do Double Blessings Mean Double The Expense?

When my husband I got married, we knew early on that we would most likely need help getting pregnant. Having decided we needed ART (Assisted Reproductive Technologies), we knew that having children would already be more expensive for us than for most people. We were not lucky enough to have insurance that covered our treatments and had to pay out of pocket for everything. We were lucky that we only had to go through three rounds of IUI and got pregnant after one round of IVF. All of that luck cost us about $25,000. 

One of the things that happens when you decide to use ART is that you begin to look at having children from the perspective of both a financial planner and a gambler. For example, at our clinic, the fee for IVF decreases based on how many rounds you pay for up front.  So, if you pay for three rounds, the cost for each round is less than if you buy each round one at a time. But, of course, should you get pregnant on round one (as we did) and have bought 2 or 3….that one round gets mighty expensive! So, when one gets pregnant with twins, the first thought is “Wow! How lucky! I got two for the price of one!”. Because of the expense (and invasiveness) of these procedures, I would be surprised if there are many women who choose to implant only one embryo, if more are viable, knowing that they will have to go through it all again should that embryo not “take”.

Two for the price of one. Yes, in some ways most of of us blessed with twins end up saving some money on only going through pregnancy, labor and delivery once. But, financially, there is so much to carrying, delivering and parenting multiples that I was completely ignorant about. Women pregnant with twins require a greater amount of prenatal care and many times end up on bed rest for at least a part of their pregnancy. I ended up having to stop working early in my pregnancy because I could no longer, physically, do my job. The risk of delivering prematurely is higher with multiples. Premature babies not only have the long stay in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) but often have more frequent doctors’ visits afterwards (with 2 times the co-payments) and many have to see Physical and/or Occupational Therapists as well as any other specialists depending on their conditions. All of these doctors’ visits add up. 

Once you bring the children home, I highly recommend having some sort of postpartum care available to you. No matter how well-prepared you think you are, you will be so grateful to have a well-rested, knowledgeable, non-hormonal person in your house to help out for as long as you can afford it. Other than family, the options range from baby nurses, nannies, night nurses and doulas. All of them will have their pros and cons, depending on what you are looking for. We decided to hire a doula and ended up hiring two and having 24 hour care for 3 weeks, then 10 hour a day help for the last week. It may sound like overkill to some; but to this first time mom, with no baby experience, no family near by, and a husband who had to go back to work after a few days, it sounded like a dream come true! I felt so well-prepared, so confident and so ready to take over when these two amazing women left our house after a month. It was perfect for us and it was VERY expensive. I estimate it cost around $10,000. 

So, now your babies are home. If one of you decides to stay home to raise the children, you ned to factor in the loss of income. If you both decide you need or want to work, there will be the cost of a nanny or day care. Many nannies who have twin experience charge more than nannies of singletons. For daycare, you are obviously paying for two spots. Then there is all of the baby gear you have to buy: bottles, diapers, cribs, highchairs, car seats etc, etc. All of it times two! I would also suggest putting some money aside for therapy for mom (or mom and dad)! Raising twins will put an enormous strain on even the happiest of couples.

Having made it past all of this, the thing that hit me like a ton of bricks was school. Preschool here in LA can be as expensive as my top-notch university was a few decades ago (and just about as hard to get into)!  And don’t even get me started on how to pay for college!

So, you’re expecting twins?

It’s time to get creative about how you’re going to afford it. Here are some ideas that will hopefully get you thinking:

Doula Fund, everyone?

In lieu of a baby shower, ask friends and family who want to buy you gifts to create a “doula fund” instead. Explain to them how important it will be for you to have help after the birth. $5000 would be great.  $8 – $10K would be better. 

Call up companies for sponshorship

Get savvy about how having twins can save you money. There are a lot of companies who will give you discounts when you have multiples: Huggies, Gerber, Enfamil, Johnson and Johnson, Pampers and Preschoolians shoes are along them. It takes a little effort, some phone calls and sometimes a letter or two, but once you prove you actually have twins, you will save so much money on these very expensive items. Preschoolians actually has a 40% discount! Be sure to both call AND check the websites for these companies as sometimes there are different discounts offered in different places.

The milk… and the milk

If you are wondering whether or not to breast feed, and all of the articles and research about its benefits haven’t helped make up your mind, consider the amount of money you will save on formula. Additionally, the above mentioned postpartum help will also pay off because hiring a knowledgeable support person will increase your chances of breastfeeding success while decreasing your chances of having to rely upon formula.

Cribs and Bassinets

Save money on buying cribs right away. A good, sturdy bassinet will be much less expensive, last a long while and the babies can sleep side by side until they begin rolling over (this can be as long as 4 or 5 months). One of my readers mentioned that she used the Graco Twin Pack N Play which has twin bassinets. Each bassinet can hold up to 15 pounds. When you are spending money left and right during the first few months, you will greatly appreciate the price tag of just around $170 for this sleep solution!

Easy with the toys

You do not actually NEED two of everything. Early on it is unlikely that both children will want to play with the same toy at the same time; buy one Jumperoo and one Exersaucer. Who has room for two of each of these anyway?

Be open about pre-loved items

Look for opportunities in the community to share and exchange clothes, and especially high-ticket items like cribs and strollers. WLAPOM has a “preemie closet” which loans out clothes for members whose children are born prematurely and a clothing exchange for members with children of all ages. All mothers of multiples groups as well as Craig’s List will have listings of gently used items. Do a little research and you will be shocked at your savings! 

Finding a consignment or re-sale shop in your area for these items is also a great place to start.

If a class or a shop or a website doesn’t say they offer a twins’ (or sibling) discount, ask for it! You may not get a lot, but $20 here and $100 there add up. Money is money, I will take a savings where I can get it!

Plan for the school ahead

One of the more difficult things about affording preschool, private schools and college is that with twins you won’t be able to stagger the tuition over a few years as most families with siblings of differing ages can. You will need to start saving as soon as possible. Among the many was to save, refinancing your mortgage (if you have one) to a 15-year mortgage is often one that is overlooked. By the time your twins are ready for college, you’ll own your home free and clear. If need be, you will be able to borrow against the house in order to finance at least a large portion of their college tuition. 

There are many colleges which offer special funding for multiples. Many have restrictions on grade requirements, ACT/SAT scores and other provisions. Be sure to check with your school of choice on the most current information. For example, as of the writing of this post: George Washington University in Washington DC offers a 50% discount for a second sibling (not just twins), Notre Dame University offers the second twin 1/2 off tuition, Wilson College in Chambersburg , PA is an all female school that offers an annual scholarship for twins and triplets. It will pay 45% of each student’s annual tuition. A little research goes a long way!

Sometimes it can get really overwhelming to think about the cost of having twins and it takes a kick in the butt to realize that there are actually so many you can actually save some money and still enjoy your babies. If you’re pregnant now, instead of letting it get you down, look at it as a chance to start your children off well by taking a good, hard look at how you spend money. A few tweaks here and there will pay off huge in the long run!

UCLA Lecture on Twins – A Summary

Last night I attended the Everything You Want To Know About Twins lecture at UCLA.  Having read Abigail Pogrebin’s book “One And The Same”, I was interested to hear from the panel of speakers she had put together – some of whom she had previously interviewed for her book.  It was an exciting blend of Scientists, Psychologists, Researchers, Authors, Twins, Parents of Twins and Psychotherapists of twins!  Each speaker was fascinated with twins for one reason or another, all had researched and worked with twins and twin-related issues for many, many years. And now all were one room, focusing on the science and psychology of identity.

What do we start with?  How much of who we are is shaped by parents, friends and teachers? How do genes and the environment shape our behavior? How are twins different on a molecular level and what does this have to do with sexual orientation and gender identity?  These were some of the questions that were posed and discussed.  I will try to summarize what each of the panelists spoke about for those of you unable to attend (forgive me, this might go long)!

Dr. Eric Vilain spoke first. Dr. Vilain is currently Professor of Human Genetics, Pediatrics, and Urology and Chief of Medical Genetics in Pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. His research focuses on what makes boys and girls different from each other, and on the interplay between genes and environment that ultimately determines sex. 

Dr. Vilain’s discussion was fascinating and sometimes, quite frankly, over my head.  I was never terribly good at Science in school I must confess.  However, one of the parts I found most interesting (and understandable) was his topic of gender identity and sexual orientation.  He began by stating that in sets of identical twins when one is gay, more than 50% of their co-twins are straight. In sets of fraternal twins, this number drops dramatically. His theory is then that sexual orientation and gender identity is, perhaps, not 100% genetic as identical twins have the same DNA make up. He also mentioned that if you study 100 gender non-conforming boys you will find that they will turn out to be 100 gay men.  However, if you study 100 gay men you will not necessarily find that all of them were gender non-conforming as children.

He then went on to discuss environmental factors that modify the DNA behavior or the “epigenome”. Epigenetics is not something I can clearly write about but from what I gathered during the evening and what I understand by Googling it, it is the study of heritable traits (over rounds of cell division and sometimes transgenerationally) that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence.

Dr. Vilain’s way of translating that science-speak was to ask us to imagine a Barbie Doll.  When Barbie is happy she might wear clothes that are sparkly but when she is sad, she would wear all black. Thus, the underlying structure is the same, but the expression is modified. Identical twins have a measurable difference in their epigenome.  Twins are more similar when they are very young versus when they are very old.  Scientists don’t know why but suspect there may be environmental differences.

The next speaker was Dr. Thomas Mack who is currently Professor of Preventative Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC). He is also the author of the International Twin Registry, a continent-wide series of comparisons between patients with chronic diseases and their unaffected twins, and the California Twin Program, an analogous program of studies among twins who differ in lifestyle or personal exposures and experiences.

Dr. Mack spoke mainly about his research and how the study of twins (particularly identical twins) has yielded amazing information in the field of various illnesses. One of the things that was most interesting to me was that among the questions asked of the twins in the study were ones formulated to be able to understand which had more exposure to germs.  Thus: “who sucked their thumb more?” or “Who was always putting things in their mouth?” were asked because exposure to different viruses at a young age helps protect the body as you grow older. One of  Dr. Mack’s theories is that twins who differ in terms of diseases may have epigenetic differences in terms of environmental exposure, smoking differences, dietary differences and so forth.  One of his studies he discussed was one in which he found that in the Northern part of the US 25% of twin Multiple Sclerosis patients became concordant over time but in the South only 5% became concordant.  Dr. Mack’s resulting theory is that the environmental difference of more exposure to sunlight and Vitamin D was a factor in this.

Dr. Laura Baker was next to speak. Dr. Baker is currently Professor of Psychology at USC, where she coordinates the Southern California Twin Register and directs a comprehensive, longitudinal study of over 750 sets of twins in a study of genetic and environmental influences in aggressive and antisocial behavior.  She has a longstanding interest in how nature and nurture shape individual differences in human behavior, and has published numerous articles based on both twin and adoption studies.

Her twin study created a true paradigm shift in realizing that genes play a huge role in psychological traits such as expression, aggression, happiness and so forth.  In fact, she stated that 90% of variation in aggressive behavior is due to genetic influence. For those of us with children whose level of aggression fluctuates, she pointed out that there is a “set point” for subjective well-being (basically that means you have a set point at which your body is comfortable – like with weight – and you will fluctuate above and below that point).  The fact that aggression and temperament is so largely genetic was made very clear later in the evening when a mother of triplets stood up to ask about her identical daughters who “hated each other” and could only get along with their fraternal triplet brother.  The mother had tried everything from therapy to separate schools to separate activities. Dr. Baker reiterated that sometimes it is just in one’s genetic make up that you are not going to mesh with another person. However, most of the panel did agree that this case was very unusual in that it is usually the identicals who bond and shut out other siblings.

The discussion then moved on with Dr. Nancy Segal who is currently Professor of Psychology and Director of Twin Studies Center, at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF).  She is also the author of “Indivisible By Two: Lives of Extraordinary Twins (which I bought and will tell you what I think of when I am finished with it) and “Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us About Human Behavior.  Dr. Segal is currently writing another book about the true story of twins who were separated at birth.  One was mistakenly raised as a singleton and the other was raised with an unrelated child as a pair of fraternal twins.  As a mother of twins myself I can only imagine the devastation that must have caused!

Throughout her research Dr. Segal notes that identical twins who have been separated all or most of their lives connect immediately when reunited and report feeling closer to their twin that they just met, than to the adoptive siblings they have shared their life with.  She also noted that parents of identical twins are often so sensitive to the differences in personalities that they often misdiagnose them as fraternal twins!

Next on the panel was Dr. Joan Friedman. She is the author of the wonderful book “Emotionally Healthy Twins: A New Philosophy for Parenting Two Unique Children”.  Dr. Friedman is also a psychotherapist here in Santa Monica and specializes in twins and parenting issues of twins.  She also facilitates groups for mothers of twins and writing a new book about adult twins and attachment experiences.

Dr. Friedman spoke primarily about her belief that parents must give their twins the right to feel ambivalence or anger about their twinship.  To force the fantasy of your children being best friends and loving that they are twins 100% of the time is unwise and unrealistic. She is a very firm believer in letting twins separate and develop their personalities and interests as two individuals. She also made the very strong point that the boom in multiples has created an enormous need for therapists well versed in the emotional and psychological needs of not just young twins, but for all of the twins who have now reached adulthood and middle age as well as parents and siblings of these multiples.  She said she is constantly receiving calls for referrals to therapists from all over the US and Europe and there are so few people who have chosen to specialize in this area. So, for all you therapists and therapists in training: here is a niche waiting to be filled!

Next to speak was Dr. Eileen Pearlman who is a liscenced Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Monica and the Director of Twinsight, a service specifically designed to meet the particular needs of multiple births and their families.  She is also the co-author of “Raising Twins: What Parents Want to Know (and What Twins Want to Tell Them) which I also bought last night and will post about as soon as I am finished.

Dr. Pearlman discussed the separation individuation process which is essentially when the infant begins to realize it is separate from its mother.  She brought up the point that with multiples, the infants must learn to not only individuate from parents, but also from their twin.  She described this “bumping up” process as the “No!” phase when a child is separating from the parent (to every question the answer is “no” – we probably all know this well) and the “Mine”” phase when individuating from their twin (also something we are all familiar with). Twins have to “bump up” against each other throughout their lives and that it is vitally important that they discover who is “me” in addition to knowing who are “we”.

There was only time for a few questions at the end.  I mentioned the question about the triplets earlier. Another question that was asked was how to best help an older sibling bond with her new twin sisters.  Both Dr. Friedman and Dr. Pearlman brought up the points that a) one must work hard to make sure that the formerly singleton child is allowed to bond with each of the twins separately and b) that the parents recognize that it is very hard to be “dethroned” as an only child but it can be exponentially more so when the new child is a set of twins.

The last question was a truly fascinating one for me (especially since I conceived our twins through IVF).  A woman asked if there was a difference between those created naturally and those created through the use of fertility drugs.  Dr. Vilain mentioned that there is a small chance of epigenetic changes with IVF and that women over the age of 37 are 4 times more likely to have fraternal twins. I wish there had been more time for questions and answers, but all in all, the evening was very informative and left me excited to learn more

Sometimes The Day is LONG!

So, I’m a SAHM. I feel very lucky that I am able to choose that option. I get to see the kids as much as I want and am able to give them all of my love and attention. I know they are safe, I know they aren’t eating McDonald’s, I know they’re doing something creative each day, I know all of the ins and outs of their day so when they make some vague reference to something they saw 3 weeks ago, I am the one who knows exactly what they are talking about. All of this together time is great.  And it’s completely EXHAUSTING.

There are days when I just want to cry because I am so worn out. Lack of sleep, constant whining, non-stop arguing or just that I want five minutes to myself to go to the bathroom without company, all can contribute to my wanting to tear my hair out. And then my children will do something ridiculously sweet and I will melt and forget all of the above and just remember that I love them. And then the cycle will start all over again.  Such is the nature of being a stay at home mom.

One of the hardest part to being a SAHM for me was being cooped up in the house for days on end. With twins it can be especially hard because as soon as your kids get the slightest bit bored or jealous, the fighting starts. It can be incredibly hard to plan a full day in the house with two little ones and you may find that the best way to deal with it is to think like a daycare or preschool director: work out a schedule for the day so that it doesn’t feel so endless. Start with a little free play, move on to circle time with some songs or stories, try to get outside to burn off a little energy and create a change of scenery. Depending on your child’s age, you may need to change activities every 15 or 20 minutes until you hit on something that will keep them busy for long stretches (thank you, Legos)! Throw in a few snacks and a few meals and before you know it, you’ve got a full day of fun! 

A few months ago my children decided they didn’t need to nap anymore. It was a very sad day for me. I delayed it for as long as I could but finally I realized their naps were actually making their night time sleep worse (and thus, my night time sleep was worse). SO, now I have two three-year olds who don’t nap and who wake at 6:30 in the morning.  It can be a VERRRRRY long day when it’s not broken up by school or play dates or their nanny taking them somewhere. I figured that some of you may have similar issues, or your children may not yet be in school, or you may not have regular help you can count on, so I thought I would post a list of some creative things to entertain your little ones that you may not already be doing.

Gardening

gardeningIf you don’t have outdoor space, maybe you have room for some pots and planters inside or on a deck. Buy some soil, seeds or small trays of colorful flowers and a planter box for each of them.  Take them with you to pick the plants out. Target always has great kid’s gardening stuff by Spring time, or we got this adorable set as a gift for the kids’ birthday. Our children particularly love flowers and anything scented, like rosemary. Don’t forget a watering can – that’s the best part (and it’s even fun in the bath)!

Get Artistic

Painting might be our daughter’s favorite thing to do. If you have a space to close off where you can cover everything with old sheets or towels, this is best so that you don’t worry about the kids messing up your house! Aaron Bros. has inexpensive canvases in bulk, and non-toxic paints and paintbrushes – put old clothes on and let them go! When our kids were too young to really be able to use a paintbrush we had a blast finger painting or using rollers and stamps. Clean up is not easy, but on a warm day you could put them in one of those steel buckets and hose them off outside – (more fun). If it’s warm outside, get some water and big paintbrushes and “paint” with the water on the concrete or on rolls of brown craft paper – this is really great for mom because it’s not messy, and great for the kids who see first hand the effects of evaporation and that they can paint over and over again as the water dries.

artistic-little-meAlternately, getting washable ink stamp pads and different shaped stamps at a place like Lakeshore Learning is a paint-free way to create some “art”. The other less messy way to create art at our house was to do something we called “sticky art”.  Again, Lakeshore (or a craft store) has packages of small, stiff cardboard sheets that are super sticky on one side.  I bought a bunch of crafty things like feathers, pom poms, buttons, sparkly gems etc (you can also do it for free by collecting leaves, flat stones, cut outs from magazines etc.) and set them each out in bowls for the kids to create their art with. If you’re interested in being crafty with the kids but aren’t necessarily full of ideas, you have to check out this fantastic blog a friend of mine writes called “My Submarine To The Future”. For example, check out this post about making paper houses!

Treasure hunts

Whether your kids like to play pirates or not, a treasure hunt is always a fun thing to do in the house or yard.  Draw a map of your house, make about a dozen copies (so you have them for next time) and hide small things (little items from the 99¢ store or the dollar bin at Target make great “treasures”). Mark your map where treasures might be hidden. To make it more interesting I hide very easy riddles that will help guide them to the next location (ie: “look in the place where Mommy and Daddy sleep to find the next clue”). Obviously, this takes a little preparation so it would have to be done while the children are out of the house or asleep.

Nature Walks

This is a variation on our Treasure Hunts.  Take the kids for a stroll around the neighborhood (assuming where you live is easy to wander about with two little ones) and have a list of things to look for that you know you’ll run into.  For us it’s things like: Magnolia leaves (we have Magnolia trees out front), dandelions, purple flowers (our neighbor’s bushes are covered with them….shhhh, don’t tell them we sometimes pick them), etc. etc. Then you can bring them home and press flowers in a book or do “sticky art” or some other type of creative masterpiece. Another alternative way to do a “hunt” is while on your favorite daily outings — a walk around the neighborhood, a stroll along the beach — gather things (if permitted by the park) to help both of you remember why you like a particular place. You might bring along a camera and start snapping away; your child may choose to pick up a really beautiful leaf or a special seashell. Once you’re home, help your child decorate a shoebox with construction paper, crayons, glitter, or anything else that makes it unique. Keep both of your collections inside. You might have several different boxes for each outing. On rainy days, snuggle up on the couch with your child and sift through the box. Chances are you’ll be able to relive your favorite outings as you dig through the treasures.

Cook

Baking cookies is always something my kids like to do. But, even better (especially if you’re my son who’s favorite phrase of the moment is “that’s disGUSting!”) is to make “Icky Stew”. You waste a lot of baking soda and vinegar, but it might be worth it to get an hour of peace. Break out the big bowls and wooden spoons with baking soda, vinegar, a pitcher of water, cocoa powder, and anything else that they can put in the “icky stew” and that keeps them entertained for a long time. The vinegar and baking soda make bubbles and the rest is just for color and for the fun of adding “ingredients.” Be sure to wear old clothes and cover the floor where you’ll be working – it can make a bit of a mess.

Take a bubble bath

Yes, I know…you would probably like to just get in a bath and relax, but this one is just for the kids. Sometimes when our kids are especially crazy a bath not only fills the time, but it also calms them down. We use bubble blowers, bathtub crayons, any fun bathtub toys. I especially love all the Spin and Sort Spout and the Swimming Turtle Toys are nice because they dry out quickly and you don’t have to worry about mold growing inside if you’ve forgotten to squeeze all the water out! A good bath can last an hour some days and, bonus, baths are done! Once out of the tub, keep the bubble magic going (you can make your own bubble solution by mixing one part dishwashing detergent with ten parts water, and a little glycerin or corn syrup to make the bubbles hold) and see what you can find in the house to make bubbles with. Your children can use almost any open-ended object to make bubbles, including the rings from a six-pack of soda or a clothes hanger (with sharp ends bent back for safety). Try making bigger and bigger bubbles, but be careful they don’t drink the solution!

Explore the universe

We recently took the kids to The Griffith Observatory after getting great globe as a gift for the kids. These two things sparked not only interest in animals around the world, but also a lot of talk about planets, rockets, space and so forth. One night I decided to try this game I had heard about called Earth and Moon. Arm yourselves with a flashlight and a laser pointer (warn your child never to aim the laser pointer directly in anyone’s eye; it can damage the retina), and lie face up on the bed in a dark room. Make the Earth, or the flashlight beam, move in large circles around the ceiling. Your child’s job is to keep the moon (the laser pointer) orbiting the Earth. Start by moving the Earth slowly, speeding it up as the game continues, to challenge your child to continue his moon’s orbit. My kids will play with a flashlight for ages so this game is a hit over here. You may have to get two laser pointers to avoid impatience in waiting turns. To make this even more fun, I used a large box I had gotten after getting a shipment from Diapers.com and turned it into a rocket ship. It totally doesn’t matter if you’re artistic – just get a box that’s big enough and cut out a door and a window or two. Let the kids join in with decorating it with washable markers or whatever else you have around. If you want to buy a cardboard rocket because it is more aesthetically pleasing, this is a great one and the kids can decorate it as well. Get into your rocket and tell a story about where you’re going!

It’s a lot of work entertaining your children in the house, so I always like to have lists and lists of ideas that I can pull out when they are making me nuts. Personally, I like to get out of the house as much as possible. For me, it is more stimulating and I love that the kids get to experience so much the city has to offer. But there are days when it’s just not possible. I hope this little list helps a bit the next time you’re stuck indoors and are feeling like you will jump out a window if you have to play Princess Tea Party again!

If you’ve got some great indoor activities your family loves, please share them with us!

 

 

 

 

Parenting Seminar on Secure Attachment

There is a fascinating all day seminar at The Skirball Center coming up on Saturday, June 5th.  If you’re unfamiliar with attachment theory, the central theme of it is that primary caregivers who are available and responsive to their infant’s needs establish a sense of security. The infant knows that the caregiver is dependable, which creates a secure base for the child to then explore the world. The Skirball describes the seminar:

“In this compelling seminar, spend a day at the Skirball to hear the latest thinking on attachment theory from leading experts in the field. Gain specific knowledge that can immediately help with the challenges of raising children today and provide a strong foundation for their future. Find out how healthy attachment incorporates the ability to separate from our children and help them transition to secondary caregivers. Discover what to look for when choosing day-care and school environments.

Designed for parents, expectant parents, and potential parents, the program includes two keynote lectures, lunchtime discussions, and a series of afternoon workshops.”

The speakers and workshop leaders sound pretty terrific.  Among them are:
Keynote speaker Mary Hartzell, MEd, who is a child development specialist, parent educator, and co-author with Dan Siegel of the amazing book “Parenting From The Inside Out“. She is also the director of the nationally recognized, Reggio-inspired First Presbyterian Nursery School, Santa Monica, and has taught children, parents, and teachers for more than thirty years.

Many of you already know Betsy Brown Braun.  She is a a child development and behavior specialist, parent educator, multiple birth parenting consultant, and best-selling author of a book called “Just Tell Me What To Say“.  She has also just written another called “You’re Not The Boss Of Me” subtitled: Brat-proofing your 4- to 12-year-old child.  Hmmmm.  I may need to buy that one!

Betsy is also a mother of adult triplets and will be facilitating a workshop entitled: TRIANGULAR ATTACHMENT The Expanded Attachment of Multiples. This workshop will explore the ways in which twins, triplets, and higher-order multiples experience attachment to parents and to one another, as we look at how their unique relationships can work for and against them.

These are just two of the many speakers and workshop leaders. Please check out the full list and description of the day hereYou can also register for the seminar and the particular workshops you want.  The seminar is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and costs $60 ($50 for Skirball members).

I plan to attend; I hope you will too  Let me know if you do!

p.s. if you haven’t taken your kids to Noah’s Ark at the Skirball you are MISSING OUT!

Separation Anxiety

The funny thing about separation anxiety is that before the kids were born, I didn’t realize how many different types there were. There’s the usual anxiety your babies have when Mommy (or Daddy) leaves them – gut wrenching screams, hands clawing at you, and so on. There’s the anxiety I feel, as Mommy, in leaving my children with a nanny for the first time or, frankly, just leaving them at all (Oh, the guilt!). And, as parent to twins, we eventually become aware of the anxiety our children feel when separated from one another.

I’ve written about the importance of one on one time, and how much I think it benefits your children to make the extra effort to know them as individuals. This is especially important if you have same sex twins and even more so if they are identical twins.  It can be hard, as parents, to want to break up this adorably matched set of babies. Sometimes the parents feed off the attention they get going out with twins (I remember being mobbed by people every time I went to a mall with the kids when they were infants; everyone asking questions and wanting to see them. In the beginning I felt like a rock star! After a bit, I was overwhelmed and, frankly, over it). There’s guilt that kicks in when you split the kids up; How do I choose which baby is going to be with Mommy this time? What will the other child experience that I will miss being a part of? Talk about anxiety! As your children get older they actually seem to miss the other and may cry when you try to separate them. I have to remind my clients (and myself) that children don’t always know what is best for them. Enrolling your children in different activities or even the same activities but on different days is so good for their growth. Both my children took swim lessons when they were little, but each had theirs on a different day; and swim day was their special day to spend with Mommy. 

One area that causes a great deal of worry for parents is what to do about school. Do we separate our twins in preschool? In Kindergarten? Parents bristle at school directors who talk about the school’s policy on twin separation. I know I did. One school director told me a story about boy/boy twins who were separated and were apparently so unhappy about it that every morning their mother would find them cuddled together sleeping in one bed just so they could be with each other; that’s how much their separation anxiety affected these boys! At the time, I thought “See! That shows that twins need to be together!”. My eyes actually welled up when she told that story (she must have thought I was a nut case).

Now that I’m a bit removed from those first tours of schools and after I have had the chance to experience how my children are as they’ve gotten older, I have a different perspective on that story. What I think now is that those boys had probably never been given the the benefit of being separated when they were younger. They may never have gotten the chance to really see how they could survive (and thrive) without their twin. What seemed at first to simply be two boys who loved each other so much was actually, on some level, also a very co-dependent relationship. There was so much anxiety about being separated during the day that they almost re-created their womb experience! 

There is so much fantasy, folklore and mystique about the “twin bond” that it can be quite hard to wrap our heads around the idea of separating our babies and especially hard to think that it might actually be best for them to have time apart! It’s so easy to gush over how close little Joshua and Sophia are; even though she’s “the shy one” he always wants her to play with him and his friends. But imagine how she would gain more confidence if occasionally separated from her brother. She could realize that she, too, can be outgoing and make friends; she didn’t need her twin to do the socializing for her after all! And for him, he could be relieved from the burden of having to worry about how she’s doing and be able to just focus on himself!

I’ve seen how my kids have blossomed when they’ve gotten undivided attention. I’ve seen their bond with their father deepen when one gets to be alone with him, without the distraction of Mommy and a sibling. I know that allowing them to be Beckett and Johanna and not just “the twins” is actually going to help them end up closer to each other as brother and sister.

So back to school for a moment. Assuming you haven’t separated your kids the majority of the time, if you are sending them to preschool you will most likely be sending them somewhere where they will share a classroom. If they haven’t been in daycare for the years prior, there will probably be some major separation anxiety (on your part and theirs). I was actually quite surprised by the amount of it! I did feel somewhat relieved that my kids had each other as comfort. However, now that they are a bit older I see how hard it is for them to always be together. The teachers work really hard to separate them so that they get alone time with different groups of friends, to create without being copied (oy vey….”he copied me!”) and so forth. Now that they’re past that initial shock of the introduction to preschool, I wish the school was big enough to accommodate separating them next year. I think it would actually make the time they have together even better. Since we do love our preschool, I am not changing schools, but I am going to be making sure that I create more opportunities for each of them to do things without their twin so that they get time to grow on their own. In addition, I’m working with the teachers to see how things can be set up so as to allow our children to create their space as individuals. 

The last thing I want to mention about separation and schools has to do with when your children have completely different learning styles or needs.  Recently, there was a very interesting post answering a question posed by a reader who wondered if schools ever accept one twin but not the other. The point was made that occasionally you may have one twin who, perhaps, is extremely artistic and another who really needs structure to thrive in school. In such a case it is important to look for a school that can serve both children’s needs or you will find that you, as a family, do not “fit” at any one school. Sometimes you will have a family where one twin is autistic or physically challenged so the best school for that child may not be the best school for his or her twin.

It can come as a shock to your children and to you, as well, if suddenly at age 5 or 6 when they are ready to enter Kindergarten you are told that they must be apart from each other and this is not something you have prepared for. Give them the gift of confidence in their own ability to navigate the world. A little anxiety over separating your twins is natural. Twins who grow up and cannot separate without great distress haven’t really learned who they are without the other.  And that really is where true separation anxiety begins.

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 Varady, Dr. 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 episiotomy…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 trusted caregiver, 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.