"Mine were born 19 months apart, and its just like having twins." How many times have you heard parents of singletons make remarks like this? I've realized that it's pointless to argue this issue. It's my opinion that having two singletons is nothing like having twins. If we're chasing sympathy, I'd offer that having two of different ages is actually even more difficult in some ways. But it's not the same as having twins or multiples.
So what's different about parenting multiples?
The Absence of Birth Order Dynamics
Singleton siblings spread out over several years develop a natural order. Aside from influencing personality development, birth order often sets the standard for how children are treated in families. Older siblings lead, younger siblings follow. Older children have more freedom, but also more responsibility, as they mature. Younger children watch and learn from their older siblings. There is a natural disparity of ability due to age.
But multiples are the same age, and -- usually -- at the same stage. They face milestones simultaneously. They become mobile at about the same time, potty train simultaneously (generally), and start school together. Although some parents impose birth order personality characteristics on their multiples based on who was born first, it's a false designation. Without the defined roles established by birth order, multiples invent their own version of a pecking order, and often their parents have to deal with the fall-out.
Parenting Mulitples as Individuals
Every parent is tasked with guiding their children as they grown into individuals. Where parents of multiples face an extra challenge is in helping their children become individuals in spite of -- and in support of -- their status as a multiple. Despite parents' best efforts to treat their multiples as indivudals, to avoid comparisons and labeling, it's a constant fight to fend off society's views. Multiples face a barrage of stereotypes and are constantly confronted with comparisons because of their twinship. Their friends, neighbors, teachers and even well-meaning family members will attempt to label and categorize them. (She's the good twin, the smart twin, the pretty twin... If one likes baseball, the other one must also... He's outgoing, so his twin must be shy.)
Where singleton siblings often feel the sting of sibling rivalry, the effects are offset by birth order and by the passing of time. They have years (or in some cases many months) to achieve the milestones set by older siblings. For multiples, the milestones are expected to be simultaneous.
Therefore, it's very important for parents of multiples to overcome the stereotypes, labeling and comparisons by offering continual guidance and encouragement to their children, supporting them as they develop as individuals within the context of their relationship as multiples.
Division of Parental Assets
Many parents of multiples feel challenged to divide their time, attention and love between their children, moreso than with singleton siblings spread out over several years. Despite their claims that "it's just like having twins," parents of singletons have at least nine months of one-on-one time between children. Having children of different ages creates more opportunities for individualized time: babies nap while older children are awake. Older children stay up later at night. Older children start school while younger ones are still at home.
Multiples generally do everything at the same time. They're asleep at the same time, and awake all together, making it more difficult for parents to find one-on-one time for individual attention. Parents of multiples have to make a more concerted effort to bond with each child.
Maintaining equality is another big challenge for parents of multiples. Where a staggered birth order often evens things out for singletons, it's often a struggle for parents of twins or more to ensure that each child gets their fair share. Whether it is time, attention or material goods, it's simply not possible to always maintain equality among multiples, setting up parents for frustration and guilt.
Nurturing the Bond
The bond between mutliples is complex and intense. Twins can be best friends one moment, and bitter enemies the next. Where parents of singletons also contend with sibling rivalry, the relationship between multiples is simply more complicated, in my opinion. Teaching their multiples to resolve conflict in a healthy way and nurturing the bond between them is a big challenge for parents.
Everyone learns from their mistakes, right? With mulitples, there are no "do-overs." With each child going through the same stage and phase simultaneously, there's no opportunity to learn from past experience. Parents of multiples don't have the advantage of hindsight.
Isn't there a saying that claims there is "safety" in numbers? I'd venture that there is actually more danger when it comes to multiples. As a group, a set of twins, triplets or more can generate a lot more chaos than singleton siblings. Working as a team, they're likely to be more daring, take more risks, and push the limits further. Whether they are climbing on each other to reach the highest cabinet, or cooperatively unraveling the living room carpet, multiples really keep parents on their toes.
The Good Stuff
Despite some challenges and drawbacks, having twins or multiples is a great joy. It's a privilige to be an observer of and participant in their unique and special relationship. There is a level of convenience and efficiency in parenting children simulaneously; some of the more unpleasant aspects (sleepless nights, teething, potty training, teenage troubles) only have to be endured once. There's a level of "celebrity" attached to having twins or mulitples; some parents relish the attention while others shy away. But mostly, there is great pleasure and enjoyment in parenting multiples, every proud moment is multiplied and every simple joy is magnified.