The psychology behind raising a tiny army


SPECIAL BLOG FOR 'MULTIPLES AWARENESS WEEK'

There are obviously many logistical differences when raising multiples rather than singletons, some of which are quite brag-worthy … but what about the psychological differences for the parents of multiples?

Let’s start with the antenatal preparation. Perhaps this can be summarised by the term uncertainty. Uncertainty about your pregnancy and how babies (plural ...eek!) fit in one belly, the daunting prospect of birth and then the major life adjustment postnatally. All the ‘how..?’ and ‘what if…?’ questions may spring to mind. How will you cope with the competing needs of multiple littlies? What if you can’t get them onto a similar routine as you’re told is necessary, what if you can’t feed them in the desired way and what if you will never, ever sleep again? Enter totally common and understandable anxiety.

When it comes to the crunch, your sacred control is shaken to the core. You just cannot, even if you try your very best with strict routines and organisation, control life in the same way. Instead, there is an absolute need for flexibility for survival. Tolerating or even accepting unpredictability is hard but achievable… eventually.

You may need to kiss goodbye that sense of mastery that comes from obsessively focusing on one child. Your down time is not spent lovingly looking into one child’s eyes for hours and noticing every intricate change immediately. The new aim is for short & sweet moments of mindful interaction. Any guilt must be shown the door – you are doing your best to share the love. Of course, mothers of multiples have always got multiples on their mind. You may concentrate on one child while simultaneously considering the other/s. A true skill to be proud of. No wonder your overstimulated, exhausted mind needs a break.

The transition from relative independence pre-multiples to heavy dependence on others can be difficult also. As we know, building a supportive village is important… but what if you simply don’t want to. Especially if you come from a successful, autonomous career. Raising multiples doesn’t exactly fit well with our kiwi individualistic culture either. Well, you do have a choice of whether you reach out and accept support, however, burnout is more likely if you are trying to do it alone. At the end of the day, you just have to ask yourself whether pride is getting in the way and whether your children’s needs are being met. If you are somehow (maybe miraculously?) content with being an independent parent, then congratulations. Just remember, that if you change your approach, there is no shame in sharing the load – both physically and mentally. Playing happy families is the goal.

To state the obvious, being organised is essential. Daily routines, weekly schedules, meal plans, division of domestic duties, to-do-lists for Africa, phone reminders buzzing every hour - all fun and games, right? Multi-tasking between present and future needs is a must. This is a big ask if your temperament is more free-spirited. Some may feel trapped but unfortunately, the alternative may be a bit of chaos. Not exactly relaxing and empowering.

Expectations need to be lowered in parenting, then lowered again when parenting with multiples. Be realistic and review those standards regularly. Do you adjust them based on how vulnerable you (or any of your children) feel on any given moment or day? Be an expert at saying no. You have absolute permission (for life?) to prioritise yourself, simplify life and take shortcuts to achieve a balance for well-being.

Even though you may feel bonded with fellow multiple birth club members, it can be unhelpful to compare too closely with them. Everyone has different backgrounds, mental health predispositions, coping abilities, and recent stressors including birth experiences, physical limitations (including children’s), couple dynamics, social support systems, financial situations and return-to-work vs stay-at-home plans. Phew. Stick to your own game.

Confidence in your ability to parent effectively can waiver. Please frequently acknowledge your small achievements, have a giggle at your blunders and be a good role-model to all parent-kind to drop the desire for perfection. Parents of multiples are a special breed – when possible, embrace and celebrate.


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Dr Sarah Bell-Booth

Clinical Psychologist

0273462707

dr.sarah.bellbooth@gmail.com

Auckland, New Zealand

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© 2020 by Dr Sarah Bell-Booth. Illustrations by Jay Allen