By Vivian Lee-Shiue, Blogger for CTWorkingMoms.com
A friend of mine once said, "Thank goodness I have more than one kid; otherwise if my son was an only child, people would undoubtedly think that I'm an awful parent."
One of the benefits of having twins/multiples is that you have the ability to gauge what impact your parenting versus your child's own innate temperament, has over your child's behavior -- nature versus nurture. Unlike having two kids at separate times, with twins, you're handling things the exact same way at exactly the same time. Your kids are exposed to the same parenting techniques, behaviors, moods, approach and environment.
What I have learned from my own experience is that a lot of what people call "bad parenting" is actually a function of a child's personality. It has opened my eyes to the fact that when things don't go the way that child-rearing books tell you they should, the best thing to do is just relax, do the best I can, and the rest will happen the way that nature intended it to.
My twins are complete opposites; yin and yang. What traits one child lacks, the other has in the most extreme way. They even look different -- my daughter is my husband's little mini-me while my son is my carbon copy. As I embark into the Thrilling Threes, I have learned the following:
Eating: I refuse to be a short order cook. My rule is that if my kids don't want what I make, they can eat yogurt, fruit, cheese or Cheerios. I will not cook them anything else. I don't treat my kids differently when it comes to eating and yet I have one child that eats everything (except for pasta with tomato sauce or cold, sour fruit) and one child that eats nothing (except for pasta with tomato sauce or cold, sour fruit -- ironic, eh?). If I only had the one child that ate nothing, I'd spend my days wondering what the hell I was doing wrong to make my kid be such a picky eater.
Sleeping: One of my twins suffers from night terrors. That child has always been a trouble sleeper -- always fussy when being put to bed, always wakes at least once in the middle of the night, and is always the first one up in the morning. The other twin loves to sleep -- ready for bed at 8:00 p.m., sleeps straight through the night without ever waking (except if sick), and could probably sleep until 9:00 a.m. if the other child wasn't jumping and screaming in the crib. If I only had my solid sleeper, I'd probably be wondering why moms struggle with sleep problems. Instead, I realize that some kids are just great sleepers and others are not-so-great.
Speech and other developmental milestones: My daughter has always hit her milestones before her brother -- first words ("Uh oh" and "Arf!"), first steps, potty training and every milestone except for teeth have been achieved several months before her brother. Their speech was so drastically different in the early days that I wondered if my son had impaired hearing (and even had him tested). However, my son has quickly surpassed his sister with these skills -- particularly speech. Their learning pace was not changed by anything I did -- it can simply be attributed to the fact that each kid learns at his or her own pace and late bloomers can absolutely outpace early birds. Maybe it's also the difference between boys and girls.
Outward personality and temperament: For the most part, each twin gets equal attention, treatment, punishment and reward. And yet, I have one child who is so clingy to mommy -- loves to do things to please me, always looks for my approval, and never does anything they're not supposed to do. The other twin is fiercely independent. This is the child that I will never have to worry about being the weakling (but I might have to worry about this child being the troublemaker), is very defiant, and has the attitude of, "Get the hell outta my way, I've got things to do!"
So, what's my point in all of this? It's a message to my fellow moms to say that when you second-guess your abilities as a parent; when you're frustrated, exhausted and wondering what you're doing wrong to have a poor eater, a poor sleeper, someone who hits their milestones late, or is stubbornly defiant, cut yourself some slack. Yes, there are things that you might be doing that might influence these behaviors, but if you're trying your best, then rest assured that much of a child's response to these things is truly based on personality. My living experiment is proof of that.