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Holidays can be crazy enough when you’re single.  Add in-laws and kids of all ages, and you have the potential for madness!  Following are tips from the HDYDI moms on making it through the big family gatherings with twins in tow.

Respect sleep needs

Whatever stage of daytime sleep your kids are in, do what you can to respect their normal routine.  If you have newborns who will sleep in people’s arms, lucky you!  Just pass them around until people’s arms get tired.  I know last Christmas was difficult with my 4-month-olds, as they were still in the “sleep every few hours” stage, but past the “sleep in anyone’s arms” stage. But the time we violated the “sleep every few hours” rule went very poorly, so, lesson learned.  If your older infants or toddlers have a good nap schedule going, stick to it to whatever degree possible.  Bring a pack & play (or two) if they’re likely to sleep at someone else’s house.  Or, consider doing the hour-long drive right at naptime.  It won’t be perfect, but if you want your kids to do well with lots of new people or places, better that they be well-rested.

At four months old, Daniel was not really into Hannukah last year.  Plus, it was bedtime.

At four months old, Daniel was not really into Hannukah last year. Plus, it was bedtime.

Also, be respectful of bedtime, especially in younger kids. Believe me, a 12-month-old is generally not going to appreciate the “special treat” of staying up well past bedtime.  Instead, you’ll just have a meltdown on your hands.  If you’ll be at someone else’s house and will stay there until bedtime, bring pajamas and change the kids before you get into the car.  That way, if they fall asleep on the way home, it will be one less thing to do when transferring them into their beds.

Consider giving warnings ahead of time, both for the sake of the kids and for your photos-at-the-last-minute family members.  Make it known that you are leaving in 30 minutes… 10… 5.  If your kids are old enough to understand the warning, then even if they still don’t want to go, at least it isn’t a surprise.  And though you may have family members who think you’re being a stick in the mud for leaving “so early,” you know full well what will happen if your overstimulated 18-month-olds stay up too late… it won’t be pretty.  Give everyone warning, try to make sure photos are taken before it’s time to put coats on, and then pack it up and go when you need to.

Pack wisely

Bring comfort items or lovies, but maybe consider bringing the second-string stuffed animal.  God forbid you leave the absolute favorite one at Aunt Judy’s house!  For older infants and toddlers, have a good stash of reliable favorite foods in case of a table full of unsuitable items or picky preschoolers.  There’s a time and a place for enforcing the “I am not a short-order cook” rule, but you’ll have to decide relative to the age and tantrum-prone-ness of your child whether it’s a battle worth fighting at your sister-in-law’s house.  My vote is to make sure you at least have some string cheese and goldfish in your purse, just in case.  If your kids are old enough for most table foods, I’m not saying you should bring a separate meal.  Just have a little bit of backup.

Have cup, will travel.

Have cup, will travel.

If having your toddler’s favorite sippy cups or a strap-on booster seat will make things easier when you’re there, then by all means throw them in the back of the car.  As always, don’t forget standard diaper necessities and maybe an extra shirt.  (Though, hey, a little kid running around in a diaper is always considered adorable at my house.) Really, though, you don’t need to bring the kitchen sink with you.  If your supplies require more trips out to the car than number of kids, you may have packed too much.  It’ll be OK if you don’t bring all of the favorite toys.  A wooden spoon and metal bowl can go a long way.

Advance Prep

If you are going to the home of a close friend or relative, especially one who has an affinity for small ceramic figurines, it might be worth a call ahead to see if some of the low-lying breakables can be put away.  But this works for some hosts better than others, and as both parent and guest, the responsibility is yours to keep your kids from demolishing the joint.  Potentially a pain in your ass?  Yes, but it’s not your house.  So, sometimes we have to suck it up.  Parenting is fun, isn’t it?

Older toddlers and preschoolers may benefit from some preparation of their own.  Especially for those who are wary of new places and new people, start talking it up in advance. [Obviously this advice is a little late for Thanksgiving '08, but it's a good time to start prepping for the December holidays, or tuck it away for some other future event.] LauraC makes the great suggestion of getting together pictures of everyone who will be there, and I know some parents even put together their own little photo book of what to expect, inclusive of pictures of the kinds of food that will be served.  Introduce all of the new players, maybe let the kids talk on the phone or Skype with unfamiliar faces whenever possible.  Frequent reminders of who the people are and what you’ll be doing can go a long way towards a smooth adjustment.  Also consider books and stories about the holiday, again to help the kids know what to expect.  Talk about what you say when you meet new people, or about the very special behavior you expect when we all sit at the big table together.

Adjust Expectations

Most importantly, go with the flow.  If you are relaxed, your kids are more likely to be relaxed (that goes for any tension you may have with your in-laws – beware, the kids can and will pick up on it).  Decide ahead of time which rules are most important for you to keep consistent (behavior, bedtime, etc.), and then consider being a little more loose on the rest.  If you never turn on the TV at home, an afternoon of sitting with Uncle Jim and watching the football game is unlikely to do any lasting harm.  If you avoid sweets, having a little dessert is unlikely to be the end of you.  I’m not saying you should let the kids gorge themselves on cookies all day, but pick things that you’re willing to let slide a little bit and just let go.  And have realistic expectations about how long your child can sit at a table, relative to his or her age and attention span.  I know you’d like to sit and chat with Cousin Sal, but it may be better for everyone if you and little Joey get up from the table.

If things crash and burn

… and sometimes they do, take a deep breath.  You’re still the mom, and you’re still in charge.  If your preschooler starts melting down and hitting his brother, and needs a time out, find a way to do it.  If they’re getting overwhelmed, find a quiet room to escape for a little while, or go for a walk around the block.  Fresh air and a change of scenery can work magic.  Remember, they’re just kids, and they aren’t trying to ruin your holiday.  They’re probably in an unfamiliar situation, overstimulated and maybe overtired.

And sometimes, sometimes you just need to cut your losses and pack it up.  It happens to the best of us.  I’m sorry if that means you miss the pie, maybe you can get a slice to go.  But if you can see that you’ve reached the point of no return, say your goodbyes and try again next time.

Readers… any good holiday tricks that have worked for you in the past?  Or mistakes you’d rather not repeat?  Let’s hear ‘em!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Do you have a question for the HDYDI moms?  Ask away in the comments or through our Features page!

We have a fascinating question from Carissa, who is the proud new mom of 14-month-old boy/girl twins, whom she and her husband adopted from South Korea.  First, Carissa, huge congratulations to your new family!  Now, onto your questions:

Between the time change adjustments and the attachment we have had very little sleep. There are so many things that we are going to have to do though – neither of the twins had been given anything other than formula, the switch to whole milk (our dr wanted them switched) was VERY easy and our son will eat ANYTHING but our daughter refuses to eat unless it come out of a bottle…any suggestions? And do any of you have any experience getting 14 month olds on the same schedule – right now there is usually one awake while the other sleeps, there may be a little overlap but not enough to sleep while they sleep or even get much done (one thing though for attachment purposes we CANNOT at this point let either of them cry anything out).

Becoming a twin mom has definitely brought out my more hard-ass practical side, maybe because I don’t feel like I have time for as much touchy-feely.  But there are (plenty of, I’m sure) times when my blunt, sometimes stubborn tactic is not the way to go.  This is most assuredly one of those times.

First, on food with your pickier eater.  Start as you would with a six-month-old new eater, ignoring for the moment that she’s older than that.  Start with thin purees, treat it more like an activity than a meal.  Then, experiment with flavors and textures, always keeping it low-pressure.  For instance, mash up a banana and thin or puree it with milk or formula.  When she gets the hang of that, dial back the milk and make it a coarser, thicker mash.  Then try banana as finger food.  Try other easy first finger foods like rice krispies and cheerios, or Baby Mum-Mums and graham crackers.  Just remember that, like dogs and horses, babies can smell fear and frustration. ;-) Relax and keep trying, she’ll get the hang of it.

Also, don’t stress about the bottle thing right now.  Introduce sippy cups in the same no-pressure way.  Offer them with water or maybe a little diluted fruit juice.  When they have learned the technical bits on how they work, then you can start thinking about moving the milk away from bottles.

As for sleep schedules, there’s plenty of ways to try to coordinate them without doing cry-it-out.  Yes, it may mean that you don’t get much of a break at first, but hopefully that will improve.  Set a routine and stick to it.  Keep bedtime at the same time for both kids, and make it a nice, calming routine that they enjoy (bath, stories, bottle, etc.).  If you currently have to rock them to sleep, try taking baby steps to back off of that.  Hold them while you sit in the chair, but don’t rock so much.  Or put them in the crib and rub their backs until they fall asleep.  That can transition to rubbing backs until they’re calm and just holding your hand there until they’re asleep, which can become a still hand on the back until they’re calm and sitting next to the crib until they’re asleep.  You get the picture.  But do it for both of them at the same time. They will quickly come to understand what bedtime is all about, and will sleep better for it.

If they wake up overnight, try to keep things quiet and intervention at a minimum.  While you obviously want them to know that you will be there when they need you, you don’t want to reinforce that waking up in the middle of the night is time for fun.  With my daughter, who is currently going through a screaming-at-night thing, we made a rule that we do not actually pick her up out of the crib.  We reach over and sort of hug her over the crib, and we do some back rubbing and sitting next to the crib while she falls back asleep.  She knows we’re there if she needs us, but we try not to make 3AM prime snuggle time.

Bedtime is one thing, daytime sleep is another.  If you have one that starts the day significantly before the other, I might suggest waking the second baby (maybe not immediately, but soon after the first gets up) in the name of getting them into the same pattern.  Then put them down for a nap at the same time, even one seems more ready than the other.  Again, you can slowly back off from whatever interventions they need to fall asleep.  At 14 months, most babies will probably still do two naps: one around 9AM and one around 1PM, give or take.  Keep an eye on their habits and when they seem tired, and then set your schedule appropriately.  Then keep it the same for both.  One may wake up before the other, and that’s fine, but don’t then make big changes to the next nap or bedtime.  Maybe the earlier riser needs to be pushed just a little to make it to bedtime, or maybe the later sleeper can go to bed before he’s exhausted.

The other complicating factor (as if you needed more!) is that they may be nearing the age of really only needing one nap, anyways.  But try to at least instill the routine that there’s quiet time at the same time every day.  Even if one doesn’t sleep, keep up the routine for at least a week or two to see if it’s working or if it needs adjustment.

In the end, you certainly don’t need any of us to tell you that your kids are going through a major adjustment.  So take it easy, one thing at a time.  Let them get used to their new home, new sights and sounds and smells.  Don’t stress out about where other kids of the same age are.  Give them a couple of months to adjust, and if you’re still concerned about where they “should” be, definitely give a call to the nice folks at Early Intervention.  If your kids end up qualifying for services, they’ll get you hooked up with all of the right resources to work on whatever areas need a boost.

And again, congratulations and welcome to the wild world of twin mama-hood!

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Have a question for the HDYDI moms?  Ask away in the comments or on our Features page.

What about reintroducing intimacy into your relationship with your husband – physical and emotional? How to be romantic when you worry about chores, finance, sleep deprived and the kids are sleeping in the next room? Early “physical” limitations (post-C-Section, vaginal birth, breastfeeding).

Oh yes.  The nookie.  Those of you rare few who were breaking rules and getting back in the saddle well before your postpartum appointment… this isn’t for you.  It’s for the rest of us.

So, OK, you drag yourself (with or without babies) to your six-week postpartum OB checkup.  Your doctor says all is well, and you’re clear to resume sex.  And just as soon as you stop laughing, she actually has the nerve to ask what you want to use as birth control!  Um, did she forget that time six weeks ago when she pulled two small people from your body?  Hahahahaha!

But sex is a serious topic, people.  And one we’re all about here on HDYDI.  For as much time as we spend as devoted moms, we are also (among other things) the beloved spouse/partner of some other grownup.  And I’m going to come right out and say it: I think physical intimacy is a really important part of that kind of relationship.  But, good lord, how is that supposed to happen with two needy newborns, zero sleep, and a body that has been through a war?  Here’s our advice…

Talk, talk, and talk some more

Communication can very easily break down in the first weeks and months of being a new parent, especially with two.  In addition to the mind-addling lack of sleep (and showers and meals that can’t be eaten with one hand), mama’s got some serious physical stuff to deal with.  You’re healing from delivery, your hormones are more volatile than the stock market, your boobs are leaking milk all over the place, and your belly resembles a lump of raw pizza dough.  You’re stressed and tired and trying to figure it all out, and sex is the farthest thing from your mind.  Well, guess what?  It might be lower on your beloved’s list than you think.  Maybe you’re on maternity leave but he’s gone back to work already, only to come home and help out with the night shift.  He’s tired and stressed too, so maybe postponing the return to the marital bed is just fine with him.  Or, maybe he’s more eager than you are.  But the only way you can understand each other is to talk about it.  If you don’t feel up for it, he needs to know that.  If he misses that aspect of your relationship, you need to know that, too.  But keep talking.

Make a choice, make a date

You may find that you both want to get back in the saddle, at least theoretically, but motivation is low and timing is poor.  But if you’re both in agreement: make a date.  Make several.  Make the choice to carve out time to re-connect, both emotionally and physically.  You don’t need to go anywhere, you don’t need to find a babysitter.  Just decide that you’re going to light some candles and sit down at the table for dinner.  Turn off the TV, don’t answer the phone. Open a bottle of wine. Maybe it leads you back to the bedroom, maybe it takes a few times. Maybe you just make a totally concrete, un-romantic decision to jump back into bed.  That’s OK. You have to start somewhere. The psych majors among us should think about behavioral therapy: set the behavior first, if you need to, and the emotional part will come along.  If nothing else, you’ll be glad you made the time for each other.  And I’m not kidding about that bottle of wine.  I’m all for (consensual) enforced relaxation.

Don’t rush, and don’t expect it to be the same

Everyone has their own timeline.  Some people are so looking forward to reconnecting that they go for it right after they get the green light (or some just decide to get that first time “out of the way”…).  Plenty of people don’t feel physically or emotionally ready for several more weeks or even months.  Don’t feel like you need to rush into anything that you aren’t ready for.

Speaking of getting things out of the way… know that the first time post-kids, nobody’s socks are getting knocked off.  Maybe the first few times.  It’s unlikely going to be the sexual highlight of your entire relationship, so don’t build it up in your mind.  It may be awkward, it may be a little painful, there may be some seriously leaky boobs. Keep your sense of humor about you, and know that it’ll get better/easier.

Another important bit of expectation-setting is this: your relationship with your significant other has now changed.  Your lives and priorities have changed.  This is neither all-bad nor all-good.  It’s different.  New stresses, new demands on your time.  New ways to connect, too, and new shared passion.  But it’s different.  As for what frequency of sex is “normal?”  There’s no such thing.  Some may find the time once or twice a week, some are not entirely sure they had sex for the entirety of September (or October…?). You have to find the balance that’s right for the two of you.

To the partners out there, I offer two important tidbits that I’ve picked up (the studies I, of course, cannot find right now, or I’d provide the links).  Tidbit 1: a study was done that showed that women who perceived that their partners did a “fair share” of housework and childcare were more likely to be interested in sex.  Laugh all you want, it’s true.  We stress about these things, about how many loads of laundry need to be done or whether the dishes are clean.  The more you can proactively take this stress off of your wife/partner/beloved, the more amenable she might be.  Not in a quid pro quo kind of way, but more as a general stress reducer.  Which brings me to tidbit 2: I read somewhere that, in general, men like to have sex to relax while women need to be relaxed to have sex.  Think about that.  Some men may want to have sex as a way to unwind after a stressful day.  But, I assure you, your wife is likely to need a lot more winding down (and maybe a few glasses of wine) before she’s ready to join you.

Don’t forget the birth control

If you’re not planning on trying to get pregnant again anytime soon, please do not neglect your birth control.  Don’t assume that breastfeeding will take care of it, don’t ignore it just because you figure you won’t be having sex all that often, anyways.  Remember what you learned in sex ed: it only takes one time. Research the methods (pill, “mini-pill,” IUD, condoms, etc…), and pick one that you will be able to use as directed.  Or, if you are all about continuing to expand the family, more power to ya!

There you have it, a few words of collective wisdom from the moms of HDYDI.  Sex after kids is real, it’s possible, and frankly, it’s important. When you’re ready, go for it!

For additional reading, see HDYDI contributor Cheryl Lage’s book, Twinspiration.  Also, a great entry by Dooce on the subject.  Or, check out what our readers have to say!  Comment, people, comment!

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Oh, hi there!  Remember Ask the Moms?  Yeah, sorry ’bout that.  We’re back now.  I apologize for the slacking.

If you have a question for Ask the Moms, please leave it in the comments, or on our Features page.

Today’s question comes from a new mom of twins:

I’ve read some of the great posts on the site about being a SAHM with twins, but it seems like all the posts address older children, and finding the right balance of activity and schedule. My twin boys are only 6 weeks old, and my husband just went back to work. I only just figured out how to (bottle) feed both of them at the same time, never mind leaving the house (or a shower everyday). My question is: how did all the other moms of multiples make it through these early days and keep their sanity?? Ideas for dual feedings, what to do when both are inconsolible and feed/sleep/play schedules would be great!

Ah yes.  The newborn days, when all of the help goes back to work or flies home to Florida.  It can be a very sad day when the extra hands are gone.  But, freak that I am, I also found it kind of empowering and liberating.  Truly, now it’s just up to you, in a good way.  You’re the mommy, you make the decisions.  Following are some of our sanity-savers, tips, and tricks for those very early newborn days when you’re all by your lonesome.

Double Bottle-Feeding

We all have had some variation on the bottle-feed-two-at-once trick.

LauraC's hubby shows us how it's done.

LauraC's hubby shows us how it's done.

Prop ‘em up in two Boppies, sit them in the bouncy or car seats, or have one little head resting on each leg.  In the very earliest (pre-rolling) days, lots of us did it on the couch.  Or on the floor, back up against the couch.  Get the babies situated on a stable incline and hold both bottles.  I for one have a near-permanent butt-print in the center of my couch, with two slightly rubbed spots on either side where the boppies lived for months on end.  Is it the cuddly and snuggly image you always dreamed of?  Maybe not.  And sometimes you might have a situation where one is ready for a bottle while the other isn’t, and you can get your snuggle on.  But most of the time, it’s all about efficiency when it comes to food.  Snuggles can come when their bellies are nice and full.

When Both are Ballistic

As my friend and fellow HDYDI contributor Rebecca put it at our twin club’s cope meeting last night, sometimes the bad parts are exactly how you pictured them.  Both babies red-faced and screaming.  It’s no fun for anyone, and it does sometimes happen.  We each have our own triage methods.  Some just go with whoever seems the most hysterical at that moment.  Some first attend to the one that is known to be easier to soothe, so that baby can be quickly calmed and then you move on to the trickier one.  Some just try to rotate who gets picked up first.  Whatever you need to do, you do it.

Do not fear tools like the swing, the bouncy seat, or pacifiers.  My son would only nap in the swing for the first five months of his life. There were times when I’d have them both in bouncy seats on the floor, and I’d bounce them both with my feet so that I could actually eat something (or just get my ears a few more inches away from the screaming).  And definitely, if you haven’t already, watch the Happiest Baby on the Block DVD.  Swaddling, shushing, swinging… a mom’s best friend.

A baby carrier can be a good friend, even if it only contains one baby.  If you have a fussier baby that wants to be close all the time, why not put that one in the Bjorn / Ergo / Sling?  Then you still have your hands free to grab a sandwich or pick up the second baby.  Don’t worry about the happier baby being neglected.  You can’t make a happy baby any happier.  So if one is calm and content, do what you need to do for the other.  The happy baby will get their share of the love, I promise.  (And, at some point, will likely swap personalities and become the fussy baby…)

If Mama Ain’t Happy…

Your sanity and, dare I say, happiness, is extremely important.  As moms, it’s easy to start neglecting ourselves.  But there has to be a balance.  Some people just plain do not feel human until they’ve had a shower in the morning.  If that’s the case for you… guess what, Daddy is on baby-duty for the whopping 10 minutes it’ll take you to wash your face and your hair and get that spit-up smell off of your shoulder.  Or, if there’s no other adult who can watch them, they’ll really be OK if they sit in their bouncy seats inside the bathroom (or just outside the open door if there’s no room), or even rest in their cribs for a few minutes so that you can hop in the shower.  Just make sure they’re in a safe and secure place.  If they start crying, it’ll be OK.  No need to leap out of the water with your hair still lathered.  They’ll be OK for the whole 60 seconds it takes to finish what you’re doing.

Activities and getting out of the house are key for your sanity, and good for the kids, too. Even if they’re still little and can barely see past the handle of the carseat, it’s OK.  Get out of the house, get a little fresh air.  Take a new mom class.  Meet other new moms, and especially meet other new moms of twins (have you joined your local twin club yet?!)  Take advantage of the first month or two when they’ll sleep any time you rock the carseat, and go out for lunch with a friend.  Look around for local movie theaters that often have a once-a-week mommy movie, where they show a non-kid movie at a baby-friendly time.  That way you actually get to see a recent release, and no one else minds if you take up four seats and have to change a diaper or breastfeed most of the way through the movie.  Getting out on your own with two babies can be intimidating… until you’ve done it a few times.  You’ll get the hang of it quickly, and then you can just let everyone you pass be in awe of your capabilities. :-)

Schedules are a good thing, and many (most? all?) of us here at HDYDI are big fans.  But newborns can’t read clocks.  More important at the newborn stage is routine. See our previous post on that subject for more details.  Routines are good, predictability is good.  But don’t expect a true nap schedule until closer to 5 or 6 months.

Finally, remember that those newborn days are not a sprint, they are a grueling marathon.  Do what you need to do to power through, nourish yourself (yes, that means make sure you get to eat and sleep), and survive.  Roll with the punches, get out of the house even for a short walk around the block.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of four months, the haze will lift and you’ll start doing more than simply surviving.  That’s when it gets good and interesting…

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Every month for the first 18 months of my twin boys’ lives, we took their picture in a chair together. I’ve seen this done many places but I had no idea how much work went into those pictures! In our house they were truly a labor of love. We always had one designated photographer and at least one baby wrangler. The baby wrangler’s job was to entertain the boys and prevent them from doing headers off the chair while also staying out of the photographer’s way.

I almost drove my husband Jon crazy with my insistence on continuing the series, but oh my, all that work was worth it. Some of my favorite photos are from that series, as well as some of my favorite memories.

I still carry a copy of this two month picture in my wallet.

This six month picture almost became our Christmas card photo with the words “Peace on Earth.”

This eight month picture proved the conspiring begins early.

The ten month series was my favorite of the bunch, and includes a picture that still makes me laugh out loud and a picture that is one of my all-time favorites.

This eleven month photo shoot was the worst – they both cried and cried because they were so sick.

And this 18 month photo showed me how far we had come – instead of tiny babies we had two little BOYS.

We decided to stop at 18 months when they would no longer stay in the chair together. I took all those shots and turned them into a photo book as a gift to the grandparents. Even the worst outtakes made it into the book. You can view our entire series here.

If you decide to embark on the series, two things helped us greatly. First, we kept on snapping pictures no matter what happened. We have pictures of babies falling over, babies pooping, boys crying, and lots of smiles. The series truly reflects life with twins – not always perfect, and often crazy. Second, we stayed flexible. If the boys were not cooperative, we’d try again at a later point. The five month series took four attempts before we got pictures we liked. Even with all the work involved, this remains one of my favorite activities from the first year with twins.

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