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This morning, one of my husband’s college friends sent news that they’re expecting twins. I have heard of a lot of multiples since becoming a twin mom, but all of those announcements have been through my local multiples group. This is my first experience with a real-life friend becoming pregnant with multiples. I had no idea how excited I would be!  I can’t stop myself from making the longest mental list of advice (and assvice). Before responding to their request for advice, I need to narrow down my response. So… what three things would you tell a real-life friend expecting multiples? They already have one kid, so they’re not rookie parents. Here’s my gut reaction advice:

1. Pick up Dr. Barbara Luke’s book When You’re Expecting Twin, Triplets, and Quadruplets. Read the nutrition information, pre-term labor, and prematurity sections. Post the pre-term labor signs on your fridge.

2. Make sure you are going to an OB that specializes in high-risk (or multiple) pregnancies.

3. Line up as much help as humanly possible for after the babies are born.

What do you think? What would be your best three tips?

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Long-time readers of my personal blog know this is a topic near and dear to my heart. We made the insanely foolish mistake of transitioning our twin boys out of their cribs at 16 months. It is the one parenting mistake I wish I could take back. I polled The Moms behind the scenes for their top three tips on the crib transition advice when multiples share a room.

Tip #1: Wait as long as possible to transition.
Tip #2: Wait as long as possible to transition.
Tip #3: Wait as long as possible to transition.

Critical to understanding why this is the overwhelming advice from other multiple parents is why the transition is easier as children age. Before the age of 18 months, children have very little impulse control. That is why most experts recommend a discipline strategy of redirection before the age of 18 months. Around 18 months, children are ready to start a discipline strategy such as simple short time outs, because they have started to understand rules and boundaries. And most parents can tell you that although they start a discipline strategy, it takes months for younger toddlers to learn better impulse control and respect the rules and boundaries you have set up.

I want you to imagine taking two children with no impulse control and putting them in a room together, unsupervised, for 12 to 14 hours a day. The image in your head should now be something similar to WWE Smackdown with smaller wrestlers. That would be my house, for months.

Age two is when some experts recommend you can move on to a more solid discipline strategy such as 1-2-3 Magic. As children age from two to three, they gain a significant amount of impulse control and they have acquired enough understanding about boundaries that they can (and will) follow rules. They can stay in their beds. They can stop themselves from poking their twin in the eye. They respect other people’s personal space.

Looking at it from this perspective, you can see why transitioning multiples to beds earlier than two can lead to disaster. And many parents who transition between two and three report their children stop napping because it becomes playtime when they are alone together. This happened to us as well. Eventually we separated our boys during daytime so they will take their much-needed nap.

I can’t say what age is the perfect age to transition for every set of multiples. The Moms agree waiting until after three was easiest on everyone. At that point, you can hype up the “big kid” beds. You have a different level of communication with your children to help them through this transition. They are more likely to physically leave their twin alone. If they don’t feel like sleeping, they can entertain themselves. They can tattle on their twin.

In the meantime, The Moms recommend crib tents to help keep children safely in their cribs if you have a climber. And if one of your kids starts climbing out at 16 months and you start considering transitioning, shoot me an email. I’ll help talk you of it with all the juicy details that I kept off my blog.

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Saving money on diapers

Early in January 2008, I posted this picture on my personal blog:

huggiesdiapers

and I’m pretty sure some people thought I was crazy. This was the result of a huge Huggies sale at Target. Hi, I’m LauraC, crazy couponer and bargain hunter. That diaper stash lasted us about nine months. Very few people asked the obvious question – WHY did you buy all those diapers? We did it to save money, a lot of money.

The best way to save money on diapers is to switch to cloth. Hands down, cloth diapers are cheaper than any other option out there. Since we did not cloth diaper for a multitude of reasons, I can’t speak to what brand or how to do so. The second cheapest option is to use generic diapers. I have heard good things about Target generics and BJ’s generics. We tried both with our boys and both resulted in such horrible diaper rashes that we ended up at the doctor’s office. (If anyone has recommendations for generic diapers, please leave them in the comments.)

However, most people end up using Huggies or Pampers. The first step of my method is to figure out how much you are paying per diaper. How do you know if something is a good deal if you don’t know how much you normally pay for it? At my BJ’s with no coupons, I pay $0.30 per size 5 diaper (they get more expensive the larger they get). Notice I said “with no coupons.” That is inaccurate because I NEVER buy diapers without a coupon. Every month, Huggies and Pampers issue diaper coupons that appear in the Sunday newspaper inserts. I ask my friends and family to send me any coupons they don’t use. In a real pinch, I order coupons from a coupon clipping service such as The Coupon Clippers.

Since I’m a member of BJ’s, they mail me a coupon booklet every month. Often they have diaper coupons in them. Additionally Target has coupons on their website. Target’s coupon policy is that you can use one manufacturer (Huggies) and one Target coupon per item. This is where the real deals start to happen. Every Sunday when the store ads come out, I look for diaper deals. If diapers cost more than $0.30 a diaper, I don’t buy them.

Every so often, an amazing deal comes along and that’s what happened last January. Target had an online coupon for $3 off 2 Huggies items. I had $1 Huggies coupons. Huggies were on sale. The perfect bargain storm. The per diaper price was $0.16…. almost half price! Jon and I visited three Targets, being very sensitive to leave plenty of bargains on the shelf for other shoppers. We saved over $200 on diapers.

If that picture looked crazy to you when you first saw it, does it seem less crazy knowing that we saved $200?

I know everyone reading this is not going to become a full-fledged bargainer. At the very least, I strongly encourage you to figure out how much you are paying per diaper (per ounce of formula, per wipes container, per jar of baby food, etc). Stores often advertise sales that aren’t bargains at all, preying on the fact that most people don’t know how much they are paying for something. You can do this easily at home by checking how many diapers are in the box you’ve bought and looking at your receipt for how much paid. And if I need to calculate something in the store, I use my cell phone calculator. I may look like a nerd doing it, but I’m a nerd saving a ton of money.

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A question today from Lyna, which I felt totally compelled to answer (I know, you’re all shocked!):

my twins are 18 mo, and i’m ashamed to admit that i have been relying a lot on my maid in handling them. i even take her along on our outings. yesterday i did something ambitious, i went out with the twins and my elder daughter WITHOUT the maid. it was a stressful experience – i ended up losing my temper on my 4-yo for the littlest reason. i feel so bad and incompetent as a mother.

so how DO you do it? how do you handle outings with 2 toddlers and a rebellious 4-yo without getting all stressed out?

Getting out of the house is more and less challenging at all different ages.  But, more than anything, I think it’s hardest when you simply lack practice.  Don’t beat yourself up, it’s tricky.  Here are some tips:

Choose wisely

When you’re new to solo outings, pick them carefully.  Don’t drag three kids to the grocery store at 5pm.  Pick a time (maybe right after a nap?) when they’re all typically in a good mood.  Pick a destination that isn’t too far away, whether a short walk to the park or a short drive to a friend’s house.  Pick an outing that is manageable and kid-friendly.  If there’s some kind of contained drop-in play space, or a small fenced-in playground (though that can be tricky with the young toddlers), that might be a nice bet. Pick some place that is child-friendly and interesting so that you don’t have to expect them to sit still and be quiet for very long, but also someplace that is small or enclosed enough that you’ll be more able to keep a watchful eye on all of them at once.  Also, consider a class they can all enjoy on their own level, such as a music class (I’ve heard lots of good recommendations for Music Together for multi-aged siblings).  It’s structured, it’s kid-friendly, it’s entertaining, and it’s only an hour.  Make sure you have enough time to get home for the next meal or naptime.

Pack Carefully

Especially at those ages, you don’t need to bring the kitchen sink with you.  But the last thing you want is to be caught without a few diapers and wipes in case of a containment failure.  And snacks.  Don’t ever forget the snacks.  I’m not above using Goldfish crackers as the occasional bribery for good behavior or to avert a meltdown.  Bring snacks and maybe sippy cups with water.  It won’t go bad if you accidentally leave it in the car, but it’s there if you need it.  A hungry child is more likely to be cranky, so make sure everyone’s happy and fed!  Other than that, maybe bring a comfort item if your kids are wary of new situations, but make sure it’s a second-string stuffed animal.  You don’t want to accidentally leave the One True Blanket at the mall.  If you have messy kids, you might leave a change of clothes in the trunk of your car, but no need to drag it all over creation.

Adjust Expectations

Along with choosing your time and location carefully, you need to make adjustments to your own expectations in order to lower your stress level and make you less likely to have a meltdown (and we’ve all done it).  Don’t have a list of things you want to accomplish while you’re out, don’t make your first outings all about errands.  Take it small, and keep it focused on the kids. Make it an outing focused on something fun for them, not to-do list for you.  And then realize that they may not enjoy it as much as you had hoped, and that’s OK.  Realize that sometimes they’re just going to have a bad day and you’ll have to make a quick departure.  And that’s OK.  And, remember, kids are a lot like dogs and horses: they can totally smell fear and tension.  If you’re tense and ready to snap, they’ll pick up on it in a second.  Relax, and put on your “calm and loving mom” face.  You can let out the frustration when you’re home and they’re all down for a nap if you need to.  But as far as they’re concerned, stay cool.

With the older sibling, take a page from LauraC and do some advance preparation.  Talk about what you’ll be doing.  Talk up how much fun music class will be together.  Repeatedly discuss what you’re going to do in detail (“We’ll all get in the car and drive to X.  Then we’ll have music class, and there will be instruments to play and songs to sing, and you can dance if you want to.  When class is over, we’ll come back home and have lunch.”).  Also discuss behavior expectations.  I don’t think there’s a need to focus too much on potential consequences for bad behavior.  Instead, focus on all of the nice things you’re expecting her to do since she’s such a wonderful big girl. Let her know when she’ll have choices (“You don’t have to sing along if you don’t want to.” “You can choose whether we have pretzels or string cheese for snack.”)  And, again, be reasonable.  Don’t expect them to sit quietly somewhere for 45 minutes so you can have a latte and read a magazine.  But do expect the older child to do things like hold hands while walking, use an inside voice, etc.

Practice Makes Perfect

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.  Honestly, this is one of those things that only seems more daunting the longer you wait.  And I know a lot of people who get caught in the (somewhat enviable) trap of almost having too much help.  The down side to having a lot of help is that you do become really reliant on it, and you start to believe that you couldn’t possibly get by without it.  But you can, and lots of people do.  So plan ahead, give yourself a pep-talk if you need to (I think I can, I think I can!), and then just go for it.  Even the most “experienced” among us have days when things seem to crash and burn.  But you learn from the experience (shouldn’t have gone to X when they skipped a nap!), and do it better the next time.  Just keep trying, and soon you’ll be an old pro.

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Goddess in Progress started this blog because she wanted to help other multiple parents. I think all of us who are a part of a multiples group understand how valuable it can be getting advice from other multiple parents. As a mother of twin toddlers, I’d love to say I stopped needing as much advice when they reached a certain age, but the reality is that I still need multiple-specific advice. Example: we’re potty training next week. Two boys. At the same time. Eeeeeeek. (Any and all advice welcome on this.)

My weekly posts here are my small contibution to twin parenting advice on the internet. This week, I took it a step farther. I outed myself on my blog, letting people know we practice with the boys for events ahead of time. It all started when I gave them some cake before their first birthday. They sobbed hysterically and Nate actually threw the cake on ground. This did not fit into my fantasies of their first birthday so I continued to give them cake until they started eating and stopped crying. From that lesson, I learned if an event is really special to me, attempt a trial run ahead of time to work out the kinks.

This weekend, we had trial runs baking cookies for Santa and having a fire in our fireplace. The cookie baking went pretty smoothly but the fire was a disaster. We learned we have hornets living in our chimney. A lot of them. And that I am deathly afraid of killing hornets. This is one of those stories that my husband and I will be talking about in our retirement. After posting my story, I realized practicing events isn’t something specific to multiples. I submitted my hack to Parent Hacks and it got published today.

After all the advice and help I have received during my short motherhood journey, I feel really good being able to possibly help someone else.  And after our experience on Sunday killing hornets, I think my husband will always be supportive of my uber-planning trial runs. At the very least, if he ever says, “What’s the worst that can happen?” I will have an answer ready: swarm of hornets in our living room.

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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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