by Nancy Pone, birth doula
My family is just coming home from much needed vacation…one that was even more needed than we had anticipated as my husband has been working long hours on a project at work for what ended up being 6 months. During that time we were all strained. It probably wasn’t a wise choice, but he kept thinking it would only be a few more weeks, then it turned into more. My children are two sets of twins ages 9 and 5, and a baby girl who is now 18 months. Over the past couple weeks, one of my five year olds, who is usually very sweet, affectionate and cooperative, has transformed into crazy, silly, I’m-not-listening-to-you, party girl. Now, I could blame being away from home, or our poor daily routine while away from home. But, over the past several busy months, I’ve been so consumed with the daily chores and keeping my oldest girls on top of their homeschool work, that I often found myself leaving my five year olds, Nora and Stella to their own playing, for extended lengths of time.
They could play imaginary games for hours on end – pretending to be guinea pigs and unicorns and even spiders. It is one of the great gifts twins and close siblings are to one another – of course there are also periods of fighting and annoying and nearly terrorizing one another. But, that’s a fact of twin life. While I was glad they could play together well so I could tend to other things, I also noticed that I got almost no quality alone time with each of them. Even when I wanted to sit down and read a story with them, they were so engrossed in their play I couldn’t usually pull them away! They had grown so close to each other, I was becoming less critical to the fulfillment of their emotional needs. Stella’s silly behavior pleased her sisters and brought giggles from ‘the crowd’ at the expense of having a very frustrated mom and dad.
But I recognized that what she needed was not more harsh consequences or a behavior chart, though those things may have their time and place. But in this case, it was quite obvious what was missing was some good old fashioned bonding with mom and dad! We tend to think of bonding as a one-time mystical experience that happens at birth, but in truth, it only begins then, and must grow and deepen over time. Bonding is what makes your child confident that you love her and want only good for her. That in turn allows her to trust you enough to cooperate and believe you when you tell her the icky medicine will help her feel better. But bonding is also a lifetime of learning about, loving and enjoying your children. Sometimes other necessities of life get in the way of this. We become so preoccupied with clean houses [or even just less messy houses!], cooking meals, or getting everything checked off our lists, that we miss the chance to stop and enjoy what truly will last.
I didn’t first realize the importance of ongoing bonding until I was overwhelmed with having 2 sets of twins, the oldest who were 4 and the younger were young infants demanding lots of my time. Ingrid and Helen, my oldest, suddenly had to spend a lot of time playing together, watching TV together and finding other creative ways to entertain themselves (like breaking into the junk food drawer and then playing ‘Candyland’, for REAL!) During that time, our relationship was strained. Helen especially went through a very rough period. She had terrible tantrums. She was mean to her twin sister, she wouldn’t even let me sing to her at bedtime anymore. Because I was so stressed out, I wasn’t as fun to be around and I didn’t have as much time to do fun outings and art projects as I used to. I wasn’t even a part of their bedtime very often, now having two babies to nurse and lull to sleep. I relied more and more heavily on consequences and behavior charts. Then, I had the good fortune of reading Dr. Sears Discipline Book.
His book emphasizes the importance of a healthy relationship with your child and how that will affect her whole being, including her behavior, in a much more lasting and positive way than any imposed consequence. So I started to really tune in to what each of my children’s needs were. I noticed some triggers for her tantrums, and tried to avoid such. I started going to the grocery store with just one of the older kids, as a creative way to sneak in ‘alone time’ with them. I made a point to be at least part of their bedtime routine almost every night. I avoided power struggles, because that is where Helen and I were clashing in a big way. Instead of forcing or threatening a punishment, I looked for a ‘win-win’, or an ‘out’ for her to avoid feeling defeated. I gave up being crabby and rude about those things that I wanted to control – like the volume level at nap time – and I used more creative solutions. Instead of a tantrum bringing automatic room sequestration, I held her close. I asked her ‘what is wrong! How can I help you?! . Finally, when all went amiss, I decided to gracefully accept, that some things are beyond my control. In some parenting circles, those things may feel ‘soft’, or even like giving in. But for us, it worked. Not overnight, but over several moons. The tantrums quieted, good-will between us resumed, and finally, she let me sing her to sleep again.