No one ever said that parenting would be easy. In fact, parents step in to their new roles knowing that they are about to embark on one of the most difficult (and, of course, fulfilling) journeys of their lives. But what happens when you find out that you’re going to have twins? It’s a whole new level! Twin births are on the rise in recent years, due in part to the postponement of pregnancies and the rise in the use of assisted reproductive technologies. This means that more parents than ever before are having to tackle parenthood - doubled!
In Inceptive Education’s workshop ‘The Psychology of Parenting Twins’, Dr. Ruth Simon, psychologist and mother of twins, talks about how to handle the parenting of twins from the point of view of a singleton - that is, as a person who is not a twin. As a singleton, it is difficult to understand the experience of a twin, which can make it harder to navigate the needs of your twins. This is doubly so when the children are younger, as they are unable to verbalize what those needs are.
New moms of multiples are 43 percent more likely to have postpartum depression than mothers of singletons. This is due to a myriad of factors, including the facts that hormone levels are twice as high, and that there is double the work and half the sleep than a mother with one baby will have. New parents of twins are navigating two children who are hitting developmental milestones at exactly the same time, who will both need attention at the same time, and there will be times - often - where one baby will have to wait while the other is comforted, fed, or has their diaper changed.
You have probably asked yourself a million times, as a parent, what is the best way to navigate your twins needs while keeping your sanity?
The 'Third Baby'
According to Dr. Simon, when you have twins, you don’t just have two babies - you actually have a third! That third ‘baby’ is the twinship itself. The relationship between the twins needs to be nurtured and cared for, just as you nurture your children. Understanding the importance of this relationship can actually simplify things for you as a parent. Rather than this idea of a third baby meaning that you have three children with distinct needs, you have two children with the same needs and then the twinship itself.
If you think about it, your twins have known each other for far longer than they have known you. They have always been part of a twinship, it is an unchangeable aspect of their existence. So twins have their relationship with you, and they have a relationship with each other, which preceded your relationship with them. When a parent forgets that relationship, it is a jarring experience for the children.
Understanding that there is this third factor in your parenting journey will help in many ways. To begin with, it allows parents of twins the freedom to stop comparing themselves to the parents of single children. Their journey is not yours - and it is frankly unfair to compare yourself to them! Not only are you caring for two children and their identical developmental milestones, you are nurturing a complex relationship that requires different parenting than a single child needs.
In caring for the children with their twinship in mind, you can help them develop a healthy relationship to their twinship. They are being cared for individually and as twins, which allows them to develop their own individual identities within the twin relationship while, at the same time, the twinship is nurtured. This leads to them being able to take pleasure in their twinship from a place of sharing and connectivity, rather than it being an issue or burden.
Parents, especially those who are not twins themselves, have a tendency to treat twins either as siblings who happen to have been born at the same time or as two halves of one whole being. The first approach erases the twinship, the second erases each twin’s individuality. In understanding the importance of the twinship and nurturing that relationship, parents can ensure that their twins will grow up with a balanced and positive relationship with each other and themselves.
In Dr. Simon’s course, she covers the ‘third baby’ concept in more depth, as well as how to deal with feelings of overwhelm, guilt, envy of singleton parents and many more topics that parents of twins will find invaluable and what's more, it's free!
 Livingston, Gretchen. “Multiple Births in US at All-Time High.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 11 Dec. 2015, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/12/11/twins-triplets-and-more-more-u-s-births-are-multiples-than-ever-before/.
 Wenze, Susan J et al. “Raising multiples: mental health of mothers and fathers in early parenthood.” Archives of women's mental health vol. 18,2 (2015): 163-176. doi:10.1007/s00737-014-0484-x.