It seriously is one of the biggest “I wish we could do more of it but how?”s of parenting, whether you’ve got twins or kids of different ages: How do you carve out time to spend with each kid separately, so you can focus fully on them, instead of dividing your attention between them and their sibling(s)? And so they, in turn, get you all to themselves for a bit?
I feel like it’s especially important for twins, who are together so much of the time. At least, in our family it’s been the case. As hard as we try to recognize Elsa and Clio’s very different personalities and foster their individuality, the fact is, they’ve basically been joined at the hip (figuratively speaking, mind you) since they were in utero.
Honestly, the extent of our typical one-on-one time is, basically, I’ll take one with me to the grocery store on Saturday afternoon while Alastair stays home and plays with the other one. Within two hours, we’re all back together again. Woo hoo. Let’s hear it for quality alone time.
But recently my (AWESOME!) parents have taken the girls — one at a time — for a couple of days up at their place in Maine. So the girls have each gotten some special grandma & grandpa time, as well as some special mom & dad time. And it’s been unequivocally great, for the girls (I think) for my parents (I know) and for us (I TOTALLY know!)
It’s kind of amazing how much easier it is to be with just one kid instead of two. In my memoir I liken it to one of those hide-a-key rocks that looks just like a real rock, but when you pick it up you realize it’s hollow plastic and it’s disorientingly light.
In fact, disorienting is a good description of the whole experience. There were times when it actually felt a little awkward — both for us and, I think, the child left behind with us. None of us quite knows how to be as a three- rather than foursome.
Case in point: When Clio was away, we took Elsa out to dinner — at a halfway decent place, which you can DO with just one kid — and kept trying to strike up conversation with her. (So, how was school today? What’s it like to not have Clio around? What are your thoughts on fracking?) But we couldn’t get a thing out of her except, “Can I play games on your phone?”
On the other hand, the next day we took her on a walk at a nature preserve together and had a blast talking about plants and frogs and trees and things. Most priceless moment: we were at a little lily pond full of frogs, talking about camouflage, and I asked Elsa what animal she thought might be predators of frogs. “Leprechauns?” she replied.
Indeed, it’s been lovely spending time with each of them alone. They’re almost like different kids. Or, more accurately, even cooler and more interesting versions of the kids they are when their sister is around. It’s also amazing how so many of the challenges each of them presents when it’s the two of them together seem to vanish when it’s just one.
Which isn’t to say there weren’t some rough patches in this whole arrangement. Re-entry was a little tricky for both of them: moodiness and worse-than-usual sibling conflict. Plus, some jealousy issues: Clio had a brief meltdown when she saw the cheap-ass toy that Elsa had gotten in a Happy Meal when she went to McDonald’s with my parents (they’ve been to McD’s maybe 3 times in their whole life, so this was pretty exceptional). And when Elsa found out that Clio got to go to an amusement park with my parents, she had a slightly longer meltdown.
But, hey, teachable moment: Life isn’t always fair and we can’t always do/have exactly the same things for both of you. You’re two separate people, and you’re going to have a lot of different experiences as you get older. And that’s OK. Even good.
If my parents are willing to do this little “exchange” once a year per kid, that would be marvelous. In the meantime, though, I know we need to figure out other ways to get that one-on-one (or one-on-two) time.
Others out there with two or more kids, how do you make it happen? (If at all?)
My book: DOUBLE TIME, my memoir of parenting twins, battling depression and chasing that ever-elusive work/home balance.
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