There is a line in The Sunscreen Song by Baz Luhrmann which goes “Don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either.” I often think of that in reference to bringing up children. It’s easy to view any positive behaviour your child displays as being evidence that you did something right, and any negative behaviour to be a testament to your failure. I think having twins is a trial by fire which teaches you very quickly that the influence you have as a parent is limited. That first year may be gruelling for the lack of sleep and colic in stereo, but you learn very quickly that what works for one baby does not necessarily work for another, something that may take longer to learn if you have just the one.
I remember at the few baby groups I managed to get out of the house for, a major topic of conversation among new mothers was how long their baby slept. There was always some mother there who claimed her newborn slept seven-to-seven, which seemed to be the Holy Grail of newborn sleep. There was a certain false modesty to how they would say it that showed they thought they had cracked the secret to baby sleep. It left the other mothers (who were the majority) asking her to reveal her secrets, and feeling that they had missed something. I personally believe those mothers of fantastic baby sleepers probably were doing the sorts of things any of the mothers were doing, but had babies who were naturally good sleepers. I also have a sneaky suspicion they had babies who weren’t very hungry and could bring up burps like little troopers. You feel so lost, sleep-deprived and out of your depth when you first have a baby that you keep looking for the miracle answer to having a contented baby. Of course the truth is, there is no one right answer.
From the moment my twins were born they had different personalities and needs. My son wanted to be held all the time, and would cry if left alone. My daughter was more laid back, as long as she wasn’t suffering from colic. My son would get cold very easily, my daughter too hot. My son was ravenous every 2 hours, my daughter had to be coaxed to feed. And as for sleeping, well they did have that in common: they didn’t like it at all, and certainly not at the same time. Here I was performing my own psychological experiment of nature versus nurture, and nature was by far the big winner.
I’m not saying that as parents we don’t have influence over our children. Of course we do. It’s just that the form that influence takes is dependent on the individual baby. I’m sure you could take a naturally good sleeper and manage to create an environment that would make it very difficult for he or she to sleep. But on the whole, if you’re not doing anything drastically detrimental, whether your baby sleeps when you want them to will be down to their own physiology and personality. Likewise with how well they feed, how well they take to weaning, how easily they are potty trained, how sociable they are… the list goes on.
Each one of the milestones I went through with my twins showed me how a person’s approach to any situation is completely dependent on the individual. I still remember my twins’ first taste of carrot – my son gave me this wide-eyed appalled look that something other than milk had been unceremoniously put in his mouth. He then burst into tears when we laughed at his funny expression. My daughter opened her mouth, swallowed the carrot, looked faintly bored, and opened her mouth for another mouthful. Their two reactions demonstrate very effectively their two very different approaches to new situations, which persists even now. It was programmed into them at birth.
I need to make sure I cater my parenting to my twins’ individual needs, recognising that each one has their own likes, dislikes, abilities and weaknesses that are entirely unique to each of them. My aim is not to mould them into my own idea of what they should be. My job is to encourage their best traits to blossom, and help them mitigate traits that are obstacles to their wellbeing, whatever those traits may be. So next time someone congratulates me on how well my children have behaved in public, I mean it genuinely when I say it is all them, not me.