“Girls! What are you doing down there? I heard a crash!”
“Did the girls eat a good dinner?”
“The girls have been awful at naptime this week. I’m losing my mind.”
I say things like this all the time. The girls. The kids. Them. I’m always lumping them together in casual conversation, sometimes appropriately, and sometimes unfairly. It’s hard to avoid it; most days it’s all I can do just to get a complete sentence, one that actually makes sense to other people, out of my mouth, and having to articulate each child’s name just takes too long.
But since I’m a mom, I feel some guilt about this. We moms are so good at making ourselves feel guilty about stuff. I try not to do it, but it happens anyway. I feel guilty for talking about them as a pack, a group, a mob, instead of the individual people that they truly are. The thing is though, that I don’t really think of them as anything other than individuals. In my head, I know all of their quirks and preferences and traits. I mean, I’m their mother. Of course I do. But because my children are all girls, and so close in age, it’s inevitable that they spend most of their time as a group.
I had twins first. I never knew what it was like to focus all of my attention on just one baby. From the second each child developed even the most basic awareness of herself, there was another person there too, right beside her. A sibling has always been there, sharing her space, her toys, her parents.
Before the twins were born, I had grand plans to make sure to spend one-on-one time with each of them. I figured my husband and I could take turns doing something special with each of them, even if something special was just a trip to the grocery store or the library. Even with the best of intentions though, actually doing that turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. And then, when the twins were only 20 months old, our youngest daughter was born, making “the girls” into an even bigger group, making our lives more full, and making me feel even more guilty about not having enough time to give to each individual child.
I know that part of my worry over this is that I am a person who has always needed alone time to maintain my sanity. I was an only child until I was almost out of Kindergarten, so I had plenty of one-on-one time with my parents as well as plenty of time to myself.
I don’t want to project my experiences or preferences onto my children, but sometimes I think I can see them getting angry and frustrated by the way their siblings just never go away. They are always in each other’s stuff, in each other’s way, in each other’s faces. I get it. Sometimes I get angry and frustrated that people never go away, too.
Yesterday they fought fiercely. There was an angry edge to their voices that made me cringe. I broke up fights. I put people in time outs. Nothing really seemed to make much of a difference, and I felt helpless. The twins are only three and the youngest isn’t quite two, so they’re too young to understand how to separate themselves for a few minutes of solitary playing, and while sometimes I can play with them or help them do a puzzle or a game, the truth is that sometimes I just can’t. Dinner has to be made. Housework has to be done. They have to learn how to play together without my help, but man, it’s hard when they’re screeching at each other in the next room.
I know I am not alone in my concerns. My best friend, who also has twins and another child, worries about it too, but as best friends tend to do, she said something that has stuck with me and helps me to keep things in perspective when I feel guilty. She said, “We’re not doing them a disservice by giving them siblings.”
Wow. She’s so right. I love my sisters. I love that my children have sisters. Having siblings is a good thing. It’s not easy, and it’s often more storm clouds than sunshine, but it’s an important and potentially incredibly rewarding relationship.
So I have to remember to take a deep breath and focus on the good things about having three kids so close in age. When we do get an opportunity to do things with them individually, it’s really special. They love it. But it doesn’t take them long to miss each other and they can’t wait to tell the others all about their experience.
And then there are moments like the one yesterday, when everyone woke up from afternoon nap. The twins couldn’t wait to see the baby, and when they burst into her room, she squealed with delight. They pressed their faces between the bars of her crib and all three of them sang a beautiful, loud, totally out of tune version of “Do Re Mi.” Over and over.
They were happy, they were singing together, and they didn’t need me at all because they had each other. They were the girls. The kids. Them. And they loved it.