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Ten Tips for Grandparenting Twins and Multiples

Getting Ready for a Multiple Birth

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Shock, delight, apprehension, panic: these are just some of the reactions reported by parents upon learning that they are going to have baby twins or multiples. The grandparents naturally have many of the same reactions, but because grandparents are often champion worriers, apprehension may gain the upper hand. Those who have experienced grandparenting twins or multiples, however, report that, in spite of any difficulties, the experience is one they would not have missed for all the world. Here are ten bits of common-sense advice for grandparents facing an especially grand adventure.

1. Educate yourself.

twins kissing
Photo © Michelle Jones Hardeman
Some grandparents-to-be will enjoy books about the multiple experience; others will prefer using the Internet. A comprehensive website about twins and multiples can be a very valuable resource. Visiting a support group for families of baby twins and multiples is also highly recommended. Remember, however, that dramatic stories get most of the press. Stories of pregnancies and deliveries that are free of major problems are less likely to be written about and talked about than stories of medical and physical challenges. Especially be careful when using the Internet and stick to reputable sites.

2. Be positive and upbeat.

The parents know that they will face some challenges; it doesn’t help anyone to dwell on those possibilities. Show your concern about the progress of the pregnancy, but don’t hover or nag the mother.

3. Be understanding about any loss of life.

Mortality rates are higher for twins and multiples than for single births. Sometimes a fetus in the early stages of development can simply disappear, known as vanishing twin syndrome. Twins and multiples face a higher risk of death in the early months of life as well. Parents will mourn any child lost, even if other children survive. Don’t downplay their loss. Your own grief may take you by surprise. Get counseling or go to a support group if you need to.

4. Be prepared to help out.

Grandparents who are still working may want to arrange some time off. Although birthdates for twins are notoriously hard to predict, help from grandparents will probably be most welcome in the weeks before the birth as well as after the birth. There’s also a possibility that your daughter or daughter-in-law will be put on bed rest at some time during the pregnancy. At that point, there will be many ways that grandparents can help.

5. Don't worry about telling them apart.

Most twins are fraternal and so probably won’t look that much alike. Fraternal twins are no more likely to look alike than other siblings. One third of twins are monozygotic or identical twins, but monozygotic twins can have significant differences. If you do end up as the grandparent of monozygotic twins, you will learn to tell them apart. Look for identifying marks such as a mole. Avoid using comparative identifiers, such as one twin's eyes being darker, because these work only when the twins are together.

6. Accept that the parents may want to emphasize individuality.

Many grandparents grew up in an era when twins were practically required to dress alike and were usually given similar names. Today many parents of twins and multiples have different ideas. They may have given the children dissimilar names and they may not plan to dress them the same. Ask the parents before buying identical clothing or toys.

7. Get to know them as individuals.

If you live nearby, start when the babies are small to take them one at a time on outings. You might want to bring them one at a time to stay overnight. This practice will be easier on you than taking both or all of the children, with the extra bonus that the parents get some one-on-one time with the child or children left behind. Notice the ways that each child is special but try not to make comparisons.

8. Don't slight other siblings.

If your twins or multiples have other siblings, be sure to give them an extra measure of attention. Twins and multiples get so much attention from everyone from family members to strangers that it’s difficult for siblings not to feel overlooked. Little gifts, special outings, overnight visits and one-on-one time with grandma or grandpa will reinforce the message that all your grandchildren are special.

9. Know about special safety risks.

As twins and multiples grow, you will find that caring for them presents special challenges. Twins and multiples are often very close and work as a team, which enables them to do tasks that one child perhaps could not, such as pushing kitchen chairs to gain access to cabinets and shelves. And when one child has a need that must be taken care of, the others quickly learn to take advantage of the temporary lack of supervision to do something forbidden.

10. Remember that times have changed.

We no longer believe that there is a good twin and a bad twin, or a leader and a follower. And we now know that the order in which the babies left the womb isn't significant. Another idea that has changed is twins should be separated in school. Many authorities now believe that twins may be better off in the same classrooms, at least until they have achieved a measure of independence.

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