Disciplining twins and the battle of wills – a father’s perspective

A guest post by IP.

The long weekend has just come to an end, and I must admit I am looking forward to going back to work. At work I am in charge, I call the shots, I control what is going on, and I enjoy empowering my staff to be their best. When at home, well that level of authority and influence seems to have little or no meaning. My twins don’t seem to understand that daddy is the boss, and the level of influence used at work has little or no effect on 2.5-year-old twins. I have come to understand that your children will not obey and respect you just because by default you are their parent. This is something that I am wrestling with.  Growing up for me was completely different. We respected and almost feared figures of authority. I remember having an overwhelming respect and fear for the police. We were taught that the police took care of bad people, and somehow that involved bad children too.

My memory takes me back to when I threw a tantrum just after moving into my parent’s new home. I was about three. I didn’t want to go to sleep and stamped my fists hard against the wall. I then proceeded to throw myself on the floor and did that well known kicking regime we as parents dread. I also remember my dad coming into the room and swiftly giving me a good hiding. Neither I nor my parents have any recollection of any tantrums thereafter. So why does this not work in my home? I ask.

IMG_2198When it comes to our twins’ personality, one is more pliable and obedient, willing to engage in reason and negotiation, and the other kicks against any form of authority. She is very strong willed, determined to complete what her mind has set out to do and nothing will stop her. This is quite a challenge for any parent when emotion and lack of reason dominates the mind of a 2.5-year-old.

Just this weekend the scene of the battle of wills played out in many ways, which left me feeling rather defeated and threadbare.

For instance, a simple outing to the shops can become a complex web of emotions devoid of any logic. While loading the pair into the car, the stronger willed twin goes ballistic because she is not in the correct seat. I was unaware that there was a seating arrangement in my car! In such cases I am largely detached from my emotions, and I silently whisper my disgruntlement under my breath. Take 2, I calmly, while very irritated, unclip each twin and proceed to put them in their correct seat. The strong-willed twin scuffs her pants on my car rim in the process, soiling her pants. This is proving to be too much, and she does that thing I love to hate by throwing herself on my dirty and dusty garage floor. By now I am really worked up. Back in the house I run, baby wipes in hand to clean dirty clothes and mentally trying to keep cool. The twins are finally buckled up and I am ready to go. The other twin decides she wants her stuffed toy lying behind the driver’s seat from the day before. The other twin is now screaming because that has now suddenly become her stuffed toy and she wants it back. You can picture steam starting to emerge from my ears. I run back inside and get what I believe will be a toy that will calm her down. It works, but now I don’t want to go to the shops anymore. I am beyond angry, and I hate everyone.

On the way to the shop, willful twin decides to climb out of her car seat straps. I bellow for her to put her straps back on. She listens, but three minutes later, the game starts all over again. We finally arrive at the pet shop. We look at the rabbits, we look at the snakes, we look at the birds and we look at the fish. Then, both twins decide to run in different directions and I am left running around a large shop looking for two very fast twin girls. I see one, I run, but this is now a game, and she runs faster. I catch up managing to grab her by the arm and hurl her up to my shoulder line and tell her not to do that again. I now proceed to run with willful twin on my shoulders who is doing her utmost best to do another escape while I am running around frantically looking for twin B. This naturally creates quite a commotion as daddy is running around with a twin that has moved from shoulder to daddy’s ankles while trying to look for her sister. Most patrons stop and stare. Most people say, “Ag shame man, you seem to have your hands full.” Other patrons look at me in disgust looking on very judgingly while I try contain the situation. I finally find twin B. She was hiding under the skinny guinea pig display. Why did I not look there first? I thought.

We proceed to buy cat food, but unfortunately, we had to walk past the dog and cat toys. Willful twin insists I need to buy her a ball. I explain that this is not a ball for children, but for dogs. I can’t explain the amount of whining that proceeded. Now twin B sees a gap and makes another break. Damn it man, and some other words are mumbled as I make another dart to bring order to the situation.

I am now truly convinced it cannot get any worse, when willful twin decides to take her clothes off in the middle of the pet shop with nappy in hand, shouting at the top of her voice, “I need to poo daddy!” What the hell man, I run with a willful naked twin under my arm, willing twin B to follow suite. Cat and bird food dumped as is as I make a run for it. We get to the disabled loo as it seemed most appropriate at the time, while I position willful twin on the toilet. She executes what she told everyone she wanted to do minutes earlier. High fives abound. Twin B sees this as a competition and does not want to be left out. I position her on the toilet. High fives abound. I pick up willful twin to wash her hands. Twin B washes her hands, but willful twin is now super upset because there is no towel to dry her hands. This causes much commotion as she throws herself on the dirty toilet floor. The germaphobe in me is disgusted. Wash hands and repeat….

We leave the pet shop. I proceed to hold both girls’ hands as we cross the car park. Willful twin refuses to hold my hand. I now have one twin holding my hand, another being dragged across the car park as I insist this is for her safety and a balancing act ensues whilst trying to keep my cat and bird food from dislodging from my armpits.

Off to Builders Warehouse. I am now asking what I did not learn from the pet shop experience?! This will be much easier. They have trolleys I say to myself. I can put both in the trolley and push them at pace through the shop’s aisles which will entertain them and minimize damage to all parties. After all, it worked before right!? Out the car, and off to the trolleys we go. Both twins safely loaded into one trolley. Twin B decides that she wants to sit in the trolley seat. Willful twin is now throwing a tantrum in the trolley because she too wants to sit in the seat. She is insisting she has her own trolley. Picture it, two trollies being pushed by one weary dad through Builders Warehouse…I was going to have none of it.

Back home and bed time finally approaches. Mommy and daddy are sensing the anticipation of sitting down with a glass of wine, but not before a struggle through supper trying to keep dirty feet off the chairs and constantly reassuring that one’s bum is meant to be on the chair and not dirty little feet. Twin A tells willful twin that her bum is full of poo. My wife and I laugh. This happens all amid a very important disciplinary lesson, but we cannot contain ourselves any longer and we laugh. The situation is now ruined and a riot starts as one twin starts to chase the other with a piece of meat in hand. This unfortunately leads to a lot of running and chewing at the same time and twin B starts coughing which leads to three strikes of projectile vomit all over the floor, and all over my wife and the clean washing she just brought in from the washing line. Wash and repeat…

The house is in a mess, and smells like vomit. I proceed to clean up while my wife baths the twins. I hear shrieks of laughter while naked bodies dance around the house. Story time and an easy bed time brings on a quiet sense of relief as we strap ourselves into our beds feeling rather weary from a very challenging and comical long weekend.

So where does this leave us? Well, I shamefully admit that my strict disciplinary approach works only 50 percent of the time. It has left me rather confused.

Secondly, two children, same disciplinary approach, two different results. This leads me to a crucial point. Human beings are super complex. One size does not fit all.

Parenting takes work and lots of it. I find myself becoming lazy as I am just so tired of repeating myself. I mean, how many “say thank you” and how many “say please” and “take your feet off the chair” must a parent utter in his children’s lifetime?!

Thirdly, I think one must be constant, and unchanging no matter how gatvol you are. We must follow through.

Lastly, I am encouraged to read an informative book I read some time back called, “The Five Love Languages for Children” by Gary Chapman. The book explains how each person has a different love language and to get the most out of a child, or adult for that matter, one needs to communicate in that person’s love language. I think discipline cannot be a blanket approach. Much understanding and thought needs to go into it.

As parents, we unfortunately do not receive a manual when our children arrive. We are like a deer in the headlights. We lean on our own experiences and upbringing as a point of reference and when that does not work then we become disillusioned. Raising children is complex and our approach to raising well-mannered, well rounded responsible children takes commitment, effort and lots of blood, sweat and tears. I don’t profess to know it all. I write this knowing full well that I have a lot to learn.

Tenaciously I will attempt to do a better job tomorrow, as I venture into the unknown and do it all again.

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Don’t judge a parent until you become a parent

It’s funny how we have all these ideas in our head about how we’re going to parent before we actually become a parent. We look at other parents and how they raise their children and how they act once they become a parent and totally judge them, vowing to not do many of the things we see them doing…only to actually end up doing the exact things when we become a parent ourselves.

judgepicIt’s so easy to look at someone else’s life and judge their actions and words, without really understanding what they’re going through at the time, without truly knowing what they are feeling in that moment, what challenges they are facing or what they may have experienced to get to that particular point. I know I’m guilty of being judgemental quite often, and IP is quick to call me up on it. But we have also been subjected to these judgements along the way.

We recently went to a braai with some old friends and it was so wonderful to catch up with them. It was our old church small group and it was so funny to see how the group dynamics had changed over the past three years from young childless couples and singles to so many children all running around. One of the guys, who had recently become a father, commented to IP and I that him and his wife always used to wonder why we stopped coming to small group and church when the kids were born. He said they just couldn’t understand it, but then they had their own little baby, and finally they understood…and on top of that, after having one baby, they couldn’t imagine how we survived it all with TWO babies at the same time.

It really got me thinking about my own judgements of other people. I too used to think such things of my parent friends and judge them for doing, or not doing, things. But that all changed when I became a parent myself. I don’t think one can ever really be prepared for the life altering adventure of becoming a parent. From your social life to your sex life, your sleep and your sanity – it will never be the same again.

I never really comprehended what becoming a parent was all about. I was so focused on just getting pregnant and having a baby that I didn’t even think about what it meant once the baby was born. I had no idea that being a parent was such hard work. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom now, and the rewards of seeing these two little humans grow and develop, have them call me mommy and have them throw their arms around me, far outweigh all the challenges. But, it has been a hectic two years, for which nothing could have prepared us.

But we would not have it any other way. I’m glad we went through all these struggles, I’m grateful we survived all the challenges. We are stronger people for it, our marriage is stronger for it, and our lives are more enriched for it.

If there is one thing I am slowly realising, and trying desperately not to do, it’s to judge another until I have at least a small understanding of what they are going through.

It’s so important to open the channels of communication with our parent friends (and all friends in general), speak to them, ask them how they are doing.  How they are really doing. When we greet someone we always ask how they are, but it’s normally so superficial – let’s try getting to the deeper stuff, especially with our fellow parent friends; let’s not be afraid to be real with each other. Let’s share our thoughts and feelings together on this parenting journey. We will soon realise that there is so much more beyond the surface and everyone is facing their own battles, if we take the time to care, take the time to step out of our own trenches and walk a mile in someone else’s.

Having twins – a father’s perspective

A guest post by IP on the first year of becoming a twin daddy.

img-20140919-wa004Life before twins was relatively simple. I looked after my immediate needs and when I look back I realise I was largely a selfish person. Why my wife and I even planned date nights before having twin girls is a mystery to me. Why do couples without kids need to diarise time to spend with their spouse anyway?! Weekends spent with my wife were blissful and fun times. We had a blank canvas of opportunity…opportunity to do whatever we wanted when we wanted. There were no long-term consequences to our decisions. Saturday mornings were spent lying in bed until whatever time we pleased, and this was largely dependent on what we did the night before. Saturday afternoons were spent walking around markets, going for a hike, and running in the forest.

Then, our twins arrived. We were blissfully unaware of what lay ahead. They were born at 32 weeks, and spent three and a half weeks in the NICU.

I remember the last night of NICU vividly. We were given a room in the hospital with two beds and two cots and for the first time there were NO nurses to assist us. I was petrified! The side wheels had been removed, and I was leaning very much to one side. That first night consisted of feeds every three hours with a helpless little baby on each parent’s lap. Broken sleep totaling three hours at the most forced me to reassess who I was. I cried. I felt weak and helpless. How was I going to be a parent to twin girls with this amount of sleep, I lamented?! I don’t remember going to work the next morning. All I knew was that I was scared, very scared of what lay ahead.

The days and weeks that followed blurred into a haze of routine. Those three-hour feeding cycles were brutal. I assigned myself to bed and bath time routine, and the early 4am shift before showering and going to work. When I look back now I don’t know how we did it, and how we coped, but we did, by God’s grace.

img-20140927-wa002The human body, however, is adaptable if you beat it hard enough. In the same year I was finishing off a business degree, and I had started a new job which involved a lot of travel. The only way I thought to get through it all was to put each task into a box. Fulfilling each task eventually became a habit and coping mechanism, and I subtly sought pleasure in completing all my tasks.

I had many interests before the twins arrived. Hiking, fishing, camping, making beer, and flying model helicopters took up most of my time. Now my life consisted of milk, vomit, changing nappies and sleepless nights. I yearned to have the option of at least deciding for myself what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it! It was tough. I loved these helpless little beings so much, but nothing had prepared me for this. Nothing had stripped me so bare. I realised I existed only for them; none of my needs mattered anymore.

Then there was my wife, the apple of my eye. I was devoted to her before the kids came. Chaos had erupted in our house and I had battened down the hatches and went into survival mode. All the focus was on the children. We were at their beck and call for every whim and need. They not so subtly reminded us of that during mammoth crying sessions in tandem. Nights were long, and it became easy to think evil thoughts and to act a little strangely at times. Sleep deprivation does that to you.

Weekends were now very different.

My wife was facing her own struggles. Being a mother of twins requires an inner strength and tenacity that no one will understand. My hectic work schedule was also not helping matters. A busy travel schedule coupled with finishing off a business degree and trying to be a parent had me thinking I was contributing towards society, providing for my family, and taking care of the kids needs. In all these “unselfish” acts I had become selfish, driven to complete all the tasks that had taken over my life, yet forgetting the most important person in my life, my wife.

I had realised that I was attempting to take care of everyone else’s needs yet failing her as her husband. This is still a very difficult thing to accept with my driven A type personality that likes to get things done and likes to solve the problems of the world and move on. Woman are not created like that. I felt helpless. I was achieving my goals in all aspects of my life and gaining recognition in my work, yet failing my wife. How could this be?

Weekend chores did not get the response from her that I was expecting. I thought all women are pleased when their husbands do housework! Here I was feeding the kids, spending time with them, cleaning the house and trying to add value to the household, yet my wife was lonely. I had not spent time with her. I had not engaged with her like I did before the children had arrived. She was not the centre anymore. I was distracted with all the chores that had to be completed with having twins that constantly demanded a routine of crying, feeding, pooping, and sleep.

I think most men can relate to the above. We work hard for our families, we do the best we can with what we know, but sometimes it is not good enough. We struggle to focus on many things. I know I certainly did. Our families want us, they want our full attention, they want us to notice them, and they want our time. We as men often fail at this. We are responsible for not just our family’s financial needs, but their physical, emotional and spiritual needs as well. It became too easy for me to fulfill the financial need through my hard work, and long hours away from home, but I had failed to see that they needed me more in the other aspects of their life.

As men, we are to put God first, love our spouses second, and then love our children. I had got it wrong, and it showed. We do our families a disservice when we get the above formula wrong. For one, loving our children over loving our wives is a disaster waiting to happen. Our wives came first, and loving them first will allow our children to grow up in a loving and secure home where everyone benefits.

I know I have a lot to learn, and I still fail, but I am aware that the only way my needs will ever be met is if I unselfishly lay my life down for them. There are moments when I realise I have gotten this simple aspect right, and it is in these moments that I realise that I am the most blessed man alive and wouldn’t want it any other way.