What Nobody Told Me about Having Children

Even before I had children, I considered myself clued up. I’d looked after plenty of kids as a family doctor, though my education actually began in my teen years. As a fifteen-year old, I used to baby-sit a feisty brood of five living round the corner from me. Four of the children moved so fast that I could barely tell them apart, let alone stop them wrecking their home. The baby, less mobile, needed constant nappy changes, which was a challenge as he was in a ‘frog plaster’ for developmental dysplasia of the hip

The scales fell from my eyes, however, when my own kids arrived. Here’s what I learned from having my three sons.

1 Everyone has an opinion on raising children, especially those who never had any. The fewer children someone has, the more insistently they share their wisdom. Experienced parents rarely dish out advice because they know that not all kids are the same.

2 Yep, all children are different. Before you ask:  yes, even identical twins. My own twin boys had different personalities from day one. After all, why should they be exactly alike? The environment begins in the womb, and there are always differences in the closeness to the mother’s heartbeat, to her dominant hand, even in the amount of blood flow from the placenta, to name just a few factors.

alarm clock

3 Babies need a lot less sleep than their parents. They don’t have to go to work. They can just loll about all day looking cute and innocent, and save their strength for another fun night ahead. Had I fully appreciated this, I might have stayed on maternity leave longer rather than dragging my befuddled brain (plus a breast pump) to work.

4 The best toys engage the child’s ingenuity, not the toy designer’s.  That’s why empty boxes, old saucepans, wrapping paper, and key rings make great playthings. By the way, if you’re still looking for your keys, try checking inside your boots, behind the radiator, in the toilet, and out through the cat-flap. Or keep a spare set somewhere.

key ring

5 The longer you take to prepare a meal, the less likely your child is to eat it. Strangely, letting a child make his own sandwich does not put him off wolfing it down, even if it contains the most outlandish food combo and looks nothing like a sandwich.

6 Shopping and mayhem go hand in hand. Before supermarkets provided trolleys for more than one child, I’d have to push one trolley and pull another one. This was the moment when I’d be accosted by a patient who wanted to chat over the baked goods about her test results, or even show me her painful knee. On the plus side, my kids rarely had tantrums while out shopping. Instead, they amused themselves by pulling toothbrushes off the shelves and stuffing them down the front of their dungarees.

twins at the soft drinks dispenser

7 Children have an infinite capacity for embarrassing their parents. At a neighbour’s house one morning, I was offered coffee, only for one of my sons to pipe up, “Mummy likes gin and tonic.”  Another memorable event was a job interview, the kind where you’re invited to bring your entire family (GP interviews can be like that). One of my little lads promptly removed his shoes and socks, gleefully shouting “Sock, sock!” The snag was that, at the time, he pronounced every S as an F.

8 Being a doctor helps you cope with children’s illnesses, but doesn’t make you superhuman. One of the low points was the Christmas when both twins, aged eight weeks, had bronchiolitis. Their older brother didn’t get much attention that year.  Another low was a convulsion which landed one of the boys in hospital at the age of eighteen months. The little lad was fine in the end, but my husband drove into a bollard on our way to A & E.  

9 The biggest lesson? You have to put your child first, before yourself, before anyone else. But that’s perfectly OK, because, until your own baby come along, you have no idea how intensely you can love a little person.

FreeImages.com/Helmut Gevert

If you’d like to help a new parent cope when their child is seriously ill, please take a look at Lucy Air Ambulance for Children’s Mum Matters campaign. This great initiative comes just in time for Mother’s Day.

You can find out more about Lucy Air Ambulance for Children right here

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What Do You Want to Know about Twins?

Everyone’s interested in twins, especially now that Beyoncé and Amal Clooney are each expecting a double bundle of joy.

Twins fascinate me too. Here’s a clue.

twins at the soft drinks dispenser

Sensibly, parents-to-be who read my book Twins and Multiple Births, or who join TAMBA, want to find out what’s in store for them. But other people only seem to care about secret languages, ESP, and other freaky twins stuff. Like this.

“Fun fact 1”: twins reared apart may have habits in common, like nail-biting or drinking the same brand of beer.

“Fun fact 2”: some twins have sexual relationships with the same person.

But are the similarities in behaviour and thinking really that extraordinary? It could just be chance.

Take twins who independently come back from the shops with the same coat, for instance. If a coat is widely available in a store like Marks & Spencer, nobody, twin or not, would have to go far to find someone else wearing exactly the same thing. Add in the fact that identical twins are the same age, and usually similar in colouring and general appearance, and bingo! No wonder they find the same garment suits them.

twins in school uniform

Sometimes twins are so close that, even as adults, they finish each other’s sentences, must work in the same office, and are incapable of truly independent living.

I always encourage new parents to raise their twins as individuals. That’s best route to healthy development in so many areas, including speech, behaviour, and social skills.

singleton-photo-august-1989

My wishes for parents of twins (and those like grandparents or others who help care for them) include these tips.  

1 Learn to relate to each as an individual from early on. That means being able to tell them apart easily, and using their names instead of lazy shorthand like ‘Twinny’ or ‘Pinky and Perky’.

2 Cherish each child for what she is. You won’t necessarily raise two Nobel prize-winners.

3 Avoid comparisons. One of them is not ‘the good one’ just because he sleeps through the night first.

4 Recognize that fair treatment doesn’t mean equal treatment. You’d be surprised how many people think twins must have identical birthday cards or presents, even though it ruins half the fun.

5 Make time to enjoy your children. Sure, there are twice the number of chores, and work beckons too. But, before you know it, they’ve grown up.

How do you make time when you have twins or more? I may cover this in a forthcoming blog post. If I can fit it in, that is.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Twins-Multiple-Births-Essential-Parenting-ebook/dp/B004WOE6VY

If you’re expecting twins or more, you really should join TAMBA. It’s the only UK charity dedicated to improving the lives of families with multiples.. Click here to find out more.

The only child is forever

Corfe Castle 3One child is the ideal number, says writer Lauren Sandler.  In her book The One and Only (and in quotes all over the media) she reckons having more than one child gets in the way of success, especially for women writers.

Why?  Kids don’t necessarily stifle creativity.  But I agree that they eat time.  My three children, all born within two and half years, needed constant attention.   To carve out time for writing, I’d put the twins in the car and drive around till they dozed off.  It was a lesson in churning out copy quickly.

Today, interruptions still come thick and fast.  My elderly mother just asked me for the third time whether she took her painkillers.  And she’s uncertain of the dose: ‘It says one twice daily on the box. How many should I take?’  She dithers about what to wear and what to eat, and she’s increasingly impatient, but most of all she forgets.  She can’t even remember that I’m getting married.

I loved it when I read to my kids, when they built tepees from fallen branches, or when they just laughed. They kept me on my toes, like the day one of them trapped his twin’s head in a bucket.  One morning, another son made off with his big brother’s school tie.  How was I to guess he’d shoved it out through the cat flap?

Now it’s my mother’s things I search for, her lunch I prepare, her hair I cut, her bandages I change.   She checks with me whether she had a shower this morning, but she doesn’t hear my answer.  When I repeat it louder, she accuses me of shouting.   It’s tough looking after elderly parents, and I’m not as young as I was either.  But there’s nobody to share it with.

My eldest son wanted siblings, and here was one clue: as a toddler he’d hide his friends’ shoes when they came to play so they couldn’t go home.

I too longed for brothers and sisters, but I never got them.  It was no fun playing board games against myself, though at least I always won.  I look back on my childhood as a lonely time, but it’s a lot worse now.  You never grow out of being an only child.

Back to the ideal number of children.  What do you think it is?