My Double Challenge: Raising Twins In A Foreign Land
Raising twins can be double the joy but also double the challenge. The demands of caring for two babies can catch any parent off guard. So, here is my story on how I raised twins far away from home!
By Dr Lakshmi Joshi
On a wonderful spring morning in 2012, my husband and I landed in Toronto, Canada, as part of our relocation from India. We landed with our thirteen-month-old fraternal twins, nine pieces of luggage and a twin stroller. After an exhausting 18-hour journey, with playful toddler twins who crawled and explored every nook and corner on the flight – I was almost on the verge of tears. The thought of a new life ahead in a new country with an entirely different weather pattern and lifestyle, just seemed so overwhelming. The task of raising twins all by myself seemed insurmountable to me at that time. I knew it would not be an easy ride.
The parenting journey begins…
“Fears are nothing more than a state of the mind.” - Napoleon Hill, American writer
Here, first, I will agree to the fact that most problems in life are in the mind first. Things may not be as difficult as we imagine them to be. Although I decided not to work during the first few years, I cannot deny the fact that I still needed the support of my husband in everything that we did around the house or with regards to our children. Taking care of twins require double the effort and energy as compared to raising a single child. Also, in a place where the availability of domestic help was next to impossible, it was important to keep ourselves stress-free. Hence, we decided to make small lifestyle changes keeping the twins as priority and at the same time, keeping ourselves happy.
The early years
We moved to a two-bedroom apartment in an area with a hospital and walk-in clinic just across the street. Those were the days when I did not have a license to drive. So, while my husband was away at work during the day, I wanted to have a health centre close by and easy to access, in case of emergencies. In those early years, we were particular that our twins ate healthy, home-cooked food. Hence, we put in place simple, practical measures — sterilising their utensils, giving them home-cooked nutritious food, and choosing fruits and water, over packaged or processed foods and drinks.
Stick to a fixed mealtime
Keep in mind that when it comes to children, it is incorrect to think that the more a child eats, the healthier the child will become. Hence, I have always avoided feeding the twins unnecessarily. I have stuck to mealtimes and not allowed them to snack through the day. And so far, it has been working well for me.
Also, to build their immunity, we made sure our children were exposed to the natural environment as much as possible. The fact that Canada is blessed with astounding natural beauty means that going outdoors is always an exciting experience, both for ourselves and our twins.
Make your home safe for your child
Food is an integral part of raising children, but how you manage your living space is equally important too. After all, toddlers spend a lot of time at home. And when they are in the exploratory stage, they are bound to go everywhere, climb everything! Hence, it is vital to ensure your home is child-safe. I realised it is better to have a minimalist and organised home with sparse furniture. My husband and I also decided that we will only have basic furniture and not clutter up our home with expensive items.
Use toys effectively with children
So, our living room had just two couches, lots of carpet area and a screen. We had toys stored in multicoloured totes. I made sure to give the twins different totes on different days. I did so on the advice of an early childhood educator. Ever noticed that children seem to get bored with the same toy every day? Finding an old lost toy makes them excited and happy. So, I did the same and, introduced them to age-appropriate toys. For instance, our twins loved mega building blocks, wooden puzzles and the like. I initially avoided stuffed toys but made an exception for their bedtime cuddly teddy bear. After all, stuffed toys are difficult to maintain from a hygiene and cleanliness perspective.
Here are some other practical ways I made my home child-safe:
- Avoiding sharp-edged or heavy items of furniture a child can easily topple over
- Capping/covering all open electrical sockets
- Placing covers on all furniture edges
- Ensuring shelves (whether in the kitchen or the washroom) are always above the reach of small children
- Ensuring the commode (toilet seat) is always kept closed or covered
- Putting child guards in place outside the washroom, staircase, laundry room and even, kitchen
- Putting non-slip, dust-free carpets as extra insulation in an extremely cold country like Canada
- Never placing beds (or other pieces of furniture), near windows to prevent our curious toddlers from climbing on them
- Never leaving tools (screwdrivers, nails, hammers, so on) lying around
- Always ensuring that our balcony door is kept closed and the space empty of furniture
By doing all this, my husband and I ensured our twins stayed safe and injury-free. But yes, our active twins definitely kept us on our toes! Of course, despite all our precautions, there were times when the twins fell ill or caught seasonal infections. We even had to undertake an emergency hospital visit when my little girl put a chickpea into her nostril by accident! Like any child-related accident, it happened in the wink of an eye! I also remember how helpless I felt when my boy ran into an elevator alone. And again, when my daughter, despite the restraining straps, managed to free herself from her stroller while we were in a departmental store! When you are with a child, these type of accidents can occur, no matter how careful you are.
Thankfully, these stressful situations passed and turned out to be learning experiences for us. So, don’t worry too much about such ‘oops’ moments. Instead, just ensure you don’t repeat those mistakes.
How I organised our days
Through the day I had to manage my twin toddlers on my own. Hence, I had to be really organised in everything I did. This was crucial and necessary, so that I could give my children the attention and care they needed. So, every day, I would wake up a little earlier and finish cleaning or vacuuming the living room space – as this was where our family spent the maximum amount of time. Then, I would prepare simple meals so that I did not spend too much time in the kitchen while the twins were active. At that time, I would sit on a couch in the living room supervising them and catching up on my reading. I also tried not to use the cell phone except for emergency calls – I have realised that being on the phone can prove to be a great distraction. Plus, with toddlers, constant adult supervision is a must as they can injure themselves, any given second. And I had twin toddlers to keep an eye on!
Over the weekends, my husband and I consciously avoided late-night parties, sleepovers and excessive socialising. Instead, we believed in quality ‘me time’. So we focused on getting more sleep, going for walks, watching a favourite movie, pursuing hobbies, going for a healthy massage and occasionally, having good friends over.
Activities to do together
Also, there were (and still are) activities that we do together. It has helped us bond better as a couple and given us precious moments with our little ones. I am listing them below:
Healthy bath and bed routine: My husband and I used to give the twins a bubble bath and a scrub down at least three times a week; as also, a regular quick bath to keep them clean and happy. On the advice of a family doctor, I have made my children sleep independently from the time they were infants. I used to worry that if I had one twin with me, the other would feel ignored or left out. Hence, making them sleep on their own made sense. So, their daily night-time routine is like this: bath time, light music played with dim lights on or, a story session and then, the twins go to sleep, with their favourite cuddly teddy bear right beside them.
Outdoor play: Children love outdoors. And my twins are no exception. When they were smaller, we would go outdoors almost every other day, except on days that had weather alerts. The twins loved this time and would spend hours playing with sand and water on the beaches of Lake Ontario. Sometimes, we packed simple home cooked dinners and ate outdoors. We are lucky in the sense that Canada has lots of safe, child-friendly outdoor spaces. Also, we were lucky to have lived close to the shores of Lake Ontario.
Grocery shopping and more: My husband and I always plan (and still do) our shopping (for the house) together. And the twins too love coming along while we buy groceries, do our other shopping, run errands, so on. We do all this as a family as it is very exciting for the twins. For instance, at supermarkets, they love seeing different-coloured fruits and vegetables and other foods on display. Going to places like this helps my children relate to what they read in school.
The growing-up years
“Let us leave the life free to develop within the limits of the good, and let us observe this inner life developing...” Maria Montessori
Now, our twins are in a Montessori school and I work part-time. Today, we are still an outdoorsy family. Going by the western system of education which emphasises on free play, my husband and I never force them to study. At the same time, we have made bedtime reading a habit. We also try to inculcate positive discipline through their routine. We restrict screen time. We also believe that with twins, it is important to encourage their individuality to express and grow. So, though they share a room, we have made sure they have their own individual corners. For instance, there are cork boards on the wall where they can paste things they like.
On our parenting journey
So far, our parenting journey has been a joy-filled one. Our circumstances are such that we never had the luxury of additional help, but I would say this has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In fact, I believe ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’. We feel doubly blessed to have our twins. After all, children behave the way elders teach them to behave. Honestly, sometimes when I see elders fussing over a child, I feel like saying: ‘Hold on folks! It is not the child; it is you fussing, and it is absolutely your problem!’
Here I would like to mention two books gifted to me by friends which have proved extremely helpful as references:
- The Early Childhood Years: The 2-to 6-year-old by Theresa and Frank Caplan (The Princeton Centre for Infancy and Early Childhood)
- Having Twins by Elizabeth Noble
So, celebrate your children, encourage their individuality and more importantly, enjoy being with them. After all, parenting is all about spending quality time with your children as they grow. Happy parenting!
About the author:
Written by Dr Lakshmi Joshi on 28 August 2019.
Dr Joshi is a guest contributor based out of Toronto, Canada.
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