Long before we actually had children, Jacque and I decided that as long as funds and resources permitted, we wanted a large family. The fact that we were both Psych majors meant that in our alone time we discussed various philosophical approaches to parenting. The one central theme that kept coming up was independence.
A child’s ability to make discerning decisions on her own is priceless. So we were not going to stop simply because there wasn’t an instruction manual for raising independent children. We came up with our own roadmap of ideas and knew we could always adjust when the time came.
Self-soothing was the first independent skill that our twins, and later baby V, acquired. Allowing our children to learn how to calm themselves down has been a game changer. It involved giving our children different coping skills to utilize while they were upset: pacifier, swaddler, Shusher, ocean waves, and as they got older, blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals. We’d set a 5 minute timer to give the girls an opportunity to try and figure it out, and then we’d go in and make sure they had a tool to help calm themselves down.
I am definitely over-simplifying the method, as I mostly followed Jacque’s instructions, but the results have been phenomenal. Our children were able to sleep through the night early on, followed by them falling asleep by themselves later. With twins, we had to keep the rocking-babies-to-sleep-stage to a minimum lol.
The next phase in independence training was self-determination. We wanted to allow our girls to be individuals, which can be especially difficult for twins. As soon as L and R started picking their own outfits out, we encouraged it. At times we deal with questions as to why L is dressed so intricately, while R just donned a flower dress, our response is always that we want our girls to be who they are. If they want to be twinny, they can be twinny. If they want to be complete opposites. That’s cool too. The only time we step in is if weather dictates a little more or a little less clothing. Even then, we still provide options.
There are also other differences that come up that Jacque and I try to honor as much as we can. A preference for different toys, books, foods etc. When we can, we accommodate to foster a sense of independence. This does not mean our kids have complete free reign. We are busy human beings who try to create space for some age appropriate free will, but we have limits too. And it’s important for the girls to know they don’t get everything they want, when they want it.
As the girls have grown, they have encountered their latest stage of independence training: self-rescue. Very often a child will get herself into a situation where she is unsure about how to resolve it. For instance, the girls perpetually climb into the playpen full of toys and then whine that they can’t get out. Our motto is “you got yourself into it, now get yourself out.” It may seem like tough love, but the girls have become more discerning before engaging in new activities. And we’re not heartless. We will show the girls how to get out of sticky situations, but we won’t actually do it for them. We believe it sets an important example as they get older that we will not fix all of their problems, and they are responsible for their actions.
Fostering a sense of independence when it comes to our girls’ emotions, identity, and actions has been a journey, and it continues to change. New challenges arise, but we tackle them one at time, coming out stronger as a family.