What’s it really like…? is a new series on Cardiff Mummy Says looking at the realities of parenting for different types of families. From a home-educating mother of two and a grandmother who looks after her grandson four days a week, to a mum and dad who took shared parental leave and a mother whose child has autism, it’s been fascinating gaining an insight into the highs, the lows and everything in between for different family set-ups.
This week, Cardiff mother Emily Higgins, who blogs at Twin Mummy and Daddy, talks about life as a parent to five-year-old twin girls and being step-mum to three older children aged 21, 19 and 17.
Tell us about your family set-up
I have two children with my husband, Nigel, twin girls who turned five years old at the end of February. My husband also has three children from a previous marriage. They’re 21, 19 and 17. I live in Cardiff with my husband and our twins. Nigel’s eldest daughter and youngest son live five minutes away from us. His middle daughter lives in Southampton as she’s currently in university there. I work two days a week and then spend the rest of week looking after our girls when they’re not in school. When they are in school, I spend most of my days working on my blog.
What’s an average day like for you?
On the days I work, I’m usually up and out of the house by 7.15am. Every other week I work a late shift which means I don’t get home until 7.30pm so the girls are usually in bed by the time I’m home. When I’m not working late, I get home around 5pm which means I can spend some time with our girls before bedtime. We usually read their school books or play games. On the weekend we like to go out. This might just be a trip to the park, shops or the cinema. Every Monday, Nigel’s son will come around for his tea, and he also comes over on a Saturday too. I love watching his bond with our twins. I think we’re so lucky that all of the children get along and adore one another. Their bond is wonderful to watch, and the twins love having an older brother and sisters. Sundays are usually spent at home and my mother-in-law comes round for a family dinner which our girls and I love. I think it’s so important to spend time with family.
What’s it like now your daughters are in full-time school? How do you feel when you look back at the early days?
It was strange at first when the twins started nursery because the house was so quiet. When they started full time, it was even stranger to be at home for the majority of the day without them. I usually put the radio on in the background for a bit of noise! The early days were tough as the girls were born premature and spent some time in hospital, but when we got them home after 27 days, the first six months were a breeze! They slept well and were very calm natured children! As soon as they started teething, things got tough. Sleep went out of the window. Now that our girls are five, they’re definitely easier. School has challenges of its own. The girls are in the same class which I think is nice, but then I also wonder whether they should be split up to help them gain some confidence and independence away from one another. They each have their own friends which I think it important, but then they have the reassurance that their twin is never far away.
Like your daughters, you also have a twin sister. Has this affected your parenting?
Being a twin myself means that I have a pretty good understanding of the twin bond. It really is pretty special. I speak to my own sister every day and I hope that our twins will do the same, that they’ll always be close and be there for one another. I don’t think being a twin myself has affected my parenting. I just think it means I understand the twin bond more than most.
How do you ensure your daughters are able to be individuals and not just “the twins”?
My husband and I have never dressed the girls the same. I don’t understand those who do. They’re individuals and they need to be seen and treated that way. We use this one word, ‘twins’, to describe them both, but in truth they’re single people. The girls are so very different. R loves super heroes and likes to wear jeans, shorts and t-shirts, whereas M is more girly and will wear dresses every day. I don’t think they’d ever let me dress them the same!
What are some of the oddest unsolicited comments you’ve had from strangers, as a mum of twins?
We don’t get so many comments nowadays, but when the girls were babies we’d get the usual ‘double trouble’, ‘buy one get one free’, ‘two for the price of one’ etc! I do remember one particularly rude lady. I was brave and ventured into the city centre on my own for the first time with the girls. They were around seven months old. After feeding them in a cafe, I lay them down in their pushchair and pulled the hoods down hoping that they’d nod off so I could have a wander. After five minutes or so the girls were both asleep. I was in a shop and a lady came over to me. Without even asking or saying a word to me, she lifted the hoods of the pushchair up and stuck her head right in to have a look at the girls. It angered me. I get that some people see twins as a ‘novelty’, but I was a new mum, pretty flustered by the situation and just didn’t know what to say or do. Thankfully, I haven’t had any other experience like this!
What have been your biggest challenges of being a family with twins?
The biggest thing for me is trying to spend an equal amount of time with both of our girls. R can be quite dominant which often means M is left to her own devices as R likes me to sit and draw with her or do an activity with her. M loves to play Barbie dolls, whereas R, isn’t as keen, so sometimes trying to find something to do that they both enjoy can be a challenge too.
And what are the best bits?
Although they argue with one another, they love each other so much. That’s clear to see. When I walk past a room and see them playing nicely with one another, cuddling each other or reading each other stories, it makes my heart melt. Knowing that they have a friend for life is pretty special and unique.
You’re also a step-mum. What have been the biggest challenges?
Oh my goodness me! I became a step mum at 18. I hadn’t had much experience of being around children so for me getting to know them was a challenge. The early days were tough. I didn’t know how to ‘interact’ with them. I didn’t want to step on their mum’s toes, but then I didn’t want to be a mum to them either. I guess I just wanted them to like me. I wanted them to see me as a friend, and obviously as their dad’s girlfriend at the time. We’ve had many ups and downs. We’ve fallen out with one another over the years, but we’re at a place now where my relationship with the three of them is really good. I’ve been to fitness classes with the girls, helped Nigel’s son out with homework and his computer etc. I think the birth of our twins really brought us all together. I never call them half siblings, to me they’re all full siblings regardless of the fact that they have different mums. I love them as though they’re my own.
And what are the best bits?
The upsides of being a step mum is that our twins have siblings who they look up to. I don’t have a big family so I love it when they’re all around and we have a house full.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about parents in your situation?
I think people assume I treat my step kids differently to my own kids, but that’s not the case. I’d do anything for any of them. Yes, the early days were tough and it took a good number of years for a bond to develop between me and them, but I wouldn’t change any of them for anything or anyone in the world. There is an age gap between my husband and I. In the early days, people doubted our relationship would last, but we’ve clearly proven them wrong and showed that age is just a number.
You’ve talked openly on your blog about conceiving your twins through IVF. Why has this been important for you?
When my husband and I were having IVF, I wanted to read about real couples who were going through the same. All I had was leaflets from the IVF clinic. It was important for me to write openly and honestly about our IVF so that others going through the same can read and relate, but it was also important for me so that one day our girls can read about it too, if they want too!
What would you most like people to know about being a mum of twins/a step mum?
Being a step mum is tough, but being a twin mum is tough too. They both come with their own set of challenges, but I think we’re proof that ‘blended’ families can and do work.
Is there anyone or anything that helps make your life easier?
My husband without a doubt. He’s been my rock throughout so many things. I know it’s a cliché, but I would be lost without him.
What advice would you give other parents in your situation?
That being a step mum is so much more than just a label. It’s being a friend, but also about knowing when to take a step back. Sometimes I could tell that Nigel’s children just wanted to be with him, not me, whether that was to confide in him or just to to spend time with him on his own. You need to respect that and not be offended by that.
Are you a parent of twins or a step-parent? Let me know how Emily’s experiences compare to your own either in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or by tweeting me on @cardiffmummy
Catch up with the rest of the rest of the What’s it really like…? series here.