I am thankful for my husband's job. He is home often, but in that same thought I can also say that he's gone a lot, too. As a fireman here in Texas, Jordan works a 24 hour shift every third day. When the girls were born, we were extremely blessed to have the ability to do this 'twin parenting' thing together for three whole weeks before Jordan's first shift back at the fire station. I was to be home by myself to feed, bathe, and keep alive not just one, but two babies. I was in slight panic mode once the fog of sleepless nights cleared a little and I realized I only had a short time to figure out what it was that I needed to do to be successful as a temporary solo parent.
The Early Months
For the first couple of months when the girls were waking through the night to eat, we would do the feedings together - Jordan would bottle feed and I would nurse. We got it down to a groggy science and eventually could feed, burp, change, and put to sleep both babies in just under 45 minutes. It was around week 2 when I told Jordan that I needed to practice, with his support, feeding the girls during the day and in through the night by myself.
It is terribly intimidating when you have two hungry babies whaling at the top of their lungs demanding to eat, so I learned to read those very early hunger cues (I learned about these in a breast-feeding class I took in preparation prior to the girls being born) and would prepare to feed them before they got to that point. When it was time to nurse, and Jordan was around, I would always volunteer him to hand me a baby, burp a baby, or change a baby, while I dealt with the other. For the days when I didn't have the luxury of a second set of hands, the feeding process went a little differently. I tandem fed my girls until they were 8 months old and during feeding sessions I sat in such a way that I was able to have plenty of space around me to safely lay a baby off of the nursing pillow while I was latching or burping the second baby. Usually this was on my bed in the bedroom. Plenty of space for me to spread out if I needed to. I would often practice doing this process while Jordan was home just in case I needed him so that when it was time to do it alone for real, I was much more confident in myself because I had practiced. Of course it takes time to get into a groove with your littles, but being alone at night as well as during the day several times during the week put me into a regular routine in no time.
I had the girls on a pretty tight schedule every 3 hours, and they grew to expect to eat at that time. Of course at night I wouldn't have that ability of watching and waiting for the hunger cues, but thankfully it was usually just one baby that woke, and I would wake the other to feed them together. Keeping them on the same schedule is key- if not, you'll be feeding babies all day (and night) long - getting little to none done otherwise.
Meredith wrote an awesome post about scheduling in the early months HERE.
For the first several months we would give the girls a bath just a couple days a week. I say we, but it was really just me that bathed them. Most of the time I would plan bath time around the days I was alone, simply to fill our time outside of sleeping, eating, and pooping. Mixing it up a little made the day go by a faster. The sooner we made it through that 24 hours, the sooner I wouldn't be solo any longer!
I would bathe just one at a time, wishing I had about 7 arms to hold and "scrub" the teeny and wiggly little thing with some confidence. I would bring one bouncy seat into the bathroom with me, along with everything I needed to lotion, diaper, and dress them the moment pulled them out of the bath. The bouncy seat was a comfortable place for me to keep a safe eye on a baby, while I bathed the other. I can honestly say that bath time done this way was always a success, but as a disclaimer, my littles loved the bouncy seats. Bottom line for successfully doing bath time solo at this age is to find a way for the baby that is waiting his/her turn to be content for all of 10 minutes while you are focused on bathing the other.
After bath the girls would take a long snooze, giving me time to get re-organized and clean up the post-bath 'mess'.
Older Babies and Toddlers
Now that Parker and Jolie are a little older my days solo are much easier than any other time in their short life. Scheduling is still very important - My kids thrive best on a schedule. I have found that if they know what to expect (to some extent) our day is a little easier. A schedule at 17 months and a schedule at 3 months are two completely different animals, and if you ask me, we flex our scheduling at this age more than ever before, but still stick to it for the most part. Meals, playtime and activities, bath time, nap and bed time are generally around the same time of day.
The biggest piece of advice I can give for playing the parent of a toddler(s) is to be prepared. A huge struggle at this age is communication. Yelling and screaming can mean a multitude of things. "Ouch, sister bit me!", "Sister took my puppy!", "I'm thirsty!", "I'm tired!", "I'm hungry!", "HOLD ME!" The latter is the most common with my children, but I've become stressed out trying to read their mind and find a solution to what it is that my babies want. What I can do is be prepared and attempt to anticipate their needs.
For most days, and especially on the days when Jordan is at the fire station, I am prepared for meals and snacks. Having an idea of what I plan to feed them helps offset the meltdown of "I'm hungry right this very moment." Doing those meltdowns alone is tough! Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks are all given around the same time - and I usually know exactly what I'm going to offer. On that same note, I am also prepared to offer something else if they are completely offended by whatever I've given them. That happens often in my house, and while I'm not a short order cook, I do encourage eating a variety of foods, and sometimes they aren't going to like new things. Rather than letting them go hungry, I have a back up ready for them to enjoy and be satisfied with.
Giving two babies a bath at the same time is a cake walk compared to what we had to deal with in the early months. Can you imagine what doing one at a time would be like with a banshee baby running wild and free amongst your house? I'm giggling at the thought. It would either be that scenario, or one of me fighting a baby out of climbing into the tub.. or the toilet.
Bath time for us is the same whether dad is home or not. If dad is home he is usually on stand by (as with most things) to jump in if things get crazy. Suds and scrub is first and foremost, and then a little playtime with the bath toys, and finally we brush our teeth. I like to do this in the confinement of the bath tub- always a success to come out with clean teeth.
The main difference in bath time solo is the prep (again with the preparation). Jordan always helps to get them into their PJs, but if I'm alone I have to do this activity twice. Before bath I lay out PJs, lotion, hairbrush, and diapers- so when we three come barreling into the nursery after bath time, I'm ready to go with the short attention span and anticipated fight to come out of one or both of them over getting dressed.
As I wrote this post I realized how long and how often I have done the "twin parenting" thing by myself. I am thankful I had the time in the beginning to get prepared for my time alone with practice, and with practice came the confidence in myself as a mother, and as a solo parent. What seems terribly intimidating can come easy with time and the right resources for help.
Any tips and tricks for being a temporary twin parent?