Lots of Freedom, Within Clear Limits
"I can tell you now if we had been trying to figure out some of these boundaries on the fly, given how tired and under pressure we were, things would have been way more stressful and much less calm and clear for the twins!"
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1. We believed consistent routine and clear limits would lead to happier babies, as they would get familiar with what was coming and know what was expected of them.
2. Defining and agreeing limits up-front was super helpful to avoid disagreements as parents and not having to make (probably bad) decisions on the fly.
3. Sticking to routine was also super important with twins, a lack of routine would put them out of synch with each other. Once they were out of synch it became much more difficult to keep anyone happy.
4. In general though, our philosophy, especially overlaid with the Montessori “follow the child” mindset, was to give the twins as much freedom as possible. This was, counterintuitively, easier once the few limits we had were clearly defined.
5. Having a strict routine and limits in a few areas, combined with a lot of freedom elsewhere seemed confusing for friends and family. We probably should have made it clearer what was what so that they understood where the boundaries lay.
(TG = Twin Girl, TB = Twin Boy)
One of the key principles of Respectful Parenting is that children respond well to clear and consistent limits. It helps them have confidence that you are in control, and that they are safe and know what is expected of them. The theory is that this actually keeps the child happier and reduces tantrums as these are often a response to testing boundaries, or lack of clarity as to what the boundaries are.
This meant that despite the fact we had only a few “rules” (e.g. "don't harm yourself or others", and the latest, "don't climb on the dinner table"!), we were super consistent about enforcing them and sticking to our (albeit ever changing to match their development!) routine so the twins were clear where the boundaries were.
In general though, our philosophy, especially overlaid with the Montessori “follow the child” mindset, was to give the twins as much freedom as possible. One question we found helpful to ask was “what is the negative consequence of them doing this…” if there isn’t really one, then why not let them do it if it is something that they have chosen?
I certainly found when I asked myself this question about a lot of things, once I had put my often overprotective emotional (or OCD tidier!) reaction aside, there was often really no meaningful negative consequence to what they were doing and I needed to back off! A good example is a phase that they both seemed to go through of occasionally getting out of their floor bed at night and sleeping on the floor in their sleep sack. Of course this feels like something that you want to intervene in and get them back in their comfy beds, but when you ask yourself “what is the negative consequence of this…” there really isn't a particularly compelling answer other than “I would prefer them to be in bed”. Looking at it from their perspective, they are perfectly capable of getting in and out of bed, and choosing where they want to sleep, the carpet is safe, so why deny them the option? (our carpets are actually super soft and comfy, so I kind of get it..🤣) Practically we also know from experience that if we were to go in and move them, there is a good chance that one or both of the babies wake up and we end up with tired and ratty people the next day!
What went well?
Defining and agreeing as a couple what the limits were up front (wherever possible) was massively helpful. We had way more confidence about what we were doing, rarely had any tension as a couple as to how we were doing things, could communicate consistently with the twins, and could also assess more easily how well things were working and course correct if needed. I can tell you now if we had been trying to figure out some of these boundaries on the fly, given how tired and under pressure we were, things would have been way more stressful and much less calm and clear for the twins!
With limits clearly defined, counterintuitively, giving them freedom soon became second nature as we were so clear on the boundaries, everything else became chill! Once we had created a safe environment for them and I had seen how happy and competent they were, the biggest challenge was not worrying about what they were doing and then putting my hands in my pockets and letting them explore!
What was hard and what would we do differently?
I think the combination of consistently enforced limits, with a large degree of freedom elsewhere has been confusing for some, who see a fairly militant side to us as parents where we are enforcing limits and managing the routine, and then feel confused when we are totally laid back about other things! I think this was probably exacerbated as with twins we had to be super mindful about the routine, as if they got out of synch, we found things got very tough very quickly as what works for one doesn’t work for the other which leads to frustration central! We did our best to explain this, but I suspect we needed to make the above philosophy a bit clearer to those we saw regularly as they perhaps thought we were flip flopping all over the place!