Here's How I Make One-on-One Time for Each of My Triplet Daughters

Jody Gerbig

triplet family
Jody Gerbig

“Mama!” my 3-year-old daughter yells in her sleep at 3 a.m. It is the umpteenth time I’ve heard the word that day -- it's official, my triplet daughters having reached a new level of neediness. The word typically precedes, “Come with me to the potty,” and “Watch this!” Sometimes, one of them says it just to be heard, the word on her lips even in her sleep. Each one wanting a little bit of individual attention.

They are triplets, after all, and being called “The Triplets,” constantly identified as a group, or getting confused for someone else takes its toll. Plus, they are 3 years old -- that weird age when children want to be both autonomous and attached, when they learn of concepts like death, that scare them back into clingy toddlerhood.

I get it -- I myself struggle to find alone, individual time that I crave. My husband and I are seldom together with our kids, passing off the parenting baton on nights and weekends. And we still want -- no need -- to go running, attend social gatherings, join a tennis clinic, get house projects done. Such activity is necessary for our health, our intellectual stimulation, and our sanity. 

So, why should we expect any less from our children? They, too, need to feel like individuals, uniquely important to their parents. And they, too, will find ways to carve out time if the we don’t, waking in the middle of the night for a snuggle, taking extra-long, help-needed potty breaks during dinner, crying endlessly over a nonexistent booboo that requires a trip to the medicine cabinet for a Band-Aid, or falling down in a five-minute tantrum just as I am ushering all the kids to the car for school.

Though ignoring bad behavior is a legitimate means of curbing it, perhaps we should also consider dedicating more quality, focused one-on-one time with our children to reduce tantrums and other attention-seeking behaviors. The key here is quality, meaning that even parents of single children might need to forget the housework, or the work call, or the riveting news in the moments their children seem to be their neediest.

So, how do busy parents find time to dedicate to just one child at a time? Below are seven ways we give our triplets the attention they need to feel secure:

  • 1. Take Just One of Them With Us

    We sometimes take one to the grocery store and leave the other two at home with the other parent. But we don’t simply plop the child in the fun race-cart and go about our shopping. We ask her to help pick out items, let her carry lighter items, like chip bags, to the cart, teach her how to place the items on the belt, and have her push the buttons on the credit card pad. Sometimes, we let her take home a balloon or other treat only she gets. Later, we ask that same child to help cook dinner with the items she chose. She says, “I’m helping,” feeling proud of herself, behaving like an angel, if only for the day.

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  • 2. Take Advantage of Early Mornings

    When one child wakes before the others, I sometimes turn off the news or cartoons, put down my coffee, and sit on the floor with her, putting together a puzzle, or teaching her to write her name. Even five minutes of the focused time before a scheduled and hectic day seems to make a difference in its outcome.

  • 3. Start a rotation 

    We rotate whose room we spend the most time at bedtime. Because we have triplet 3-year-olds in separate rooms, we two parents cannot be everywhere at once. Before bed, we cuddle up together in one child’s room to read books, but when we turn out the lights, my husband I and rotate with whom we cuddle for a bit, giving our 3-year-olds that much-needed security before they fall asleep. The third child spends that night being a big girl and practicing falling asleep on her own, knowing a parent is only feet away. I’ve found that the dark, quiet closeness is great bonding time where we can share a joke or a secret before quieting down for the evening.

  • 4. Make It a Date

    We make special daughter-dates, taking one the entire day for fun activities, like feeding the ducks, going to the playground, going to lunch. Eating as a family is wonderful and beneficial, but eating with one child is lovely, too. It offers quiet and calm to listen to her day and her needs, and it allows a quiet or shy child the safety and space to talk. Some of my triplet-mom friends even celebrate their child’s home day (the day the child came home from the NICU) rather than their shared birthdays, just to give the child a special day. But, any celebration can be individualized, even Halloween, Christmas, or Valentine’s Day, by giving each child her own tradition, like a specific candy on Halloween, or a unique phrase on a Valentine’s card.    

  • 5. Call in Reinforcements

    Sometimes, I let my mother take one child with her to run errands, because one-on-one time can be special with a grandparent, too. When my fussy sleeper was little, my mother took only her overnight, giving her all-night cuddle time and us needed sleep. Sometimes I am too tired to teach my children how to behave in public, or how to complete simple tasks, like putting on their coats, while I’m surviving the chaos. When I give a child to my mother for the day, she often comes back having learned something new, and I find her talking about the special day (going to the dry-cleaners!) months later.

  • 6. Let Their Individuality Shine Through

    While many people don’t have multiples or dress their children alike, they do sometimes unconsciously do not treat them uniquely, labeling or grouping them by age or place, such as “the girls,” the “young kids,” or “the baby.” Though my daughters share clothes and most toys, I don’t dress them the same or require them to share everything. Each has her own haircut, unrhymed name, her own room, special loveys, toys, and clothes she is not required to share. Such distinctions may be givens in families with mixed-aged children, but the sameness happens in other ways, like the youngest always wearing hand-me-downs, or the oldest always expecting to share.

  • 7. Let Them Feel Feelings

    Hoping to curb fighting and booboo whining, I taught my girls that they do not need to have an ouchie or be upset to get a hug from Mom or Dad, modeling for them the exact question they should pose when they need attention. I was surprised when my neediest daughter approached me one day and said, “I need Mommy time,” meaning, “I need on your lap with you touching me.” I dropped the laundry, scooped her up, and snuggled her. After a few minutes, she wiggled free and off she went, a happy, little girl.  

    My children are not perfect. In my hectic day, it is easy for me to forget that each child has distinct needs. But, we try as much as we can to give our daughters their own voices, their own kid time. And, when we do, we find that they appreciate it just as much as I appreciate my mommy time.