We’ve all been there. You are in the grocery store, minding your own business and suddenly you see a mother with two or three (heck, these days maybe even four) children around the same age following her around. Now for some of you, the more seasoned people watchers, spotting a mom of multiples is no big deal. But there are others of you, you know who you are, who just can’t look away. Suddenly, you’re entranced by this family and cannot help but stare at them as they move about the store. Sometimes it’s because the children are dressed alike, other times it’s because the children are causing mayhem throughout the aisles. Whatever the reason, they’ve got you under a spell and you are not quite sure what to say to this mom or if you should just remain a quiet bystander.
As a mother of multiples, I’m gonna help you out. I’ll provide a few topics that maybe you could role play with a friend so that the next time this happens to you, you won’t be so bewildered. It might seem that the mother is so caught up with keeping her children from pouring milk jugs on the floor to notice you, but like all moms, mothers of multiples can in fact see you watching them. They see that smile on your face, or that look of disgust, whatever the case may be. Most likely they won’t say anything to you if they catch you looking at them. Believe it or not, it’s even more awkward for the mother of multiples to start the conversation. There isn’t much she can say.
“Don’t you just love how I dressed my twins alike today?”
“I bet you didn’t even realize they were triplets, did you?”
So the onus is on you, the spectator, to speak up. You don’t have to. You can remain silent, but can I offer one suggestion? If you decide to keep quiet, go ahead and just go on about your business. As I said before, the mom has probably noticed you. It’s best to just move on.
But if you just can’t stand it, if the suspense is just killing you as to whether the kids are just three kids close in age or in fact triplets, here are some tips.
“Are they twins (or triplets or whatever the case maybe)?” this is a great opener. It’s quick and to the point. It’s a great way to gauge how social the mom wants to be. She’ll most likely answer something like “yes” or if they are not, she’ll answer “No, actually they are 13 months apart.”
Don’t be embarrassed if you guess wrong. Chances are, you are not the first to ask. This question will not come as a shock to her at all. Listen carefully to the tone in which they answer. Some moms might just be having a rough day. Don’t take it personal. Personally, I’ll talk to anyone who talks to me. I spend most of the day talking with preschoolers so any adult interaction is a great relief. I can’t speak for all moms though.
Now that you’ve broken the ice, I’d like to suggest your next phrase be a compliment. Comments like “You handle it so well” or “you look so refreshed and put together. I only had one kid and I never looked as great as you” serve as a gentle boost in self-esteem for these moms.
Other phrases like “I don’t know how you do it” or “You must have your hands full” are okay but a little obvious. Of course she has her hands full. And lets be honest, she doesn’t really have a choice in whether or not to do it or not.
Here are some tips on what not to say. Don’t tell the mom about the twins that your cousin’s neighbor had. As moms of multiples, we’ve heard all the stories. The one exception is if you have twins in your immediate family. If you are a twin, or have twin siblings, feel free to speak up. (It goes without saying that if you have twins yourself you can say something, but chances are if you are fellow parent of multiples, you will not be at a loss of words when you encounter other parents of multiples so I really don’t feel I need to address this at all)
Also, I’m just going to say it. We know what you are really asking when you say “Do twins run in your family?” or “Were they a surprise?” We know you are just trying to get at whether these twins were a result of fertility treatments or not. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe your question is innocent in its intentions. But keep in mind, we get asked this question over and over again. We’ve had people butcher it. We’ve heard “Are they natural?” and “Did you use any help?” I’m just going to say it. It’s doesn’t matter. When you walk around with your singleton (that’s what us parents of multiples call children who are not multiples) no one feels the urge to ask you about your fertility issues. Does it really matter that much more with multiples?
One more thing you need to know. I’m not going to go into great detail on this one but here is a quick lesson on identical vs. fraternal twins.
If the twins are boy/girl, they are fraternal. 100% of the time. There is absolutely no need to ask this question.
Okay, I think I’ve covered the main issues. I hope you’ve found this helpful. My goal is not to chastise, but to educate. The staring is much worse than actually engaging in a conversation. Good luck!