The term “Irish twins” refers to one mother having two children who were born 12 months or less apart. It originated in the 1800s as a way to poke fun at Irish Catholic immigrant families who didn’t have access to birth control.
Irish Catholic immigrant communities would often have many siblings who were very close in age. Since they were relatively new to the United States, and lived in cramped living conditions with little resources, other people would speak poorly of Irish immigrants.
The use of Irish twins was meant to look down on the people and accuse them of having poor self-control, little education, and no access to health resources like birth control. The term is still used today, but many would agree that it’s not appropriate and is steeped in disrespect.
Regardless of what term they use to describe it, some women choose to have their children very close in age. Several celebrities, like Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Tori Spelling, and Heidi Klum, have Irish twins.
Parenting is filled with challenges no matter what age your children are. If your children are very close in age, they are often going through the same developmental milestones one after the other. Here are some tips on how to raise children with a 12 month or less age gap.
This is particularly important when the children are very young. Babies and toddlers need a lot of attention. One person may not be able to tend to each child’s needs effectively, especially if both need someone at the same time. Having help will make sure the children get what they need and you don’t get burnt out.
Having a regular routine is extremely helpful for keeping things organized. Babies and toddlers will benefit from a regular schedule, and so will young children.
Sleeping and eating are very important in the early years. Establishing a healthy routine will help you meet the children’s needs and allow them to know what to expect.
It may be very tempting to expect the younger child to develop at the same rate as the older sibling. But remember, they’re separate individuals. Everyone grows and develops differently, and children born within 12 months of each other are no exception.
“Because they are close in age, don’t assume they are going to grow at the same pace mentally and physically. Accept their differences from the get-go. In fact, enjoy their differences,” Dr. Hollman advises.
Allow each child to have separate activities that give them a break from each other.
For example, one child might want to have a sleepover with a friend without their sibling tagging along. That’s OK. Arrange for the sibling to do another fun activity during that time. Explain that it’s normal and healthy for the kids to want to their own space, including a separate social circle outside of the home or each other.
“Competition may be a big challenge if their skills are developing differently. If that’s the case, have separate talks with each as they grow about how they are individuals. They need to know that just because they are close in age it doesn’t mean they should be the same. You take pride in each as they are. They need to know that so they can also take pride in themselves,” says Dr. Hollman.
According to Dr. Hollman, “Some kids close in age team up and become there for each other, which helps mom and dad tremendously, yet also may give you the feeling of being on the outside. If that’s the case, don’t feel rebuffed, enjoy their close bonding.”
It’s important to have your own relationship with each child. Although they’re close in age, they may have totally different personalities.
Schedule one-on-one time with each child in addition to family bonding time. Use this time to let the kids explore and share with you their individual interests.
“You don’t have to give equal amounts of attention to each kid. Surprising? That’s because each child may need different amounts and kinds of attention. Remember they are individuals. Listen and learn what they need and do your best to give what’s called for,” says Dr. Hollman.
People may give you lots of recommendations, but at the end of the day, you know your kids best. Pay attention to their personalities. Does one child like more alone time? Are they OK with sharing attention at social events, or do they want to branch off?
Knowing how each child reacts to different situations can help you make parenting decisions, like whether or not they should be in the same class at school, or if each child should go to a different summer camp.
Dr. Hollman says, “Once in grade school, you’ll get all kinds of advice about keeping them in different classes. Their birthdays may work to put them in different grades, but often enough that doesn’t happen. There’s no one rule that‘s best for all. Think of your kids in particular. They may function best knowing the other is nearby. They may develop their independence by being in different rooms. Think of your specific kids, not some unproven rule.”
While parenting is challenging, it’s also very rewarding. Remember that nobody is perfect. As long as you’re trying your hardest to make a happy, healthy environment for your kids, don’t worry if there are dishes in the sink or toys all over the living room floor.
“So much of the stress with this comes from feeling like everything is just too crazy! But that is how childhood is meant to be — messy, chaotic, and crazy!” says Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, child psychologist, mother of two, and author of “Discipline Without Damage: How to Get Your Kids to Behave Without Messing Them Up.”