A relationship expert talks about the bittersweet joy of sending his triplets off to college
By Dr. Drew Pinsky
My wife and I have three children, triplets who are starting college this fall. It’s funny—while they were deep in the application process over the past year, Susan and I flashed back to the fears and hopes we had before they were born.
I remember well some people telling us not to have triplets—that marriages don’t survive the strain, that the children would be at risk for health and emotional difficulties. Susan and I spent many hours agonizing over what to do. Finally, we decided that we had committed to this process, and we would simply throw everything we had at these kids.
In the beginning, it was overwhelming. Together we dealt with feedings, sleep deprivation, mountains of diapers, and an infant who needed brain surgery for an arachnoid cyst. I’ve said this before, and it never gets old: During the first two years of their lives, my hair turned gray.
We watched as they developed distinct personalities. At 5, Douglas gravitated toward music, falling in love with his piano teacher. Though that relationship grew stormy during Douglas’s adolescence, when he itched to do other things, they stayed the course and his musical achievements deepened. At 2, Jordan began operating a computer. I will never forget seeing his face illuminated by the screen one evening, a pacifier protruding from his profile. (That’s when I thought, “Wow, I have to catch up with this computer thing.” I didn’t even have an email address at that point!) For her part, Paulina took charge at age 5 and began her career as a competitive figure skater. Susan and I noticed how nuances in our personalities—her playfulness, my seriousness—surfaced in our kids, which was always entertaining.
We’ve tried hard to get the balance right in our parenting, encouraging the kids to be autonomous, yet keeping our claws in them enough to guide and influence. Sometimes I feel as if I’m pushing them away so they don’t become dependent; at other times, I think I should be digging in deeper, like the “helicopter parents” who hover around their kids all day long. Who knows what’s right? I feel as if I’m supposed to know, but I question whether I’m doing the best I can every day.
A highlight this past year was seeing all three appear in the school musical, Beauty and the Beast. We had a Gaston, a Belle, and a Cogsworth. As I delighted in their performances, I was excited for the people they’ve become. I want them to have more fun at college than I did and not worry so much about what will come next. I want to remind them to enjoy where they are and develop strong friendships.
Now it’s August, and I hope Susan and I can hold it together when we send them off. Fortunately, the planning, packing, and sheer logistics of the task are so distracting we probably won’t have time for an emotional meltdown. They are all going to different colleges, and Jordan and Paulina must arrive on the same day. Susan and I will have to split up, and I’m not looking forward to missing one child’s experience—or being without my wife for support.
After 18 years of defining ourselves as a family rather than as a couple, it’s a little scary—who are we if we’re not the parents of triplets? Thankfully, Susan and I really like each other and enjoy spending time together.
Somehow, this is a part of the journey that I didn’t anticipate when we started out. I wouldn’t trade a minute of the time I’ve spent watching my kids grow up. But if I were to become locked in a cycle of eternal recurrence—reliving, say, Christmas circa 1997, when the sweetness and fantasies of their childhood filled our every waking moment—that would be a day worth experiencing forever.