Will Too Much Independence Hurt the Twin Bond?

Question of the Week:
I’m a working mom of five-year-old fraternal twin girls. They’re currently in preschool three days a week. On the days they don’t attend I send them to separate baby-sitters. I’ve done this for almost a year as I’ve always felt they should be independent of each other. They’re both completely different in every way from looks to likes. I have never referred to them as “twins,” using each girl’s name separately and I’ve enforced this with family and friends.

But it seems even on their separate days they argue and fight terribly. If “Twin A” wants to borrow “Twin B’s” toy, “Twin B” says “no” it’s her special toy. I’ve always agreed that they each have their own toys and a special toy does not have to be shared. “Twin A” gets hurt and uses the “she-isn’t-sharing line” but when I reinforce the special toy rule, “Twin A” says “Twin B” hurt her feelings. “Twin B” also purposely ignores “Twin A.” When “Twin A” calls “Twin B’s” name a hundred times in a row getting no response, of course I step in because if I hear the name one more time I’m going to scream, but “Twin B” says she wants to play alone. It is all so frustrating!

Several of my friends who have fraternal twins as well feel I have forced the individuality too much and now they’re just not close. What can I do so that my twins will be friends with each other and have the “twin” bond every speaks of? —B.H.

Answer: There’s nothing more frustrating for parents than to see their children bickering and fighting with one another. And when you’re the parent to twins, triplets or quads, it hits especially hard as we’ve all been told that multiples have a special and unique bond. Yet it is totally bogus that your twins’ fighting is because you’ve nurtured their individuality. I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve met where it’s just the opposite—their twins fight constantly because they spend way too much time together. And when the parents finally give their twins some breathing room—time away from each other where each child is free to be an individual rather than a twin—presto! The kids get along much better.Fraternal twin girls fight over toy.

Remember, fraternal twins are merely siblings born on the same day. They don’t share nearly as much of their DNA with their cotwins as identical twins do so therefore they can have vastly different personalities, dispositions, likes as well as dislikes. Yet everyone who comes into contact with fraternal twins assumes that they’re best friends, soul mates.

Talk about high expectations!

Some fraternal twins are close from the day they are born; others are not. But even if twins aren’t close as children, that still doesn’t mean they won’t be close some day. Think of your own siblings. Perhaps you fought constantly with them when you were kids (I know I did with my sisters) but now as adults, you have solid, close relationships.

Keep in mind, too, that all siblings fight. Your girls are young and just beginning to get to an age where they’re learning about the world around them, to negotiate for what they want, and to put their feelings into words.

Furthermore, from the research that I’ve read on twin subsets (identical boys, identical girls, fraternal boys, fraternal girls, and boy/girl twins), it’s fraternal girls that are the most independent, have more outside relationships and fewer shared friends, and experience more inter-twin conflicts than all other twin types. These qualifications were merely the girls’ observations of their differences rather than a statement of dislike for their cotwins, and it was these differences that helped them to define their relationships. Many fraternal twin girls believe that their relationship with their cotwins is constantly changing and evolving. But most importantly, they don’t view this as a negative aspect to their twinship.

Bottom line? Your girls behavior isn’t out of the norm and is sure to mature as they grow older.

Yet it is totally bogus that your twins

In the meantime, however, there are a few things that you can do to help them navigate their relationship more peacefully. For instance, you may want to examine how you react to your daughters’ fighting. While you should never let one twin physically hurt the other, you shouldn’t take sides or intervene for every infraction either as it can intensify their rivalry. Instead, try to be more of a referee only stepping in when necessary. Let them work out their toy squabbles on their own. I know it’s frustrating to listen to the arguing so why not try distraction techniques (“Hey, let’s watch a DVD!” “Anyone want to go to the park?”) when their conflicts appear to be heating up.

Continue to offer them opportunities to do what each girl would like independent of the other but perhaps you can find some common ground in their relationship, too. Look for activities where they both enjoy playing together or have a common interest. Drawing? Cooking? Music? A particular board game? Compliment them when you do see them cooperating with each other. (From my own experience, I know this can be hard but if you really listen for the positive behavior, you will find it. Make sure they know but saying something like, “Wow, I really liked how you shared your snack with your sister. That was so thoughtful.”) By focusing and praising the positive behavior and ignoring the negative, you’ll reduce your stress and your daughters are sure to internalize “the right way to act” towards each other.

Have a question about your twins? Ask it and I’ll answer it here.

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When Twins Learn to Drive: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

My fraternal twin sons recently got their drivers’ licenses. While they are overjoyed at the prospect of hitting the Open Road without Mom or Dad, I’m less than enthusiastic. Living in a major metropolitan city, driving here is downright dangerous and I’m always worried whenever they head out.

I know that every parent frets over her teenage drivers. We are all in this together! But when you are a parent to twins, there are definitely issues that singletons manage to side step. Or, as I see it, there’s The Good, The Bad, and The (downright) Ugly to teenage twin drivers.

The Good: When my twins head out in the car together, I actually feel a little better. Maybe it’s a false sense of safety but it calms me nonetheless. Why? Because I know the boy driving that night has a wingman, a co-pilot. One son drives; the other navigates. Or, more likely, one son drives, the other shouts, “Watch out for that tree!” (“Whew! Thanks Bro. I was too busy changing the radio stations to pay attention.”)hand on a steering wheel

Furthermore, research shows that teenage twins tend to having greater difficultly in rejecting their parents’ values than single-born kids, especially if the family rules have been reinforced by their cotwin throughout childhood. In other words, it’s less likely that twins will go rogue (i.e. drinking and driving, texting and driving) than singletons simply because they would not only have to go against their parents but their cotwins as well. Or, researchers theorize, twins find strength in each other, making it easier to reject questionable behavior.

Whether or not this pans out is anyone’s guess. I’d like to think it does! (Humor me, please!)

The Bad: There’s only so many hours available in a week to teach your teen how to drive; sadly, twins have that time cut in half. Half the time spent behind the wheel went to Twin A; the other half went to Twin B. It was frustrating for them as well since they had to (once again) share. Learning to share was cute when you are a toddler twin but not so much when you’re a teenage anxious to learn how to drive. With the abbreviated time spent learning, it took my twins a bit more time getting comfortable behind the wheel. Furthermore, we made our twins wait quite a bit longer to get their licences (again, not very popular with our boys). We wanted to make sure they knew what they were doing before we handed over the keys.

The Ugly: Let’s talk car insurance, shall we? Ours tripled overnight from $1,400 a year to $4,200, and that’s with the “good student” discount. The thought that I’m paying more than $200 more a month so that my boys can head out on their own on a Saturday night really gets my goat. I’d rather plow that money into their college accounts (don’t get me started on that one) and have them call a taxi (that would be me) instead but they need to learn to drive. It is an important skill just like learning to swim that every child needs to master successfully. Besides, they’ve told me that I simply can’t drive them anywhere any longer. “It’s just not done, Mom.”

Anyone else feeling my pain?

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“Do They Want to Go to the Same College?” is the New “Are They Twins?”

It’s an exciting time here in the Tinglof household, albeit a stressful one. My twins have finally turned in all their college applications. Now, the waiting begins. This is the easy part—trust me—as navigating a multitude of college applications, brainstorming, writing, and editing dozens of essays, making those midnight deadlines (yes, my boys were notorious for waiting until the very. last. possible. minute), and just the general hand-wringing has been a wee-bit…how should I say? Unbearable! Maybe it’s having two go through the process at once or maybe it’s a “boy thing” as so many parents of college-bound girls have told me that their daughters were very self motivated but this has not been the case for my fraternal twin sons.

But thankfully that’s in the past, and now we are looking to the future.

Yet the topic of college seems to follow us everywhere we go. From family and friends to neighbors and colleagues, everybody wants to know my boys’ future plans. As soon as we greet, and the pleasantries are out of the way, the topic quickly turns to college and the first question is always the same: “Do they want to go to the same college?”

Sigh.

Just like that innocent question, “Are they twins?” that we all heard ad nauseam when our multiples were babies and toddlers, “Do they want to go to the same college?” is getting a bit old and tiresome. Yet even as I type this I feel like a curmudgeon for admitting that it bugs me. After all, wasn’t I the one who chastised moms in a blog post more than two years ago for getting annoyed at well-meaning folk who would stop them in public to ask if their children were twins? Yup, that was me!

Yes, the question does get a tad annoying at times especially if one or both of your babies are crying or you’re in a rush to get home in time for their afternoon nap. But should you really allow someone’s genuine interest and fascination in you and your twins ruin your day? Sour your mood? Turn you into a Grinch?

So, why is “Do they want to go to the same college” different? What’s changed? And what’s so bad about the question?

twin quote

I’m still not completely sure. I know that when people ask they are genuinely interested in my boys, and they are just trying to make polite conversation. There’s no subterfuge in their asking. I shouldn’t be annoyed. But I am!

But the question—at least to me—smacks of stereotyping. They are twins. All twins have the same likes and dislikes. All twins are soul mates and inseparable. Therefore, if one goes to College X, the other will follow.

I’m not sure I know any twins that are hell-bent on deliberately going to the same university. I’m sure they exist but my guess is that each twin decides what is best for himself, just like any college-bound kid. Furthermore, I think for many twins, the thought of heading to different universities would be liberating, a chance to do your own thing. Reinvent yourself. It would sadden me if my boys chose to go to the same college simply because his cotwin was going.

But I guess it’s the word want that truly gets me. That word connotes dependency, as if all twins couldn’t bear to be without each other. (Once again, stereotyping multiples.) Yes, my twins may end up at the same school but it would be for many other reasons such as they both want to stay in the state of California or that they both want to study something in the engineering field, both reasons limiting their choice of schools. Want doesn’t factor into it.

For the record, my boys are patient and polite when they hear the question. Just like politicians, they smile and issue a prepared statement, a 30-second soundbite: “We’ve never discussed it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s a non issue. Either way is OK.”

And I, with forced smile, have learned to say the same.

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Pregnant With Twins? 7 Questions to Ask Your Doctor.

When I was pregnant with my twins more than 18 years ago, there weren’t many health guidelines specific to a twin pregnancy. I was confused about how much I should eat or whether I should continue exercising, for instance. There were, however, lots of horror stories about preterm labor, premature birth, and low-birth weight babies yet limited advice on how to try and side step these terrible and scary scenarios. Fortunately for you—mom expecting twins—things have changed! Now there are lots of concrete studies that illuminate what it takes for a healthy twin pregnancy. For instance, we now know that protein is key to forming a healthy placenta and packing on the baby weight, two important factors in the fight against preterm labor. Still, many doctors are not accustomed to regularly treating multiple pregnancies, or are simply not well read when it comes to caring for patients carrying twins. That’s where this post comes in! What follows are a list of questions you should ask your physician about your twin pregnancy. (And the answers you should be hearing.)

How much weight should I gain?

Recent research has shown that when it comes to moms expecting twins, it’s all about packing on the pounds as there’s a strong correlation between proper weight gain and healthy fetal growth. (Studies suggest that sufficient weight gain before Week 20 aides in the development and function of the placenta.) Women of normal weight (pre-pregnancy) need to gain between 37 and 51 pounds, while overweight women should gain anywhere between 31 to 50 pounds. If your doctor believes those goals are too high, you may want to ask why.

Should I seek the advice of a perinatologist?pregnant woman getting an ultrasound

A perinatiologist is an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies (and yes, if you are pregnant with twins, you are high risk regardless of your age). These are doctors who are highly trained and evaluate multiple pregnancies on a daily basis. Furthermore, they are up-to-date with the latest research, able to make complex diagnoses, and are adept at performing difficult procedures such as a double amniocentesis. But should you see one? If you are of an “advanced maternal age,” in a “high-risk group” (think high blood pressure, diabetes, and so forth), have had a complicated pregnancy in the past (or are experiencing complications now), or are in the market for a new obstetrician any way, than by all means make an appointment with one.

Are my twins monozygotic (or identical), and if so, do they share a placenta?

Not all twins are created equal! In fact, if your twins are identical (or monozygotic), they may need special medical attention. If they share a single placenta, they may develop twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), a potentially dangerous condition caused by an abnormal blood vessel connection between the two fetuses. But don’t rely on your doctor’s “best guess.” Instead, insist on a chorionicity scan (ideally between Week 10 to 13), a simple ultrasound that determines if your twins have separate or a shared placenta. If it is determined that your twins are in fact monoamniotic, you should seek the care and advice of a perinatologist since early detection of TTTS can lead to appropriate treatment and a successful outcome.

Is it OK to have sex during a twin pregnancy?

Many doctors fear that sex during a twin pregnancy can trigger preterm labor but research shows that sex is usually very safe during pregnancy, even a twin pregnancy, as long as your pregnancy is progressing normally.

Is bed rest really necessary?

Again, many doctors prescribe bed rest for women carrying twins to help combat the chance of preterm labor. Yet research doesn’t back up the practice. In fact, for some women, bed rest can actually increase their chances for preterm labor. Still, resting while pregnant with twins is very important (you just may not need to be on round-the-clock bed rest). Instead, make it a daily practice to lie down on your left side for 20 to 30 minutes several times a day. This will take the stress off your cervix while increasing the blood flow to your babies. Furthermore, the reduced activity is good for you, too. Less calories burned means more calories for your babies.

Is my cervical length shortening?

Doctors know that a change in cervical length (CL) is a predictor to preterm labor. Yet even normal cervical length halfway through your twin pregnancy (Week 20) is no guarantee that you will avoid going into labor early. In fact, recent studies have shown that when CL shortened 13 percent or more four to five weeks after their initial measurement, moms carrying twins had a significantly greater chance for preterm delivery before Week 32 to 34. So around Week 20, ask your doctor for not one but two ultrasounds (spaced four to five weeks apart) to measure the length of your cervix.

Will you induce me if I go past Week 37?

Even if your pregnancy is progressing normally, Week 37 is best for delivery according to new research. After Week 37, complications arise for women carrying twins due to reduced space in the womb as well as the rapid breakdown of the placenta. Therefore, electing to have your twins at Week 37, not Week 40, is optimal for delivery, resulting in reduced risk to babies.

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Teenage Fraternal Twin Girls Discuss the Twin Bond

Last week, I interviewed Kayla and Rebecca, a set of 19-year-old fraternal twins. Their responses to my questions about their early school years were both insightful and inspirational. This week, the questions continue only this time we focus on the evolution of these young women’s relationship and how it has changed over the course of nearly two decades. Below are their edited responses. Join with me in thanking these two remarkable young women for being so honest by leaving them a comment below.

Q: What’s the best part of being a twin?

Rebecca: It means a lot to me. I know that’s a really bad answer but it’s not something I can just explain. If I didn’t have her by my side while growing up, I don’t know who I would be. She’s my best friend and my right side. How could I contemplate not having something that I’ve had since the first moment of life?

Kayla: I think having Rebecca in my life has made me who I am today, and that’s the best part. I’m happy about who I am and the direction I am taking in my life, and I know I wouldn’t have made the same choices had I grown up in a different situation.

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of being a twin?

Rebecca: I guess the most challenging part has been publicly defining myself. In our home, there was never anything different about us. Our families knew that we are two very different people so we didn’t have to strive for our identities as much. Publicly, however, people are more adamant about grouping us together as the same person.

It wasn’t really frustrating when the other kids got us mixed up unless we were really good friends and they just didn’t care to actually learn our names. Even now, I’ll have people come up to me, thinking I’m Kayla and I’ll carry on a conversation with this stranger until the end and I’ll say something like, “I’m really sorry, but you probably think my name is Kayla, but I’m her twin sister Rebecca.” But I don’t do this to be funny, it’s more to be polite.

Rebecca quote

Kayla: The most challenging part of twinship is asserting myself as an individual. At first other kids flocked to us because we were “so cool” for having each other. We didn’t need to go out and seek friends because they came to us. Then as we got older, Becca branched out and I hung back. Instead of trying to make friends, I decided to read a lot. In high school, other students assumed that if they knew Becca, they knew me. Often times they were surprised to learn differently.

Since childhood, I have also struggled with using singular tense in my speech and writing. (In case you haven’t already noticed.) I have gotten better when I talk about things that just involve me, but as soon as Rebecca becomes involved, it’s difficult for me to use a singular form. It feels like a half truth to me when I say “MY mom” or “when I was a kid” because it’s OUR mom and OUR past. I wasn’t alone.

Now, being in college, the most challenging part is maintaining our relationship. It never required effort before, and now we are learning how to work our new relationship parameters.

Kayla quote

Q: How would you describe your relationship now? How has it evolved and changed over the years?

Rebecca:  Now, we’re pretty close, I think. I mean, I am very optimistic so I tend not to dwell on the bad stuff for very long. Right now, (this is top-secret) we are planning a surprise wedding reception for my parents who were married six years ago and never got to have one. So working together on something while we’re so far away from each other is pretty cool.

But the relationship has definitely changed. Now that we’re adults we can’t always just call each other and expect to talk for countless hours on end, but at the same time our relationship is more mature because we can respect each other’s differences and understand them more. Also, now that we’re older, we understand what it means for Kayla to be an introvert and me an extrovert. That’s the best way to put it. So it’s not so much of WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LIKE WHAT I LIKE?! It’s more like, cool, maybe we can find something to do that we both enjoy.

Kayla: I would say our relationship is interesting, to say the least. When making our college decisions, it was clear to both of us that we wouldn’t be going together. (Have you tried making your kids decide on ONE flavor birthday cake? Yeah, not happening.) Now [that we're in separate colleges], it’s not uncommon for us to call each other between the hours of 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. just to visit. But we struggle to maintain a relationship by texting or phone calls. It’s hard for us to read each others moods and often misinterpret each other that way. When we are both home at the same time, we make time for a “big cookie date,” usually just the two of us.

Recently, I have been struggling to come to turns with her joining a sorority. I have felt replaced and unimportant. But I have realized that I do have a big role in her life, and moving away will obviously leave a void in her life. I choose to take it as a complement on my importance to her because she does feel the need to replace me, and I take comfort knowing that she does have sisters there for her when she needs them. I am choosing to trust them with the responsibilities of sisterhood.

For our 18th birthday we each got tattoos on our arms that say “Jumelle” which is the female French word for twin. Mine is on my left arm and hers is on her right. I’m right-handed and she is a lefty. When we were young we would hold hands with our weakest ones together, so our tattoos represent that bond, especially now that we aren’t together.

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A Look Back: Fraternal Twin Girls Discuss Classroom Placement

Awhile back, I interviewed my fraternal twin sons about their relationship and the challenges of growing up twins. It was a popular post, offering parents of young twins just a glimpse of what’s to come. So I thought, why not try it again? This time I interviewed a set of young women, also fraternal twins. Rebecca (“Twin A”) and Kayla (“Twin B”) are just shy of their 19th birthday. Both are freshman in separate colleges. Here’s the first part of the interview where they reflect on their early school years. (I’ll post Part Two, the evolution of their relationship, next week.)

Q: How would you describe your relationship when you were just kids?

Rebecca: When we were kids, I always had a positive outlook on our relationship. We weren’t best friends to the point where we were inseparable but we were pretty close. We never really competed with each other. We respected that we could have our own friends but also share friends as well. Growing up, I was always a little more athletic and she was more scholarly. I always wanted to be ‘one of the guys’ so I liked to play rough and tumble more often. I kept up with sports through my senior year, and she quit around freshman year.

Kayla: When we were kids we were social crutches for each other. When we were uncomfortable meeting new people or trying new things, we would rely on each other. Once we were comfortable, we would spread out. When asked who was better at different things, we would say, “we don’t compare,” which was true. We would have our disputes but my mom wouldn’t get in the middle. She made us learn how to navigate our own relationship.

Q: When did you separate at school?

Rebecca: We were together in first grade and then separated in second grade. (I believe because the school wouldn’t allow us to be together any longer.) They didn’t want us to build a dependency on each other. There were other twins in our grade that were separated the whole time, but my mom requested that we be in the same class for first grade. I remember in second grade I would spend at least ten minutes crying every day because I missed my sister (although there was only a thin, room divider between us) to the point where they would pull us both out of class until I calmed down. Then I’d spend the rest of the day just fine on my own. 

Kayla never lets me live it down that I missed her more when we were first separated! We switched to a private school in third grade were there was only one class per grade. Looking back on it, I guess this is where the relationship began to change. Our socialization began to develop differently and it showed once we were back in the classroom together. This is when I began to socialize more freely and she became more introverted.

Kayla: The elementary school strongly advocated for us to be separated. My mom fought it for two years but we were separated in the second grade. I don’t remember taking it hard, but I was pulled aside several times while we adjusted so Becca could see me.

Q: What do you remember of those days, Kayla?

Kayla: I remember going out to the hallway, and I think we would hug. But I don’t remember very clearly. I do know that after that point in my life, I have always been concerned for her emotional well-being. Like, she goes out, does what she likes, makes new friends, but when things get too rough, or her friends aren’t as good as she thought, she comes back to me. Well, used to. In our recent past, we have been more independent from each other and rely on other people for emotional support.

In the third through fifth grades there was no option about class, as it was a small private school. We transferred to a larger private school in sixth grade, and by that time we were ready to separate on our own terms, so we allowed the school to do so.

Q: Did you enjoy being in the same class together?

Kayla: In high school, I loved the classes I had with Becca. (Our teachers? Probably not so much.) We took it as a chance to catch up with each other because we were both working and had different social circles we didn’t really see each other outside of school. We even sat at lunch together. Being in the same class allowed us to engage in more thought provoking conversations over the content of the class. We were easily able to get on the same page, and explore different views in a short amount of time. If one of us missed class, we could bring homework home to the other. I will admit I didn’t like Becca bringing it home unless I asked because no other student would have that advantage. (I was just being stubborn.) There were disadvantages—teachers had a tendency to compare our academic performance. “Rebecca understands this concept, why don’t you, Kayla?”

Q: Have you ever gone through a period within your twinship when the relationship was tested?

Rebecca: I guess this happened all the way back in third grade. I was the one spreading my wings. In the process, I didn’t realize that she was hurt, even though I do remember trying to include her. Whenever she would decline, I always thought it was because she just didn’t want to [join in]. I never thought that there was more to it. This has come to light more so now than before because it started causing some tension when she was making some decisions that I didn’t think were the best and she made the comment, “I’ve never had your support before, so I don’t need it now.” And that really upset me. We’re still working on it, but it’s a lot better than it was before. I guess the change happened in third grade because that was when it became apparent that we had both changed. I just hung out with friends outside of class more, having sleepovers, and stuff. It wasn’t that she wasn’t invited, because I would try to invite her all the time, she just didn’t want to go. Eventually, I stopped trying.

Kayla: Oh my gosh, our relationship has been such a roller coaster! Especially recently now that we are making real life decisions. We love each other so much, that we have ideas on what is best for the other one, and those often conflict, such as who we date, college decisions, and so on. Rebecca is definitely the more outgoing one. She was more apt to make friends where as I was content doing my own thing. In cases where I was concerned about her well-being and her choices, I would definitely tip my mom off to look in to it. For this, I sacrificed my relationship with Becca for a little bit as she stopped trusting me. So now I have learned how to leverage with her. Twins will always have dirt on each other, and it will be an ugly mess [if you spill that dirt] so I avoid it. Now if I have a problem, I just try to talk to her about it. But I will never draw a line for her to choose me or something else, because I know I would lose her.

Q: Tell me about your relationship in third grade, Kayla.

Kayla: In third grade we were in the same class after being separated in second. We didn’t know how to manage our relationship and our individual lives at the same time. We were simply on different pages. We had never had to actually communicate with each other about how we were feeling, so we didn’t realize there was a disconnect. At the time, I didn’t realize, or had the words to explain how I was feeling, but it definitely took a toll on me as a person. I felt like I was being replaced. I felt I wasn’t good enough, and she didn’t want me. Often times I would decline invitations because I felt like they were made out of pity, as if she thought I needed friends. But more importantly, I didn’t find what she did all that fun. Whether it was sleepovers, dress-up, or whatever. As I grew older, it began to feel like she only wanted to hang out with me because no one else would, or she wanted something from me. We went through stages where I would go out of my way to be available to her and do my best by her, and other times when I would feel down-trodden, taken advantage of, so I would shut her out for a while. But I think we have gotten better at navigating our relationship so those types of things happen less often. The key is to remember that we operate out of a place of love for each other, so even if we end up with different opinions, we have the same end goal—wanting the best for each other. When there is a major conflict, we stop and think, “What’s more important? This current issue, or my relationship with my sister?”

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Single-Born Sibling to Twins: An Unfair Competition?

Last week I ran into my youngest son’s high-school drama teacher. After a few moments of polite chit-chat, I commented on my son’s first-semester grade. “What a stinker!” I laughed. “He got a ‘B’ when he was perfectly capable of getting an ‘A.’”

The teacher agreed that my son hadn’t tried his best in his class, “But look who’s he’s up against?” he added. “The Great Gatsby and Mr. Personality. That’s not easy.”

He was referring to my youngest son’s brothers—fraternal twins who are two years his senior. The Great Gatsby or ‘Twin A:’ meticulously groomed with slicked back hair. Confident yet somewhat aloof. Student body vice-president. Honor student. And ‘Twin B:’ liked by everyone, both teachers and students, and a bit of a class clown. Leader of the high-school mentoring program. Honor student.

That IS a tough act to follow.

I’ve written several blog posts on the plight of the single-born sibling to twins. (You can read them here and here.) But I keep coming back to the subject because I don’t want to forget my youngest son’s challenges or ignore his special circumstances especially now when all the attention is once again placed on my twins as they apply to colleges and prepare to graduate high school. Frankly, my youngest sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, and it’s not until I get a reality check (i.e. running into his teacher) that I stop and once again take notice.

Part of the problem (if we can call it that) is that the youngest child has always traditionally dwelled in the shadow of his older siblings. In other words, it’s not just a “twin thing;” it’s a birth-order thing. But—and this is a big BUT—younger singletons to twins have the added component of competing with their older twins’ relationship. It’s that twin dyad that can be very tough for some singletons to successfully infiltrate. It can be especially difficult when the singleton’s older siblings are identical twins as their relationship is usually more tightly bonded than fraternal twins.

Just the other day, for instance, a reader posted a wonderfully insightful comment on my blog post, The Younger Singleton to Twins: Rough Road Ahead? “Amanda” is two-and-a-half years younger than her identical twin brothers. Although she cares deeply for her brothers, she’s also acutely aware that their intratwin relationship supersedes her relationship with either of them. “I understand that no matter what, my siblings will always be closer to each other than they are to me,” she wrote.

She goes on to recount her early life where everyone’s attention seemed to be solely focused on “the twins.” At holiday dinners, for instance, relatives would sit around the table debating her twin brothers’ differences. Her parents had the ubiquitous ‘twins make life twice as nice’ license plate holder. Even their computer passwords always had the word ‘twin’ included. It’s no wonder she felt the need to compete with her brothers. “I remember spending a great deal of my childhood trying very hard to outperform [my brothers], always feeling like they had a head start on being special,” she added.

So what’s the take-away from all this?

I want to remind you (and myself) to take time to truly tune in to your singletons. Be aware and stay alert to their feelings, especially in how he/she/they relate/s to his/her/their older twin siblings. And perhaps we shouldn’t place so much emphasis on having twins. (Maybe we should go ahead and toss that twins license plate holder in the trash.) In the end, twins are just kids after all! And all kids are special, regardless if they are born alone or in pairs. Finally, encourage one-on-one interactions between your singleton and his twin siblings. Someday your singleton will thank you for it.

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Should I Put My Identical Twins Back in Class Together?

Question of the Week:
Our six-year-old identical girls are coming to the end of their school year having been split for the first time. They were pretty independent before but we can now see worrying signs that they have become clingy and regressed socially since they have been separated. They are also not doing as well academically compared to last year. Our previously more confident twin seems to have suffered more and spent half the year withdrawn and interacting very little with her classmates according to her teacher. Both children we are told struggle to focus and are easily distracted yet at home they are fine working side by side on homework and other projects. They are usually happy resilient children with a healthy sibling relationship but they both have told us repeatedly that they are lonely and unhappy in class on their own. Should we put them back together? —R.J.

Answer:
There’s nothing worse than seeing your once happy children suddenly become…well, unhappy. It breaks your heart watching them struggle with school and friends, especially at such a tender age.

Yet when it comes to twins and classroom placement, there are two important points to remember:

  1. Classroom placement needs to be a flexible, fluid process. In other words, your girls’ classroom situation should change as they change. Just because they are in separate classes now doesn’t mean they can’t (or shouldn’t) be in the same classroom next year. The end of the school year is the perfect time to reevaluate their situation and make changes if need be.
  2. Classroom placement isn’t a panacea for everything that ails twins. Obviously something is going on with your girls. But what? And, will putting them back together in class solve all their issues? Maybe. But maybe not. Something else all together could be at play here. (And this advice, by the way, extends both ways: separating twins who are together doesn’t always solve their classroom dilemmas either.)

In general, however, identical twins sometimes have a harder time with separation as they are usually more tightly bonded than fraternal twins. For many young multiples, being in a separate class is simply too traumatic for their young psyches to handle. These kids just need a little extra time together before separating in school. It’s important to point out, however, that many identical twins do just fine with separation and enjoy their time alone without their cotwins. Every set of twins (and even triplets) is different.

Obviously, mother knows best, and if you believe that this is the case with your girls—that they would benefit from being back together—then by all means, advocate for it. But before placing them back together, you should ask yourself this question: What was your motive for separating them in the first place? Obviously something (or someone) told you that they should be in separate classes. What was it? And is it still relevant? If so, perhaps they just need a bit more time and some tender understanding adjusting to the separation.

One more thought. Perhaps their missing each other is just a symptom of something else. You mentioned in your email that they’re struggling to focus in school and are not doing well academically. Perhaps it’s the rigors of first grade, a big jump from kindergarten, that have them so unhappy. Unable to accurately describe their academic struggles (they are six, after all), your girls may be reverting to the only reason they know for their unhappiness—being apart from their cotwin. Therefore, consider having them tested to rule out any learning issues. 

It’s worth investigating.

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The Twins: A Poem

Today while at work, I came across a book of old poems. Scanning the index, I found one entitled, The Twins. I loved it! The timing of my discovery was ironic as lately I’ve been thinking about how I’d like to include some interviews or reviews of twin-based fiction here on my blog. The reason? There’s so much out there these days for parents of twins (including my own books) but very little focusing on what it’s like being a twin. I want to delve into the twin experience a bit more, to learn about life from their point of view and to gain some insight. Perhaps stories (or even poems) about twins can give us parents a better understanding of our multiples just a bit better.

Anyway, back to this poem. It’s written by 19th century playwright and poet, Henry Sambrooke Leigh. As far as I can tell, he wasn’t a twin yet he seemed to nail the frustration many twins feel for constantly being confused for the other.

Read The Twins to your own twins—I’d be curious of their reactions (please post them here). My twins especially enjoyed the wickedly ironic ending.

The Twins
by Henry S. Leigh (1837 – 1883)

In form and feature, face and limb,
I grew so like my brother,
That folks got taking me for him,
And each for one another.
It puzzled all our kith and kin,
It reached an awful pitch;
For one of us was born a twin,
Yet not a soul knew which.

One day (to make the matter worse),
Before our names were fixed,
As we were being washed by nurse
We got completely mixed;
And thus, you see, by Fate’s decree,
(Or rather nurse’s whim),
My brother John got christened me,
And I got christened him.

This fatal likeness even dogged
My footsteps when at school,
And I was always getting flogged,
For John turned out a fool.
I put this question hopelessly
to everyone I knew—
What would you do, if you were me,
To prove that you were you?

Our close resemblance turned the tide
Of my domestic life;
For somehow my intended bride
Became my brother’s wife.
In short, year after year the same
Absurd mistakes went on;
And when I died—the neighbors came
And buried brother John!

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College Application Season: Double the Pressure

Way back when my twins were in fourth grade, they tackled their first research papers. Or, should I say we tackled them together. I say we because the fourth-grade teachers had their students do much of the work outside the classroom, and since my boys were clueless to the nuances of researching and writing a paper, I needed to spoon-feed them the whole process.

It was a lot to undertake with twins. As I would help one twin research his assigned California Mission on the Internet, the other twin had to wait (not so) patiently for his turn and my attention. Frustrating for him and a huge time suck for me. At one point when we were knee-deep in books, going over for the third time how to properly cite a source, I remember thinking, “This is crazy! I’ve already been through the fourth grade! Why am I reliving it?”

Other parents from my kids’ classes complained about the enormous time drain, too, but then they’d stop realizing who there were talking to and laugh: “But you had two reports!” they’d cried. “I don’t envy you!”

Yup, during that eight-week process, I thought I’d pull my hair out. But if you’re the parents to twins (and triplets), you undoubtedly have been down this road, too, or you will be heading there very, very soon. Seemingly innocent “projects” become monumental to the parents of multiples. Two kids, two assignments, two very different personalities—same deadline. It can be especially draining if your twins require a lot of individual direction and/or encouragement. But while those little research papers were a challenge to tackle with my twins, it’s nothing compared to what we’re going through now.

Yes, I’m talking about the college application process. For the past three months, my boys have been compiling their high school resumes, filling out applications, and brainstorming ideas for thought-provoking essay questions (14 in all) such as “You have just finished your three hundred page autobiography. Please submit page 217.” (University of Pennsylvania) You’d think that with all the writing that goes on in high school that they would be able to pen an essay about themselves and their accomplishments, but you’d be wrong! Maybe it’s a ‘guy thing’ or maybe it’s just my twins but boy, they’re having such a tough time tapping into the essence of what it’s like being a 17-year-old kid! Writing about themselves just gives them writers’ block. Once again, they’re requiring lots of direction and hand-holding.

The applications are no walk in the park either. Don’t get me wrong, my boys are bright but they can be careless so we need to check these complex documents over carefully, line by line. (I caught one son spelling my name “Christian.” Huh?)

Ugh. It’s fourth grade all over again.

Luckily, it will all be over come mid January when the last deadline passes. But then the real stress begins when we try to figure out how to pay for two kids in college at once! (Hey! Maybe this is a good time to plug my books? They’d make a great Christmas gift for moms-to-be expecting twins or parents with young twins!)

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