Does Twin Discrimination Exist?

Over the years, my twins have gotten their share of positive attention from family, friends, and even complete strangers. (It often comes at the expense of their younger, singleton brother, but that’s a different post all together.) Yet I’ve noticed that at times they’ve also been the targets of discrimination as well. Ok, so I’m not exactly talking about anything that would radically change the trajectory of their lives but rather small and subtle situations that somehow seem unfair, or at the very least, suspect.

The “play date denial” is probably the most common form of bias against twins. If one twin makes a friend with someone who doesn’t like his cotwin, for instance, booking a play date can get tricky as many parents of singletons feel awkward calling a parent of twins and requesting the presence of only one twin, especially if the twins are young and closely bonded, and feelings could easily get hurt. So when parents of singletons find themselves in this sticky situation, many take the easy way out and gently suggest their kids ask someone else over for a play date. It happens. More often than you might know.

Birthday party or sleepover invitations? Same scenario. If a singleton child wants to invite one twin and not the other, some parents may just mark that twin off the list rather than send out a solo invitation. (To be fair, however, many moms will invite both twins regardless of their children’s objections or take the plunge and invite just one.)  Isn’t forced classroom separation a form of discrimination as well? Or how about when a mother of twins tries to enroll in a Mommy-and-Me class and is told she needs a second adult with her? It’s not a Mommy-and-Us class, after all. Due to liability issues, these types of classes require one adult for each child. So where does that leave a mother of twins? Outside with her nose pressed against the window wishing she were inside.Two girls looking at a photo.

But many situations aren’t as blatant but simply a mother’s hunch. There are instances when a mom just senses that her twins got the short end of the stick simply because her children were born on the same day. Contests come to mind where both children enter but neither win. For instance, I received an e-mail recently from a woman on the scholarship committee where both my twins had submitted separate essays for the opportunity to receive one of two $500 high-school grants. She wrote, “We’ll let you know by Tuesday if your boys have won.”

Nothing wrong with that, right? But it struck me as odd. Why wouldn’t she have written, “if one or both of your boys have won?” Why would she write, “if your boys have won” as if my sons applied for the scholarships together and expected to win or lose together?

Needless to say that neither of my boys got the scholarships and I’m sure that those who did were very deserving. But for me to prove my point, you’ll have to take a leap of faith that my guys were also very deserving. And as only a handful of kids applied for the grants, the odds were in their favor that at least one of my boys would win. Still, they both lost. Maybe the committee didn’t feel right giving both scholarships to the same family. Or, maybe they wanted to give one to a boy and the other to a girl. I get that. I understand. But instead of having to choose between my twins, maybe the committee opted out and chose two completely different kids. Or, maybe, just maybe, they felt one twin’s essay was a winner and the other was not. But rather than risk hurting the feeling’s of one twin at the expense of his cotwin, the committee played it safe.

Please notice the literal use of the word “maybe” as I realize my theory is extremely farfetched. I could never prove that I’m right but on some level, I believe it. Call it Mother’s Intuition.  (For the record, my kids shrugged off losing and my husband didn’t buy my theory either but if you’re the mother of twins, I’ll guarantee that you’ll feel it at some point, too.)

So what do you do to combat twin discrimination? In looking back on my twins’ lives, I personally would have made a much greater effort to help others distinguish between them. When they were younger, for instance, I would have steered them towards different sports and activities. The more the outside world sees your twins having separate lives, the more they will identify that these kids are in fact two separate individuals.

Furthermore, try to open up a dialogue with the moms in your twins’ social circle and reassure them that it’s perfectly OK to invite just one child on a play date or event. And please, fight the urge to call those moms if only one of your twins gets invited to a birthday party and the other does not to ask if a cotwin can “tag along, too.” Once you get the reputation as being the mom who can’t have her twins separated, it sticks around a long time.

14 thoughts on “Does Twin Discrimination Exist?

  1. Tamilyn

    I have adopted an identical twin , he came to our home at 6 months of age. He is now 2 years of age, his twin was adopted out in another state, although we have had our son in our home longer, with different state laws they were able to finalize their adoption first and now they are fighting for custody of my son. We are the only family he knows. We love him dearly. If anyone has any information that could help we would appreciate it.

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof

      That’s truly heartbreaking, and I’m so very sorry. Have you contacted a lawyer to find out your options? What about the adoption agency? What do they have to say? I’m a little surprised that they split up twins, especially identical twins.

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  4. Jay

    I am a twin and have been subjected to things that I think can be considered discriminatory ….. Like being accused of cheating because we look alike despite the hundreds of kids passing notes In class…. I never have cheated but we get watched during all the tests to such an extreme that I can feel him watching us….. Another instance is not being aloud to read a book for a book report because my sister is even though the rest of the class is aloud to double up…. I just want some feed back on this if you have any

    1. J

      Point out to the teacher that they’re doing it. Parental support can be helpful here, too. If it’s something like the book report, where other “pairs” are being made, then it’s dumb that you and your sister are trusted less just becasue you live in the same house. With phones, internet and recess it’s no more difficult for other kids to cheat so you should be accorded the same level of trust as they are. We had a calculus teacher that compared our handwriting on exams because it bothered him that one of us didn’t consistantly outperform the other.

      Sometimes the teachers don’t realize they’re doing it, though. Most schools have a default twin setting, it seems, and that default is to separate us. My sister were placed in different classrooms as soon as that was an option. My mom finally intervened when one of us was put in a lower-level reading class because they wanted to keep up separate. Which would be fine if that was the appropriate level for that twin, but we had the same skill level. Once she talked to the school and pointed out that they were holding back one kid for no good reason (the “reason” being they couldn’t tell us apart) it got fixed. So point it out to them, or ask a parent, mentor or another teacher to intervene. If that doesn’t fix it you may need to go over their head to the school administration if it’s bad enough.

  5. J

    I’m an identical twin, too – I agree and disagree with different parts of this.

    I don’t think you’re making it up – a position where only one twin can win, or where there are only two spots available so picking both twins would mean “the same person” got both spots results in neither twin “winning.” It seems skewed from the ratio a singleton of similar merits might have. Obviously there’s not concrete proof of this, but one specific example is my sister and I were told by many of our cross country teammates that they thought I (or my sister – these discussions were individual) would make an awesome team captain and it seemed like we had the support of the majority of the team as two separate candidates. When the elections happened, though, neither of us was captain. Bummer. But, we didn’t change how we acted and were still considered leaders on the team, just without the formal title. The same thing happened on the soccer team. And the birthday party dilemma has happened to us and several sets of twins we’re friends with (I went to the party, my sister had a sleep-over with another friend who hadn’t been invited either). So it definitely happens.

    That being said, I wouldn’t change how you parented them. Some twins end up in different activities, some end up in the same, but let THEM choose what they like and don’t like. If they like the same things, then they learn how to deal with their twin being there. It’s your responsibility to help them be teammates if that’s difficult for them sometimes. The paradox of being a twin is that you’re both a twin and an individual. The outside world shouldn’t take one of those identies away. Plus, being in the same activities is where you get to have all the fun messing with people’s minds! If they’re in different activities, then they have someplace that can be just theirs, as the individual and not the twin. So let them do what they enjoy, the rest will sort itself out.

    In terms of dealing with the scholarship-type issue, and eventually colleges, we’ve found that a short explaination of our expectations works. We had a lot of problems with colleges mixing up our files, and one director of admissions actually asked us how we wanted to be considered – as two separate applications, or as a couple (like a married couple – he wanted to know if they were looking at an all or nothing deal). I respect that – many people don’t understand that it can be ok for only one twin to win/be accepted in some situations. Sometimes it’s ok to bring that up and educate them.

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof

      All excellent points. Fascinating that they separated you in different reading groups based on your twinship rather than your abilities. As always a parent advocate is so important. Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

  6. Barbara Wade Sergent

    When my twins were younger, I used to wonder, “How in the world would you know?” But then as they got older I had instances where I was certain it was occurring. I try not to over-think it though, because as often as it “may” have happened there are many more instances when it didn’t. And it when it comes to these things it seems like there are any number of factors that go into it too. The “twin” issue factors into things, for sure, and I think as parents we have unique situations to deal w/ as a result of it.

  7. ald

    Great post. I think it is very true that twins are discriminated against. I have identical twin daughters, now 15. We’ve experienced the birthday party discrimination, as well as the sleepover discrimination, several times in their lives in grade school and middle school. I also remember when the girls were really young and had a birthday party, some kids would bring one gift for my twins to “share”. That was a hard lesson to teach the girls! One example that really stands out recently is when both girls were freshman going out for cheerleading at their high school. One of my daughters was really upset her sister would be trying out, as she had been more dedicated to improving her tumbling skills and was a better tumbler. She was convinced the coaches would get confused by the differences between them and not know who was who and then not know how to place them on the freshman or JV teams! Or place them both on them same lower team. It was high drama. Her sister decided to not try out and decided to run cross country, and it has been good for both of them, giving them more of a seperate identities at school. Now one is the “runner” and one is the “cheerleader”. With identical twins I do think it is important to have them try separate activities whenever possible as people can’t help to make comparisons. And as any mother of twins knows, our twins are not the same!

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof

      Thanks for adding to the conversation! We had something similar in our house–one son wanted to go to summer camp. Alone. His twin thought it sounded fun and wanted to go too but I asked him to find another activity or camp to attend as I thought it was important for my his cotwin to have an experience all to himself. So he went alone. First time in his life that no one knew he was a twins!

  8. Andrea

    My friend has identical twin cousins that were in the Miss Lebanon pageant. One came first and the other was the first runner up. It always made me wonder what kind of discussion happened on the judges’ panel.

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