Should I Tell My Twins Who is Older?

“Should I tell my twins who was born first?”

If you had asked me this question 17 years ago when I was pregnant with my fraternal twin boys, I would have looked at you like you had two heads. Of course you should tell them. And true to my word, we never shied away from disclosing to our boys who was older even if only by mere minutes. What’s the big deal, right? But lately, I’ve been reconsidering my position, and now I’m not so sure and I wonder if their personalities would have been different if we hadn’t told them.

So what gives? What would make me reconsider?

identical twin brothers looking up and awayMy doubt is due in part to a recent interview I had with my sons for this blog where I asked them what it’s been like growing up as a twin. (You can read part one of the interview here; part two is here.) Although there are very few secrets in my house as my kids have always freely expressed their opinions and emotions, it surprised me (shocked, really) when my “younger” twin told me that he feels indeed like the younger of the pair. Furthermore, my “older” twin confirmed that he often feels like he’s the big brother since his cotwin doesn’t always make good decisions. When the younger twin would suggest a questionable or dangerous adventure, for instance, the older twin would then enlighten his younger cotwin on the flaws in his plan and suggest another more productive (and thankfully safer) alternative—the stereotypical carefree younger sibling taking direction from the older, wiser sibling. 

So how did this happen? Did I set this paradigm in motion by casting them into these roles when I told them who was older or was it inevitable, instead evolving slowly and organically based on their innate personalities? (In my defense, my “older” twin has always been a bit more serious than his cotwin from the day he was born—cross my heart.) Hard to tell and obviously too late now. Furthermore, does it really matter?

The question “who’s older?” ranks right up there with the ubiquitous “are they fraternal or identical?” As parents of twins, we hear these questions constantly during the first few years from neighbors, coworkers and even strangers as we push that double stroller through the mall. But once our twins hit the school years, we no longer field those questions on a daily basis. Instead, our twins themselves take them on. Classmates, teachers, coaches—they all want to know and they all ask. And if you watch any twin, you can see how adept they become at answering. My own kids had a five-second shtick that went something like this:

Stranger: “Who’s older?”
Twin A: “I am!”
Twin B: “Yes, but I’m taller!”

This short bit would undoubtedly send the stranger into fits of laughter, my twins satisfied in contributing to their amusement. But if my twins didn’t know their birth order and said so when asked, would the questions have stopped or just changed direction: “What do you mean you don’t know who’s older?”  or “Did you ever try to find your birth certificates to look?” or even, “Who do you think is older?” (I’m sure they would have come up with another entertaining gag to satisfy their adoring public.)

Some say that when twins know who was born first, it sets up a rivalry between the pair. I’m not so sure about that. There are plenty of things that twins compete about—from grades and sports to parental attention and friends—I’m not sure birth order is one of them. Instead I worry more that I’ve somehow restricted a part of each them by simply making one older.

Check out this adorable video made by two British twins. “The Younger” has a great interpretation on the whole birth order question.


One thought on “Should I Tell My Twins Who is Older?

  1. Mrs Black

    I am a singleton sister to identical (female) twins and would highly recommend NOT telling them who is oldest. My sisters were told, and I am sure it impacted on their development and also on mine. My eldest twin sister has constantly told everyone that she is the oldest by ten minutes, as a child she was obsessed with being the eldest. She has developed all of the eldest child attributes identified in psychological theories and has an ego which is out of control (reinforced by her younger twin going along with everything she says). She has an inability to accept opinions that differ from her own ideology which is rigid, will never admit to being wrong or the need for change, and has no respect for anyone. She is unhealthily sure of herself. She is highly manipulative in her behaviour towards all family members, sees herself as superior and dominates the family. My younger twin sister subconsciously seemed to use the ten minutes difference as a way of ‘taking the back seat’ in her own life. She allows her older twin to dictate their lives, make decisions and now dominate the way they both parent their children. This is beneficial for my younger twin sister as when things go wrong it is her elder twin’s fault, and it is much easier to go along with our older sister than it is to challenge her which results in long standing resentment and punishment. My eldest sister causes so much distress when she is challenged that our parents have even given up. They are both getting older and tired and can’t cope with the fall out; my eldest twin sister even manipulates her children and nieces to be disrespectful and mean to our parents/ their grandparents. Both my twin sisters miss out in that myself and our parents act differently when they are around, and none of us are honest because it leads to confrontation. Being an identical twin, in my experience predisposes a child to have an over inflated ego, they are constantly told how special they are and people automatically want to know them, because they are different/interesting. Couple that with being told that they are the eldest and you run the risk of creating a monster.

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