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.