A few months ago, while redesigning the look of this blog, I searched for a photo of my twins to place in the header. But shortly before uploading a snapshot of my fraternal twin boys beaming at the camera, I realized that something was missing. My third and youngest son. The singleton. The non twin.
Although the photo that I ultimately did choose includes all three of my boys, it could also be a metaphor for the way that many singletons feel about their position in a family with multiples. If you look carefully at the photo taken more than six years ago when we were adding an addition on to our home, you’ll notice that the body language of my twins is very open while my singleton is sitting off to the side curled up in a ball as if isolating himself.
Now before you go and start feeling all sorry for him, or worse, start questioning how your own singleton relates to your twins or triplets, let me assure you that my son isn’t suffering (and yours is probably doing just fine, too). My youngest son is in no way an outsider to the family. Although born without a cotwin, he is very much a part of each of our lives and even an integral part of the twin dyad. He’s outspoken, refusing to take a backseat to his celebrity-status brothers, and funny to a fault. Unfortunately, I also wonder if he is all of these things simply because he was born after his twin brothers. I have often thought that my youngest is assertive because he’s felt the need to be. He had to be louder in order to get the attention, to be heard above the noise of the twinship. And I wonder, would he have been someone else entirely—say, serious and studious—if he were first-born or born a singleton among two other singletons rather than twins? Is he outgoing and the class clown simply because of his family status?
I’ll never know.
For some singletons, it’s not always easy to be the sibling to twins or even triplets. They either compete (like my son) or choose to not to and simply withdraw. For instance, years ago when I was interviewing families for my book, Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples, one mom told me that their situation got so bad that her youngest singleton used to bring a book when the family all went out to dinner and would sit at the other end of the table and read in spite of the mom trying to draw her into the conversation. Obviously that’s an extreme example. But another mom told me that her singleton daughter confided in her, “You have Dad, and the twins have each other. I have no one.”
So does this mean that if you have twins and you’re expecting a singleton that he or she will be a family outcast? Hardly. But there are a few rules for the road if you’re the parent of multiples with a single-born child on the way that will help keep harmony within your clan.
- Focus on the whole family, not just the twins. Seems obvious, right? But it’s the little things that we do such as dressing our twins alike, wearing the “Proud Mom of Twins” T-shirt, signing Christmas cards, “John, Mary, Michael and the twins,” or introducing your kids with “These are my twins and this is my daughter,” that sends the message of separation rather than inclusion. In other words, don’t make a distinction between your twins and your single-born children. Think “inclusion” not “exclusion.”
- Tune into your singleton’s feelings. For example, I’m guarded about how much I talk about my work. I make a living writing about twins but I don’t want my livelihood coming at the expense of my youngest. I want him to feel on equal footing to his twin brothers. Therefore, when I’m working on a twin-related article, I often close my computer screen when my youngest approaches my desk to ask a question.
- Intervene in public. This is a biggie. When people approach you to ask about your twins (which as we all know happens often), have a “script” ready, one that deflects some of the attention away from your twins and draws it towards your singletons. For instance, when someone asks, “Are they twins?” include all your kids in your answer, “Yes. These are all my children.”
- Intervene at family gatherings. Politely steer the conversation away from too much talk about “the twins” and point out your singleton’s accomplishments as well. Grandma and Grandpa sometimes don’t realize that their compliments and pride of being the grandparents of twins can sometimes come at the expense of the other grandchildren.
- Just as you carve out alone time for each twin, find the time to take your single-born child out by himself, too. Every child wants to be seen as special by Mom or Dad.
- Mix things up to foster relationships between each twin and their single-born siblings. For instance, swap roommates among all siblings instead of automatically having the twins room together. Regularly take one twin out with your singleton so that they may build a strong relationship with him or her, too.