I finally got my hands on Amy Chua’s, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom.” Although Chua has outraged many parents with her strict, almost Draconian parenting style, I liked the book. She’s a good writer even though her prose comes off as a little self-serving and a bit narcissistic. But, hey, that’s what makes the book entertaining. I don’t agree with 85% of her child-rearing philosophy but it sure had me turning the pages. And isn’t that what you want in a book?
For instance, on the first page of the book, she explains that her two daughters were never allowed to:
- go to a sleepover (and I’m assuming, never have one)
- have a playdate
- participate in the school play
- watch TV or play computer games
- choose their after-school activities
- get any grade less than an “A”
- play any instrument other than piano or violin
She also believes that you should never compliment your children in public yet the occasional verbal humiliation is just fine. See? Entertaining, right?
Most of what Chua writes is so foreign to me, so far from my realm of reality (I actually encourage my kids to try out for school plays as a way to socialize with their peers as well as master the art of public speaking) that I can’t even debate her ideas. Except for one.
Chua claims that Chinese parents openly and routinely compare their children. Although she says that she realizes that “parental favoritism is bad and poisonous,” she believes that “not all parental comparisons are insidious.” When she compares her daughters, (which she admits she does constantly) she says she’s not showing favoritism to one but merely “expressing confidence” that the other could do just as well at a certain task.
Oh, really? That got me thinking. What if Chua had twins? Would she still feel the same way, and if so, would her blatant comparisons elevate or damage the twin bond? As the mother of twins, my guess is the latter.
It’s hard not to compare twins. Heck, it’s impossible not to compare all your children. But if you have two children born several years apart, for instance, you expect those children to excel in different areas since they usually have vastly different interests and aptitudes. Comparisons of these children are more forgiving as everyone accepts their differences more readily. But with twins, there’s an added component. Since they’re born side by side, hitting developmental milestones at or near the same time, comparisons are much more magnified. More immediate. More acute.
Although the inclination to compare is normal, the practice of it can damaging. Even a favorable comparison can have negative consequences. For instance, if you say, “You got an ‘A’ on your Spanish final. Congratulations! That’s a much better grade than your twin brother got” can make the good student begin to feel anxious as he now knows in order to get more positive attention from you, he’ll need to continue being better at Spanish than his cotwin. In other words, he’ll need to compete with his cotwin. And bingo–the seeds of rivalry have been planted.
And what about a negative comparison? (This is the comparison method that Chua uses in the book with her daughters.) Although you may think that saying, “Why can’t you be more organized like your twin sister? Her grades are better because she’s on top of her assignments” is a way of motivating your unorganized child, it often has the opposite effect. A child rarely changes her ways, and now she believes you think less of her and higher of her cotwin.
Smells like favoritism to me.
So how should you proceed? First, while you may not be able to stop comparing your multiples, you can certainly keep it behind closed doors and out of earshot of your kids who often pretend they aren’t listening but in actuality take every word to heart. And next, keep all observations, both positive and negative, to the individual child. In other words, say, “Wow! You got an ‘A’ on your Spanish test. You deserve it since you studied hard.” Or, “You seem a bit unorganized lately. Here’s what I used to do when I felt overwhelmed with my school work.”
If you keep your child’s cotwin out of the conversation all together, comparisons won’t be necessary and the appearance of favoritism will be nowhere in sight.