Last week, I was reading with great interest about the Canadian couple who have decided to keep the sex of their baby a secret so that he/she can choose his/her own gender when he/she gets older.
“Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?” is definitely the most asked question of all pregnant women but if those moms give birth to twins, there’s a shift in interest and then for some reason the question suddenly becomes, “Which twin is older?”
The Canadian couple say they’re withholding the sex of their child to free him/her from the constraints of gender social norms. Parents of twins who withhold their multiples’ birth order say they do it to prevent sibling rivalry. They don’t want their twins to fall into the traditional birth order hierarchy with “Twin A” becoming the more dominant partner. And while the Canadian couple’s experiment has far, far greater social implications (some may say even dangerous), I can’t help but draw a slight comparison. Both goals are idealistic but do either accomplish what they set out to do?
From a purely practical point of view, keeping twins’ birth order under wraps is difficult! It’s never easy to keep a secret. First, you have to decide who to tell and who not to tell. Then there are the birth certificates to keep hidden from inquisitive children. And what happens when they need to apply for a passport or driver’s license?
I’ve never been one for keeping secrets (maybe because my Italian-American family thrived on them). They’re way too much work. When something’s a secret, it takes on an energy all its own, and it usually ends up possessing more power than it deserves. Parents who hide their twins’ birth order may also unintentionally give off the vibe that their children can’t handle the truth so therefore they need to keep it a secret. That may in turn fan the flames of curiosity even more than if they had told their twins outright. Furthermore, on some level, parents in both these instances are denying their children of who they really are. After all, if you’re a boy, you’re a boy; if you’re five minutes older, you’re five minutes older. So what?
Baby boy or baby girl? First born twin or second? Some would ask, does it really matter? What’s wrong with being either? Isn’t there beauty in all those roles? Instead of trying to keep these secrets, wouldn’t time and energy be better spent putting ideals into action? After all, when it comes to raising kids, it’s not what you say (or don’t say) but what you do that matters more.
For instance, the Murray triplets have no idea who was born first. It’s always been the “Big Neighborhood Mystery” around here, yet Bobby has his own bedroom while Sam and John share a room.
Bobby may or may not be the oldest triplet but his parents are sure treating him as such, according to his cotriplets. Talk about setting up a sibling rivalry!
I admit the question, “Which twin is older?” is an annoying one, right up there with, “Who’s smarter?” but my twins’ birth order has always been part of our family fabric. Although I truly understand the intent of parents who choose to keep it a secret and respect that, I also believe that if you really want to diminish the importance of birth order and put the brakes on twin rivalry, these tips are more important.
- Never put one twin “in charge” of the other, and always make each child responsible for himself. If money needs to go to school for a class trip, for instance, give each twin his own even if they share a classroom. When it’s time for cell phones and house keys, don’t make them share. Buy double. And never, never have one twin check up on the other when you’re not home. If you want to know if one did his homework, just ask him when you return.
- Don’t try to squash twin rivalry. According to experts, some form of sibling rivalry is not only natural but good. And if you try to put a stop to it, it will just go under the radar where it will fester and eventually blow up. Instead allow your twins to work out their own issues but set some boundaries. (“I know that you’re upset that Sue made the swim team and you didn’t, but you may not hide her favorite swim suit.”)
- Play down the importance of birth order. When someone asks you, “Who’s older?” Smile, laugh and then answer with something like, “Gee, let me think about that for a moment it’s been so long ago.” And then change the subject.
- Mix it up. From singing “Happy Birthday” to them or signing holiday cards to choosing the weekend movie or having a turn on the computer, give each child the opportunity to go first.
- Follow No-Brainer rules. Don’t refer to your twins as the “younger” or “older” to family and friends, and when you introduce them to someone new, never go by birth order.