3 Misconceptions About Twins, Busted!

photo by goonsquadsarah
Photo by goonsquadsarah

By Dawn Van Osdell

There’s a lot of contradictory and downright erroneous parenting info floating around out there. We’re not afraid to tackle it head-on!

Societally, we have a fascination for twins, likely because they used to be a pretty rare thing—only about 2 percent of births resulted in twins just a couple of decades ago. But today, due to women having children at an older age and to the continued rise in infertility treatments that often cause multiple births, we’re seeing more twins than ever before. And the likelihood of having twins continues to rise. Even as twins become more common, the mystique around them prevails and feeds misconceptions about what it’s like to be a twin—and about how to parent babies who are seen by the world as part of a pair.

To shed some light on the topic and the misunderstandings around it, we spoke with Joan A. Friedman, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and prominent twin expert. As an identical twin herself and the mother of five children, including two sets of fraternal twin sons, she is uniquely suited to the task. Here she sets the record straight about three common myths related to twin-dom.

Myth #1: Twins are always best friends and soul mates. If mine are not, I’m doing something wrong.

Truth: “There’s an idealized sense of what twins are supposed to be, including best friends,” says Friedman. While many twins are each other’s closest allies, it’s often because they are together so much—sharing a bedroom, classrooms, friends, and family. They are viewed by others—and even by themselves—as a two halves of a whole. If they don’t live up to the stereotypic expectation of being a perfect match, their parents can feel like they have somehow failed.

Rather than try to force an exclusive friendship between them, Friedman says families should recognize that twin siblings are often torn between their strong connection to one another and their frustration over wanting their own friendships. “Break through the stereotype that twins should be inseparable and help them develop individual identities and friendships,” says Friedman. Helping twins individualize will ultimately help them adjust to separate lives when they leave home and go their own ways.

Myth #2: Twins can read each other’s thoughts and feel each other’s pain.

Truth: Friedman, who has talked with countless parents of twins, says she’s heard the claim that twins share ESP too often not to consider it with some amount of seriousness, although she doesn’t buy it. She and her twin do not share telepathy between them and there is, in fact, no scientific proof to confirm that that power exists. How then do you explain it when one twin knows what the other is thinking, picks the same shirt to wear to school, or chooses the same present for a friend?

“They grow up in each other’s face all the time,” says Friedman. There is a familiarity with each other’s personality, reactions, habits, and routines, and there’s a deep emotional attachment that produces a powerful empathy for one another. The phenomenon is similar to the connection an old married couple may have, and their ability to finish each other’s sentences and predict each other’s next step. Like twins, they share a strong tie—though it’s unlikely a psychic one.

Myth #3: Competition between twins is no different than rivalry between singleton siblings.

Photo by pauldevoto 

Truth: More so than singleton siblings, twins are under constant comparison from the world and positioned to fight each other for top dog status. “They are in competition with each other before they are even born, fighting for their fair share of nutrients in the womb,” says Friedman. Even twins who get along well grow up competing for their parents’ time and attention, for dominance, and for independence.

The competition is tough on twins and also on their parents, who often attempt to put an end to the bickering and whining the competition causes by struggling to treat each child fairly and equally. But, “When you’re invested in treating them both the same, it’s a death sentence for all,” Friedman says. She advises parents to avoid seeing twins as a unit and instead, focus on treating them as individuals with unique needs and abilities. “Champion personality traits, abilities, and inclinations and avoid labels and comparisons,” she says. Spending one-on-one time with each twin is also a helpful way to curb the competition.

Although, the rivalry isn’t all bad. “It’s very motivating to have someone to compete with,” says Friedman. “And if someone has to lose, it’s a little easier to lose when you’re losing to your twin.”

Photos via Compfight

Summertime Siblings: What’ll It Take to Stop the Bickering?

by Lela Nargi

You’ve spent the better part of the school year taking deep, cleansing breaths as your kids nagged and picked at each other. You sipped (or guzzled) wine in a search for calm as they battled for supremacy over who would get the coveted first shower after soccer practice. You intervened gently—and sometimes not so gently—as they attempted to strangle each other on the living room floor. And now summer is almost upon you: two months in which you hope against hope for peace and quiet and tolerance. Can it be done? Do you dare to dream? And what’s it going to take to get there?

The answer might very well be signing your kids up for separate camp activities—even if it means extra time and effort on your part to shuttle them around. “In an ideal world,” says Kimberly Lemke, a Chicago-based licensed clinical psychologist specializing in children and adolescents and author of I Just Don’t Get My Parents’ Rules, “you’ll put them onto a summer sports team together and they’ll become the best of friends. In reality, that’s not how it goes. First and foremost, you need to ask yourself what each child needs.”

Siblings fight for all kinds of reasons, a big one of which is to assert their individuality. For example, says Lemke, “You might have one child who has self-esteem issues, who compares herself to her sibling and says, ‘She’s always better, I’m going to fail.’” This, she maintains, is a perfect example of when siblings might benefit from time spent apart. “It limits comparisons,” she says, and as a result, conflict. Which in turn leads to less stress for you.

Separating kids in the summertime can lead to enhanced self-esteem in more ways than one. Lemke, who is mother to 4-1/2 year old twins who are always together in school and afterschool classes—and actually like it that way—concedes that sometimes, it’s better to push kids to do things away from each other. “It can be uncomfortable for them to be separated, but a little anxiety is good,” she says. “It lets them practice social skills rather than parenting each other.” But she also warns that separating kids who really want to be together can lead to a power struggle, between them and you.

In this instance, it’s important to let children know the situation is temporary—one month spent apart doing separate activities they’re each good at or have expressed interest in, one month together. “This is a more manageable strategy than just forcing them to do things without each other,” says Lemke. “Tell them, ‘I think it’s wonderful for you to want to share your time with your brother. And I also think this art class looks really cool. Let’s give it a shot, then we can go back to doing something together.’”

Got kids who squabble but don’t have the time or energy to split them up? It’s not always necessary. Some scuffling siblings know inherently what they like and are good at and fight, not for validation, but to get your attention, for example. Remove you from the equation and the squabbling becomes a non-issue, which means kids like these can benefit from being signed up for the same activity—and you score a carefree, one drop-off suits all scenario. Says Lemke, “Individual players know how to engage on their own, and how to enjoy activities on their own. So when you sign them up together,” they’re perfectly comfortable going off to their separate corners to read or talk to other kids. When group activities force them together, without you around they can learn to problem-solve their own conflicts, and this “actually helps to build their relationship,” says Lemke.

Don’t expect the miracle of temporary sibling detente to seep into the pre- and post-camp hours, though; as soon as you and your partner are back in the picture, conflicts are likely to rear up all over again. To counteract this, Los Angeles mom Abbie Schiller, founder of the parenting site The Mother Company, which produces The Siblings Show, recommends attempting to minimize power struggles before they even get off the ground. And to figure out what role you might be unconsciously playing that keeps them going. “One of the things our generation was told was that our parents loved us the same,” Schiller says. “That’s a mixed message. Children are inherently different and when you tell them you love them the same, you set them up to constantly try to catch their parent in an inequity: ‘You gave him two hugs!’ But if you set it up that you love them differently, they stop looking for a-tit-for-a-tat; you eliminate competition.”

Lemke says you can downplay siblings’ inherent competitiveness by getting them to work together to reach a common objective. Each time you see them engage appropriately in a shared activity, reward them with something like a marble. After they’ve accumulated 20 marbles, the whole family gets to go out for a special dinner, or a trip to a water park. “Having a goal helps you direct their behavior, rather than just crossing your fingers they’ll act appropriately,” says Lemke. “But I tell parents, for this to be successful, they’re going to have to be very creative and catch the small behaviors. If your kids are walking through the door screaming at each other but one holds the door for the other, and the other one walks through calmly, ignore for a moment the bickering and say, ‘That was really kind of you to hold the door for your brother like that, and great job walking through the door without shoving.’ Once you start rewarding them both, they realize they can get attention that way, and they have a common mission.”

Much as you might all desire it, working parents don’t always have the luxury of taking time off in the summer months. But this doesn’t mean quality family time is out of the question. Says Schiller, after a day of work and camp, “You can combat the attention needs of your kids by giving them special time as often as possible.” Adds Lemke, five minutes of concerted, present time without you checking your phone for messages, is preferable to 20 minutes of distracted time. Let your child decide how to use your minutes together—snuggling, reading a book, doing a puzzle; then do the same for your other children. Says Schiller, “This makes them feel secure and lets them know you have enough love in your heart to go around.”

Lemke asserts, those concentrated minutes of together time will really add up: to a summer in which each child is reinforced, and reassured, and successful—positive feelings that will hopefully see you well past Labor Day, into autumn and beyond.

Photograph via Creative Commons

Have Twins? Give Them Quality Time Separately

Most parents struggle with not getting enough time one-on-one with their children, but if you are a parent of twins or multiples you’re likely battling the guilt and logistics of making it happen a bit more than other parents. No one disputes the importance of getting to know children as unique individuals, but how do you create time to enjoy your twins one-on-one when they are so often parented as a pair? Here are 7 ideas for spending quality alone time with your twins, even if it’s just a few precious minutes.

julia - happy girl on carousel


1. Divide and conquer with your spouse
Family time is precious and it’s often hard to split up when you finally have time to be together. However, it’s often the most feasible opportunity to create some alone time. Don’t feel you have to do something special to make the time together feel meaningful. Letting one child stay home for time with Dad while you take the other to run errands can be just as worthy. Even babies can benefit from the time on their own with you, and older kids will appreciate that they’ve been given a chance to win over your complete attention.

2. Make bath time a solo occasion
Babies and toddlers likely don’t need a full bath every night. Give your children baths on alternating nights, spending time with one in the bath – singing, talking, and splashing – while Dad plays or reads to his sibling. As babies get older, more active and need to be bathed daily, try to stick to solo baths by having Dad or an older sibling play with one twin while the other has his turn in the bath with your undivided attention.

3. Take advantage of alone time with an early riser or a night owl
While it’s easier to keep the same bedtime for both, your children may have internal clocks that keep one up later or rising earlier than the other. The time when one is asleep can become precious, quiet minutes for two of you to talk, cuddle or read.

4. Hire a mother’s helper
Having multiples is expensive and not everyone can afford to add extra childcare to the budget, but you may be able to find a young girl or boy in the neighborhood who would love to help you out for a lower fee. Mother’s helpers, typically kids around the age of 9-12, are anxious to acquire babysitting experience and are often willing to earn it by playing with a child while you are in the house. Take the opportunity to take your child on a walk or play in another room while your helper entertains the other.

5. Book a sitter (or trade childcare duty with a friend) for some one-on-one
Sitters aren’t just for date night or for getting your work done. While as much as you’d love (and deserve!) a night out with your spouse or a girlfriend, why not take your child on a daytime date, instead? Little kids will love going just about anywhere you take them. As they get older, let them choose where they’d like to go and how they’d like to spend their time alone with you. Find an activity or place that can become something just the two of you share, and make it a regular occurrence.

6. Stagger nap times
Their nap time is likely your only time for a little peace and quiet! Rather than sacrifice it entirely, why not wake one child up slightly earlier than the other so you have some time to play together. If one goes down for his nap more easily than the other, another option is to wait 15 minutes before putting his twin down.

7. Assign chore helpers
Kids love to help, especially when they think they’ve been carefully selected for a big kid job. Assign one child laundry helper and another table setter or duster. The two of you can tackle the job together, and at the same time get some consistent, solo time together.

Taking advantage of opportunities for one-on-one time with each of your children, no matter how brief the moments sometimes are, allows you to bond with them as individuals and to create your own unique memories together. According to Dr. Joana Friedman, an expert on twins, creating a strong bond with one’s parents is important to a twin’s emotional growth and is also an important avenue toward developing a harmonious twin relationship… meaning time you spend alone with your twins is beneficial to both of you.