Posted in: Adolescent Twin Dilemmas, Ask Dr. Joan, Sibling rivalry, Twins and Parental Connections, Why?
A thousand years ago when I was elected student body secretary in high school . . . and my twin sister was not. . . how was I to know that she felt awful? Last week over coffee we recalled this experience and so many others that are difficult for twin teens. I had no idea that my sister felt so guilty about getting into a prestigious and highly academic high school program that I did not qualify for. As a result, she told me that she chose to only participate for one semester rather than two.
Even though these events occurred more than forty years ago, they remain salient emotional markers in our adult relationship. My sister and I are grateful beyond words that we had each other during our growing years. We both recognize and acknowledge that it was our twinship that protected us from unhealthy family dynamics. Most siblings, including twins, form a distinct relationship with each parent. I tried to take care of our mother emotionally. My sister, on the other hand, experienced such profound maternal disappointment that she stopped feeling any connection to her at all. Both of us reacted in different ways to a situation rife with maternal neglect and cruelty.
As we have raised our own children, we have a renewed appreciation about how our unique connection to one another actually saved us. I have interviewed hundreds of twins and am often told that the twin relationship served as the anchor and safety net in family situations where the parents were emotionally damaged.
While my sister and I are similar in may ways, we have distinct preferences and personality traits. I love to shop and spend money; she buys her clothes online and is careful about “saving for a rainy day”. Nonetheless, our shared experiences create an unbreakable bond that allows for individual differences and perspectives. Our need to create an even balance is no longer an issue, as it was in high school. So, we can tip the scale in many directions without either one of us feeling fearful about falling off - such are the advantages of wisdom, mindsight, and hindsight as we grow older and wiser.
Posted in: Ask Dr. Joan, Sibling rivalry, Twin bliss, Twins and Parental Connections, Uncategorized, Why?
I want to thank everyone who filled out the survey. More than 250 people participated, from ages 18 to 85, and I continue to receive responses every day. I was surprised by some findings and validated by others. More than ever, I am convinced about my book‘s relevance since so many twin pairs are hungry for information and advice concerning their relationship to their twin. The majority of respondents were very motivated to understand the aspects of their twin relationship that contribute to feelings of sadness, confusion, and fear. While a small percentage of people were incredulous that being a twin would have any unpleasant or negative consequences, most authentically acknowledged difficulties and desired help in resolving them. Many twin pairs are attempting to work out their issues so that the twinship can maintain its integrity alongside other primary relationships.
I was not surprised by the fact that there were only a handful of respondents who expressed unmitigated resentment and estrangement from their twin. The few who did so described years of legitimate frustration and angst. The segment where I appeared on the Rachel Ray Show entitled “I Hate My Twin” a few years ago was an exaggerated and sensationalized ploy geared to generate audience ratings and publicity. Like so many survey respondents, the young women on this show were struggling to understand and rework their issues with separation and individuation. Presently both are doing well – living in separate cities, pursuing different career paths, and appreciating their cherished connection. It is imperative that non-twins along with society-at-large recognize that twins, just like singletons, have expectable developmental struggles with their siblings. Conflict does not signal that they hate each other nor insinuate that they are no longer close. Twins’ yearnings to forge other intimate relationships without alienating or hurting their twin emerge as the salient struggle.
I do want to mention the many poignant stories shared by twins who describe how their powerful connection to their twin helped them survive traumatic events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, and illness. The multiple references to fear about twin loss reflect the love and devotion that many twins feel for each other. Also, the diverse parenting styles reported by twin pairs were intriguing.
Thanks again for your continuing interest in and support for my work. I will keep you updated on my research and the book’s publication.
Posted in: Ask Dr. Joan, Babyhood, Preschool, Sibling rivalry, Toddler, Twins and Parental Connections, Why?
I was speaking with a mom of twin toddlers the other day that was lamenting the fact that her girls were no longer content playing by themselves. They both want mom at the same time now and are bent on outdoing the competition. Mom used to be able to placate one while she handled the other. Unfortunately, now the stakes have changed. If she is sitting with one on her lap, the other comes and rests her head “assertively” on mom’s knee, making it very clear that she is not pleased about her sister’s “top billing”.
I reminded mom that developmental stages just happen. Often we are so preoccupied with the everyday hustle and bustle that we don’t necessarily recognize the shifts and changes until we find ourselves right smack in the middle of them. Parents of adolescents bemoan the fact that it felt as if their beatific son or daughter turned into a surly adolescent over night! Something similar occurs with toddlers. Their invigorated sense of self and new felt autonomy changes the rules of the game. Parents need to understand the game beforehand so that they can be aware of the winning strategies. This does not mean, of course, that you will win by entering into a battle of wills. To the contrary, the emotional strategies that help you understand and communicate with your child will help to socialize and protect your forward moving toddler to feel masterful in a secure and predictable world. In addition, there is the challenge of learning how to evaluate which battles are worth fighting. Aside from issues of health and safety, many first time parents understandably struggle with figuring out what is important for their children within the framework of their family, the community, and their culture.
Dr. Jenn Berman has a wonderful new book called Super Baby. It is available for early order on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com. Her chapters that describe how to handle an out of sorts toddler are excellent because they help parents understand a toddler’s emotional and physical struggles from the toddler’s age appropriate developmental level. Dr. Berman gives lovely examples about how to talk to toddlers, how to give them choices, how to set effective limits, and “how to say no without saying no”. She explains why parental predictability and consistency is key to a toddler’s healthy emotional maturation.
Parents of twin toddlers face additional challenges. Often they are required to make a decision that benefits one twin and makes it difficult for the other. Some expectations must be the same for both children in order for the parents to model consistent, clear, and unwavering behavior about specific limits and rules. For example, one mother told me that she had to take away the bottle from one twin because the other refused to use her Sippy cup when she saw her sister with the bottle. Another mom told me that she had to enforce the same rules for both of her sons about using the pacifier in order to quell the protests of inequality. It takes tremendous courage for parents of twins to make decisions that do not necessarily reflect the individual needs and wishes of both children. Usually parents of singletons are not so vigorously or repetitively challenged by their children about “unfair practices”.
While I believe that parenting the first time around involves a big learning curve for most couples, the additional commotion and complications of two at a time poses an extra challenge that is exhausting and depleting. The good news is that this stage does not last forever. In fact, these little dynamos turn into loving preschoolers who remind us about the infinite wonders of life all around us that we often take for granted.
Posted in: Ask Dr. Joan, Toddler, Twins Mystique, Twins Stereotype, Why?
A mom of two and a half year old twins explains that one daughter cries whenever mom attempts to take her out alone without her sister. Her daughter yells and screams and protests that she does not want to leave her sister at home. Mom feels angry and guilty about this situation.
She feels badly about the fact that her daughter misses her sister but at the same time resentful that her daughter is unwilling to spend time with her alone – without her sister present. Mom reports that her other daughter exhibits none of these behaviors when she is separated from her sister. In fact, mom notes that this daughter relishes the time alone without her sister present.
How do we understand this dynamic? Sometimes, one twin is more attached to her twin than to her mother.
Thus, the over dependent attachment to her twin is an attachment to mom via proxy. Parents need to understand this dynamic and attempt to make some restitution. While it’s exceedingly difficult to see one of your twins longing for the other, there is an important developmental lesson to be learned.
The intense separation fear has much more to do with an insecure attachment to mom and NOT unrequited love for one’s twin.
Posted in: Dr. Joan Rants, Sibling rivalry, Twins Mystique, Twins Stereotype, Why?
Parents of twins often feel like dreadful failures if their twins are not close. Do they need more reasons to feel inadequate?
Most parents hope that their children will be close; however, some parents of twins seem to assume or expect that closeness is part and parcel of the twinship.
I do understand how this expectation is created.
It is another manifestation of the “twin mystique” – a mindset which defines how twins should feel about one another. While it may seem counterintuitive, the more latitude and permission that you give your twins to have ambivalent feelings, the more psychic room you are providing to articulate, manage, and negotiate predictable conflicts that most siblings encounter.
Remember, often in the course of human interactions familiarity breeds contempt. Are twins exempt from these feelings just because they have that special twinship bond? I don’t believe so.
I do firmly concur that twins share an undeniable intimacy that is viable and authentic.
In my opinion the healthiest way to nurture this special bond is to foster free expression of twin differences so that they are free to love one another as individuals instead of feeling obligated to love one another because they are twins.
Food for thought? What do you think - do twins have to be best friends?
Posted in: Dr. Joan Rants, Twins Stereotype, Why?
I do understand that it is very difficult – especially the first time – to send your child off to preschool. The action itself proclaims that the child is entering into a wider world where parents can’t control their well-being. Letting go and helping your child feel that he can master feeling safe in the world without mommy and daddy is a vital developmental hurdle that lays down the internal groundwork for inner reliance and self-confidence. In this generation of “helicopter parents” this fundamental child development tenet is largely ignored.
Parents of twins approach the preschool experience with a special perspective.
Granted, mom may feel bereft since she needs to separate from two babies at the same time. However, she can minimize her loss with the knowledge that the twins have one another and therefore they will not feel alone. Of course, the twins’ close attachment needs to be approached with sensitivity and good sense .
Nevertheless, mom’s difficulty around separations should not be managed by the twinship. While twins might need to be with one another initially, there also needs to be opportunities for them to have some experiences away from one another via separate playdates, alone time with mom and dad, and eventually separate preschool classes if that is an option.
Parents must find out in advance if their twins’ public school mandates that twins be separated in kindergarten; if this is so, it is the parents’ responsibility to prepare their twins so that a smooth separation occurs.
Yes, it does take more time and effort, to be sure.
Yet, just remember that a healthy separateness beginning as early as possible helps to ensure healthy individuation throughout their lives.