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.



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COURSES: SUMMER 2011

Parenting Seminar

“Using Emotional Intelligence to Raise Compassionate and Resilient Children”

Sunday, June 12

12:30–5:30 p.m.

ADMISSION

$50 General

$40 Skirball Members

$30 Full-Time Students


ABOUT THE PROGRAM

In this seminar, participants learn to help their children become emotionally intelligent and find ways to express their feelings authentically and appropriately.

Through a keynote presentation and multiple workshops, participants will learn how to use Mindsight with their children to help them discover their feelings as a source of strength.

Techniques for cultivating resilience and well-being will be explored. The seminar will also enable parents and caregivers to strengthen bonds with children, leading to stronger families and communities.

Designed for parents, expectant parents, mental health care practitioners, and teachers, the program includes the keynote lecture and two ninety-minute workshops, Session A and Session B.

Dr. Joan A. Friedman will be offering a worshop during Session B, from 4:00pm till 5:30pm.


Raising Emotionally Healthy Twins

Facilitator: Joan Friedman, PhD, author of Emotionally Healthy Twins

Drawing on her experience as a twin, the mother of twins, and a psychotherapist specializing in twins, Dr. Friedman outlines seven key concepts for helping twins develop into self-realized, resilient individuals. Her current research about adult twin development will enhance parental awareness about twins’ ongoing emotional growth.



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.



   

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.



Recently I received an email from a despondent adolescent who was depressed and angry over the fact that no one seriously believed that being an identical twin might in any way account for his dissatisfaction with his life or himself.

He expressed that he felt odd, misunderstood, and sad because he believed that he had never had any opportunity to develop, create, or shape his own unique self. He said that his angst over these issues was dismissed as foolishness and self pity by his mother and his therapist. The teenager’s attempts to differentiate from his brother by doing separate activities were thwarted by his twin brother who ended up copying and mimicking his actions. There was no parental intervention to stop this interference or sabotage.

This boy feels adrift and isolated with his frustration and sadness because he is trapped in the “idealized” world of being a twin. Certainly, those people who have fantasized about being a twin or having a twin might readily dismiss this twin dilemma and understand the boy’s state of mind as reflecting expectable adolescent struggles. However, this is far from the emotional reality of many adolescent twins.

Imagine how troublesome it must feel to want to be your unique self and yet feel terribly unsure and conflicted about your own identity. Throw in the additional variable that the price of being your true self might come at the expense of the most significant attachment that you have. How does a conflicted adolescent cope with his or her longings for separateness and self-definition if it means the loss or alteration of the most important attachment figure? So often the twin who dares to separate is perceived as bad or wrong, and this projection creates enormous guilt and struggles for the teenage twin attempting to wrest himself into some sort of individuated person.

Do not underestimate the impact of a twin relationship on your adolescent twins.

While identical twins often have a harder time given that they have been treated as an indistinguishable unit for most of their lives, fraternal twins also have difficult obstacles to overcome. Fraternal twins frequently differ significantly in terms of their sociability, academic successes, and athletic prowess. While some sets of twins find a workable balance, many struggle needlessly because their parents do not acknowledge that the twinship can create difficulties.

One mother I worked with was exceedingly reluctant about considering the option of putting her fraternal teenage girls into different high schools. While it seemed perfectly obvious to me by virtue of the mom’s reporting that each girl was suffering tremendously by being compared and interdependent, she appeared reluctant and uncertain to provide each twin with what she needed because of the sanctity of the twinship. Reluctantly, she adhered to my advice on blind faith since she could not bring herself to acknowledge that the twinship had become a toxic attachment.

The girls are doing beautifully in their separate schools and she is forever grateful for my advice and counsel.  Again, this is another instant which substantiates my belief that parents of twins have to make important decisions for their children - the twinship cannot be such a powerful entity that decides how lives should be lived.





Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have plenty of money.

With unlimited monetary resources and limited personal time, I would advise them to do the following with their older three children and twins to be.

First, I would advise the expectant couple to prepare their kids for the birth of two babies and try to minimize the use of the word TWINS. While it is so ingrained in all of us to use the word, the word itself conjures images and stereotypes about twins as ESP conjoined soulmates who inhabit the private and exclusive world belonging solely to twins.

Second, I would set up two separate rooms with nonmatching accessories. Twin babies do not have to sleep together although they have shared the same womb for 37 weeks (hopefully). Their names should not begin with the same letter and their distinct personalities should be identified and respected from birth going forward.

Third, the parents need to spend time with their older children so that they do not feel eclipsed by the birth of two babies. The media will be jumping all over this because a twin birth captivates the public. These new twins are fortunate to have older siblings because their relationship will hopefully be a source of loving support when the parents are unavailable.

Shall each twin have his own caretaker? Absolutely – every baby needs that one-on-one relationship.

Will Angelina feel resentful about the babies’ bonds to the caretakers?

Time will tell.

To Raising Emotionally Healthy Twins,

Dr. Joan Friedman



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.



“One of the twins has always been the leader and has bossed his brother since early on. I have enrolled them in a preschool and this is their 4th week. The boys seem to block out the teacher and do not want to follow rules. They will not make eye contact. The biggest issue today is M pushed another child and stomped on the teacher’s foot. M doesn’t seem to want to sit at circle time and one day this week he got up and pulled pictures off of the wall. His brother T then followed him doing the same thing. So in a nut shell they are disruptive to an existing class.”

I recently received this email from a mom feeling distraught about this situation with her twin boys. She read what I wrote about “too much togetherness” in my book and concurred that this is truly what has happened. I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered this issue with preschool age twins. The twin dynamic that has characterized the twin pair can become a problem within the contextualized social world of preschool. If this pattern of one twin controlling the other and the other twin imitating and accommodating to this pattern, entry into a preschool class with other children will only exaggerate the difficulties. Hoping or believing that the presence of other children will help to minimize this dynamic is often wishful thinking. In fact, often times the opposite occurs – there is a resurgence of the dynamic in spades as both twins are threatened and uncomfortable by the socialization demands to which they are unaccustomed.

Don’t deceive yourselves – there is no magical solution. What it takes is dedication to the principle of separate experiences with the hope that given ample time the twins can adjust to being in separate classes so that the strength of the twin bond is reduced, thereby giving each child the opportunity to be acting on his own behalf rather than feeling like half of a pair.