Twin Labeling is a Liability

Date: Monday March 24, 2008
Posted in: Babyhood, Sibling rivalry, Twins Stereotype

We often “label” our children as a means of distinguishing each one’s personality, quirks, or differences. We innocently remark, “He’s very sociable, she’s a go-getter, he’s introspective, she’s a people pleaser.” However, in the case of twins, this naming or labeling frequently turns into an identity rather than a well-intentioned description. Twins struggle throughout their lives to find and define their uniqueness. Careless and thoughtless labeling by family and friends makes a challenging situation even more overwhelming.

With two same age siblings sharing mom, dad and physical space practically 24/7, neither twin has much of an opportunity to be known or recognized for him or herself. So, what often begins as a seemingly harmless distinction may turn into a long lasting characterization.

The other day I was speaking with a mom who has 2 1/2 year old twin girls and a one year old son. She described how one twin is very kind, maternal, and loving toward her younger brother while the other twin is angry, rejecting, and disinterested. Mother expressed concern that the “angry” twin was not behaving like her sister. I explained that most children have some sort of reaction to the birth of a sibling. In the case of twins responding to a new baby, there can be a definitive difference.

If one daughter covets the role of loving mommy toward her baby brother, what role is left for her sister to play? If she, too, acts as the loving mommy, she has one more reason to compete with her sister – this time for the attention of the new baby. If she does not feel like participating in yet another competitive struggle, she can devise a different and distinct strategy – which is to behave in an oppositional way as the hostile, angry, and unloving older sister.

I told this mom that I appreciated this mean-spirited strategy because the “angry” daughter refused to pretend to be a good girl; she was articulating her distress and sadness in an authentic way. I advised that mom attempt to help her daughter talk about her angry feelings with empathy and understanding and to let her daughter know that she understands how she feels and that things will get better. I also suggested that she take out her “angry” daughter alone so that she feels reassured that her angry feelings don’t make her unlovable; also taking her out alone with the baby will provide her with an opportunity to engage with her brother without being burdened by her sister.

The twin dynamic makes the sibling issue a bit more complicated. Parents seem more accepting about a singleton’s ambivalent feelings toward a new baby because there is no other child with whom to compare or judge his behavior. Parents of twins are consistently thrown into this world of compare and compete.

Parents who have worked diligently to carve out a separate attachment to each twin will feel better equipped to handle these inconsistencies with less guilt and fear that they are showing favoritism or special treatment. They won’t “label” their twins because they will understand this behavior is an adjustment reaction that will resolve over time - NOT a permanent personality trait that will distinguish one twin from the other.

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