My twin daughters are so competitive with each other. Before we even start our day, I’ve heard the words “I win!” at least eight times. She who gets dressed first, she who touches the car door first, she who fastens her seatbelt first, etc. In some ways it’s a gift, really. What parent wouldn’t want her child rushing to put on her shoes? While my child is just hurrying so that she can beat her sister in the task, it also results in us leaving the house in time! And thankfully, my daughters seem to take turns ‘winning’ so one child is not more of a winner. And, conversely, one is not more of a — ahem – loser.
Where it Started
At first I was perplexed at this sudden onslaught of competition. Where did it come from? At home, after all, the adults never openly compete with one another. My husband and I never yell, “I win!” when one of us has successfully proved a point (although I confess I’ve thought it from time to time). And we’ve even matured to saying “you’re right” when appropriate. So it’s not like our daughters are emulating us when they race each other up the steps.
And then, when looking at a baby photo of Eden making a sour face while eating pureed kale for the first time, it occurred to me: they did learn competition from us. But not in the most direct and obvious way. I remembered that when Eden rejected kale, I said, “Look! Tal likes kale!” I would then feed the appreciative Tal. I wanted Eden to see that her compatriot liked kale and thus it was perfectly logical and reasonable (in my mind, at least) that Eden should too. Or when we were trying to get Tal to be more active at the playground and my husband would say, “See? Eden climbs the ladder without help…”
It’s no wonder my daughters compete against each other every chance they get! The message we’ve broadcast has been clear and consistent: look to your sister for the barometer of what is expected of you. We are constantly comparing you to each other. Even though we put you in separate classes at school and ask relatives not to call you “the twins,” we still pit you against each other in moments of parental carelessness.
What I Already Knew
In a previous blog post, I explain the harm in comparing your twins to each other. I note that adult twin interviewees reported to me that comparisons made them feel angry or resentful toward not only the one who compared them, but also toward their co-twin, to whom they were being compared. And in this other previous blog post, I tell the story of twins who were compared to each other by their parents to such an extreme that now, in their thirties, they still have a strained relationship with each other — and with their parents. And while I knew that there was the undesired consequence of twins comparing themselves to each other, I was unaware of the extent to which competitiveness would also result.
New Lesson Learned
Sometimes, particularly when I’m exhausted, I’ll respond to an “I win!” with a “Guys! Not everything is a competition!” But to them, everything is. Because that’s essentially what we’ve told them since they were babies.
New lesson… Every self-help book will tell you not to compete against others, but to instead compete against yourself. We should expect no less (or more) from our twin children.