This is Part Two of a three-part series: Encouraging a Healthy Bond Between Your Twins. Read Part One here.
Parents of twins can help their twin children grow and preserve the twin bond. Here are additional tips:
In this blog post, I discussed the importance of not comparing your twin children to each other. When you say things like, “James is the smart one,” it causes James’ twin brother to think that you must consider him to be “the dumb one.” And when a child gleans that a parent (and, by extension, the world) perceives him to be a certain way, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. He thinks: What’s the point in studying so hard when everyone thinks I’m dumb anyway?
So labels and comparisons can be very harmful to your child’s self-esteem. And a label can harm not only your child, but also the relationship between your children. As I wrote in the post, “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.” What happens when you constantly compare your children? Read on.
Discourage Unhealthy Competition
Twin interviewee Jan and her identical sister, Evelyn, were from an immigrant family which Jan described as “the kind where the parents pressured their children to be excellent in both school and music.” The parents enrolled them in the same music program as children, and Evelyn showed early and impressive talent at the violin. Jan was a very good violinist as well, but “there can only be one first-chair violinist,” and that was Evelyn. That Jan wasn’t the better musician meant that Jan had to excel in her parents’ other valued category: education. Jan was one of the top five students in her graduating high school class. From a distance, the strong motivation to excel might appear to parents to be a wonderful trait to have your children display.
From the inside, however, the drive to perfection was destroying the twin bond. Whereas Jan and Evelyn were “best buddies” as kids, once they became adolescents, it all changed. Their parents would constantly compare the twins to each other and say things like, “Your identical twin sister received a perfect score on this exam – why didn’t you?”
When their parents applied pressure for perfection from each child, Jan and Evelyn would address their parents’ criticisms with attacks on one another. Fights with their parents often escalated to door slams following screams of “Just because I’m not perfect at physics like Jan, the poster child…!” Or “Evelyn is first-chair because she kisses the conductor’s butt…!” Jan was unable to remember a time since middle school when she did not feel bitter towards Evelyn.
In their thirties now, they live in different cities and have a “civil, but strained” relationship. Jan surmises that their relationship began to deteriorate after the parents enrolled them in the same activities and would constantly compare them to each other. The desire to achieve perfection fueled the competition, and they turned into enemy combatants trying to win the same thing: their parents’ elusive approval.
As parents, we can pit our twin children against each other or we can encourage them to support each other. And it’s far easier to have a child support his brother when they are engaged in different activities. But even if both children insist on committing to the same activity, the parent can make sure that each child is celebrated for his individual efforts in that activity.
And here’s the rule that every parent should follow and (probably) every parent has broken: never openly compare your twin children to each other.
Next up: my last and final post in this series, Part Three of “Encouraging a Healthy Bond Between Your Twins.”