[This is Part One of a Three-Part Series on the singleton child in a family of twins. What is her experience? How can you make sure she feels special? Part Two will examine this issue from the twins’ perspective, and Part Three will offer advice for parents to avoid and resolve conflicts between the singleton child and her twin siblings.]
From the Singleton’s Perspective
Imagine how it must feel as a singleton child to be greeted by your parent’s acquaintance with, “Oh, aren’t you cute! And what is your name, little one–oh, wait! Are THEY twins?! Identical?! Aren’t they adorable…!!” Sooner than you can say your name, the adult has moved swiftly passed you to your twin siblings, completely enchanted with them and completely finished with you.
Or how it might feel to walk into a relative’s home with your siblings and the first thing you hear is, “the twins are here!!!”
A singleton sibling must grapple with the feeling of being less exciting than his twin siblings in almost every setting in which they are all together. Interviewee Luke, singleton brother of twins Harriet and Jordan, said he didn’t remember feeling inferior to his twin siblings as they grew up together. But recently, after returning home from college for a holiday and watching family videos with his parents, he realized he must have felt that way. “In almost every frame,” Luke said, “I was jumping up and down or darting across the room to ensure that I was in front of the camera. Even when my dad was trying to film Harriet or Jordan doing something, there I was, waving my hand or putting my face right in front of the camera.”
In addition to feeling hungry for attention, a singleton child must also face the realization that she will not have the same relationship with either twin sibling as each has with the other. It’s often difficult for the non-twin sibling to feel comparatively close to her twin siblings, given the nature of the bond the twins share. “They shared the same classes, the same teachers, the same friends, the same hobbies, the same clothes,” one singleton interviewee said about her twin sisters, “It was hard to compete with that.”
To confound the issue, twins often use their relationship to gang up on their non-twin sibling. (Note that this bullying behavior by twins can be seen outside the family dynamic and should, in every context, be immediately squashed.)
While twins may intentionally or unintentionally make their non-twin sibling feel left out, parents can contribute to this dynamic as well. In families where votes are held as to, for example, where to go on family vacation or whether to adopt a companion animal, singleton children often feel disempowered because of the democratic process the family employs. For instance, in families with one singleton child and one set of twins, voting blocs might emerge: the parents’ interests are aligned (two votes), the twins’ interests are aligned (two votes), and the singleton child must advocate for his own interests (just one vote). The singleton child’s interests represent only 1/5 of the family and thus will be undervalued. Doesn’t seem fair, right?