In a recent episode of the humorous sitcom Blackish, Pops (played by Laurence Fishburne) is roughhousing with one of his grandchildren who is a twin. “Be careful!” yells Pops’ son Dre (Anthony Anderson), “He’s half of a set…!”
In real life, however, I think most parents of twins try to show their children that they are unique individuals who have value outside of their twinship.
My own daughters, referred to here as “E” and “T,” in whom I try so hard to instill a sense of individuality, still sometimes frame their own identities within the twinship. At her three-year wellness visit, E’s pediatrician began asking her conversational questions so as to distract her from the probing of medical instruments. This was the dialogue:
Dr.: What’s your favorite color?
E: My favorite color is pink, and T’s favorite color is blue.
Dr.: What do you like to eat for dinner?
E: I like toast, and T likes pizza.
This pattern of E answering for herself and then on behalf of T continued for the whole five minute dialogue. I should note that T was not at the appointment and the doctor never once asked about her. Still, E made sure T was, at least by name and basic information, present.
As most of us know, identity, independence, and individuality are essential to a person’s emotional health.
A child’s sense of self and individuation is formed very early. For twins, the process is complicated by the need to not only separate from the parent, but also separate from his twin sibling. This is even more difficult for identical twins who are often mistaken for one another by friends and even family. Twins at this age thus may not take appropriate steps to try to individuate from each other.
One’s sense of personhood and identity experiences another boost in formation in adolescence. This is a time when an individual tries to separate further from his parents, home, and upbringing. He is questioning the values and ideals with which he was raised. He is trying to figure out which of those he will keep and which he will discard. He may find comfort in aligning with a peer group or clique.
In Things Will Be Different For My Daughter: A Practical Guide to Building Her Self-Esteem and Self-Reliance, authors Mindy Bingham and Sandy Stryker describe how in adolescence, this peer group identity overcomes individual identity. They note that “[t]here is safety and security in the group identity as [adolescents] move from who their parents want them to be and struggle to find out who they are.” This essential process is complicated in twins who, generally, have trouble discovering their unitary identity because they view themselves as part of a pair. Even if they, as a set, have separated from their parents, they still have not formed their unitary identity because they have not separated from one another.
As parents of twins, we can try to help our children find out who they are as individuals — outside of the twinship — so that they never feel like mere halves of a set!
Stay tuned for next week’s post that will focus on what you, as a parent, can do to help each twin child find himself!