Many siblings feel personally responsible for one another.
I found it touching to read about former President Bill Clinton’s relationship with his younger brother Roger (not a twin). In his book My Life, Clinton describes how he felt when he learned that Roger had been videotaped selling cocaine to an undercover police officer. Roger was arrested while Clinton was Governor of Arkansas. Clinton explains:
“Every time I looked in the mirror I was disgusted. I had been so caught up in my life and work that I’d missed all the signs. . . . The warning signs were all there. I was just too preoccupied to see them.”
Instead of expressing embarrassment or frustration at having to deal with the public relations nightmare, Clinton’s primary focus was on what he perceived to be his grave omissions as a brother. Clinton felt guilty that he was focused on his job serving the people of Arkansas. He felt regretful that he did not somehow intervene and help his struggling brother.
So the feeling of responsibility for one’s sibling, whether a twin or non-twin, can be strong.
But twins, generally, tend to feel a deeper responsibility for one another than non-twin siblings do.
Amanda remembers when she and her twins sister Jill were four years old and shopping in a department store with their mother.
“We were walking through racks of clothes, like an endless maze to a tiny four-year-old, when Jill was suddenly gone,” Amanda said. “She had been walking right behind me. Mom and I had no idea where she went. I was horrified.”
Their mom called for Jill and eventually found her behind a nearby rack. Jill was missing for maybe three minutes, but it felt like an eternity to Amanda.
“I was crying more than Jill was when we found her,” Amanda said.
The language Amanda used to describe that brief but terrifying moment – “I felt guilty that I lost her” – fascinated me. She was four years old, with her mother, and yet it was she who felt personally responsible for having lost Jill? This sense of personal responsibility for the whereabouts, well-being, and safety of one’s twin sibling is common among the twins I interview.
Joan Friedman, psychologist, twin, and author of the book, Emotionally Healthy Twins: A New Philosophy for Parenting Two Unique Children, wrote of her experience growing up as a twin:
“From a young age, I suffered because I felt it was my responsibility as Jane’s twin to make sure she was happy and comfortable. Worrying that my actions, and even my feelings, might make her unhappy depleted my energy and held me back from discovering who I was. I often felt sad because it was so hard to be an authentic, separate person who could do, say, and be whatever I wanted without feeling pressured to consider the effects on Jane.”
Of the twins I interviewed, there was a similar description of an acute awareness of one’s actions affecting one’s twin, but it was not always considered negative or unfortunate. Many of the twins felt perfectly at peace with feeling that way, especially because the feeling was often reciprocated. That is, if one twin feels in part responsible for his twin brother’s emotional well-being, it is often the case that the twin brother feels a reciprocal sense of responsibility.
We’ll continue this discussion next week in more depth, but tell me: how is it for your twin children? Is your child her twin sibling’s keeper?