The Urge to Compare

Hi, I’m a full-time work-from-home mom of two 18-month identical girls. We are just now moving out of my parents’ house (finally!) and getting our own place after finding ourselves unexpectedly pregnant far sooner than anticipated. I’m looking forward to being more directly engaged in the HDYDI community!

One of the books I read in those quiet last months before my girls were born was One and the Same, by Abigail Pogrebin. A fun peek into the lives of adult twins, it gave me, for the first time, an opportunity to think about the way I intended to parent twins. But it was the author’s own reflections on her adult relationship with her identical twin sister that caused me great anxiety. While I’d always thought growing up with a built-in best friend would be something to embrace and cherish, I never considered that identity-defining choices and other adult decisions would take on new weight. Not only would the outside world judge, but they would have an identical person’s decisions and choices to use as a frame of reference. What pressure! I suddenly was thrilled I wasn’t a twin myself. When I chose my jobs, my boyfriends, my husband, my (terrible) apartments, they were my decisions alone. My family and friends were never able to say, “Well yes, she ended up with a pretty decent guy, but goodness, isn’t her sister’s husband just fabulous!”

Twin parents talk a lot about identity. We try to spend time alone with one twin, or to dress them differently and assign them their own toys, cups, shoes, etc. Identical twins in particular pose a serious challenge to parents concerned about establishing that identity. As I become more aware of the kind of mother I really am I have realized that I am quite guilty of two things I thought I would never do – regularly comparing my girls and treating them as a single unit.

For instance, my girls have always been terrible sleepers. We are one and a half years into this party and I still can’t reliably get them to nap in their cribs. Nights are a crapshoot: Bug slept through the night three out of the last four nights, but Bean has been up each night before 2am, demanding a bottle and our bed. A week prior the situation was reversed. I don’t know if our experience is typical, but it’s as if they play a secret game of rock-paper-scissors at bath time to determine who will sleep through the night. In this case, I treat them as a unit. I can’t  remember from day to day who has been sleeping well and who has not. People inquire, and I mumble, “I don’t know.”  I just know that, inevitably, we’ll be up in the wee hours of the night. How many times in the last 18 months have they both slept through the night? Four times. Yet they can and do sleep through the night individually. They are my single unit of terrible sleepers and they are, in all likelihood, playing me and my husband for chumps.

When I take my girls in for their well-child visits, I report to our pediatric office as a master of one unit. They eat the same amounts of the same things, they have the same diaper rash, they sleep the same amount of hours, and they say the exact same adorable words. They even call each other the same name, unable or unwilling to pronounce Bug’s name. They hit developmental milestones at the same time, too: they took their first steps within 30 seconds of each other. My doctor is always prodding me to discuss each girl individually, but honestly, I enjoy the economy of scale here. I only have to commit the consistency and frequency of one girl’s poop to memory because they are usually the same.

So while I destroy any semblance of identity by treating them as a unit, I also compare them subconsciously when I probably should not. Bug’s crabbiness seems especially pronounced when I compare her to Bean, quietly munching on crackers and reading a book in the corner. Bug’s ease with which she falls asleep in the stroller during some much-needed quiet time outdoors suddenly seems that much more amazing after ten minutes of Bean’s cries of complaint.

I worry about this in the long term. We certainly notice very different personalities between the two girls, and different responses to certain things, like bugs and new kids and our oscillating fan. If I was just raising one girl and the other wasn’t in the picture, I’d probably attribute each of these responses to new stimuli to some funny toddler idiosyncrasy. But instead of saying to myself, “Oh, weird, Bug doesn’t like that fan very much,” I think, “Oh, weird, Bug doesn’t like that fan very much, but Bean doesn’t seem to care.” Suddenly Bug’s aversion to the fan is cast in a whole new light: is she more scared than she should be? Why does she need to hold my hand while she walks past it, while Bean saunters by paying it no mind? OMG, is  Bug going to suffer irrational and debilitating fears of things with moving blades when she gets older?!?

I don’t actually worry about this all the time. We are, after all, raising two healthy happy girls who love to explore and appear to like each other most of the time. But I don’t think they care much about their identities at 18 months. What about at 18 years? Will I be able to objectively respond to one girl’s failing grades when I know that her sister has done much better? Will I inadvertently use one as an example when asking why the other one doesn’t measure up? I think I’m going to be a good enough parent to recognize that making such comparisons is more harmful than helpful. I think I’ll be able to help each girl tap into her own strengths and become a strong woman in her own right. But man, it is going to be hard for them. They are always going to be “the twins,” discussed as a unit when convenient and discussed as two competing individuals when interesting. They are going to have to dig deeper and work harder than most to establish their identities and ensure that their friendship remains strong and resilient. I’m here to help them. How do you all do it?

9 thoughts on “The Urge to Compare

  1. I read One and the Same when my boys were a few weeks old while nursing in the middle of the night, so perhaps I should revisit it now that I am not in a delirious blur.
    I don’t think the comparison thing is unique to twins, though. I am not a twin, my brother is 2 years younger and we always got comparisons from parents, teachers, coaches. It’s life. People compare others.
    As for lumping them into a set, I am quite certain if I had two boys of different ages I would still refer to them as “the boys” when speaking of both of them. I think as twin moms we feel double the pressure to not damage our kids, but the truth is parents of single kids are probably just as likely to mess them up. I just try to be the best mom I can, and hope my parenting results in two upstanding citizens who just happen to be born together.

  2. I feel I could have written this post. I’ve been struggling with the same issues. Especially around potty training. How do I say “yea, good job R” without it implying that her sister is not as good because she didn’t use the potty? It is reassuring to know someone else feels the same way. I also do the same thing with the doctor, but if anything’s different I worry.

  3. I hear you on the sleep issues. I am not sure it is standard, but I’m up almost all night too. My son R has slept through the night once, ever, but is generally not too bad a sleeper. My duaghter L is up many times a night. They are 21 months now already. Not sure how long this can go on, and what I need to do about it. Anyways, thanks for the post…comparing them and others comparing them is always on my mind.

  4. I read somewhere that most twin parents go through periods of thinking about them as a unit, stressing their individuality, and then the comparing. All of which are normal, just try to be aware when you do it. That being said, I used to compare my two but considering how different they now are I’ve stopped considering it comparing and just accepting that I have two very different kids but of the same age. My daughter is tiny, like veggies, doesn’t like sweets, likes to cuddle and dance. My son is big, hates veggies, loves fruits, likes to read and play ball. In reading your post, I feel lucky to have two good sleepers (8pm-7am most every night!) but unlucky when I go to the doctors and have to report two different sets of information on diapers, feeding, development, etc. That also means that I have two kids that want to do completely different things every day. Elizabeth wants to listen to music and dance while David just wants to sit down and read. I guess we all have our own challenges.

  5. I have three-year -old identical twin boys who hit all their milestones on the same day and are very alike in looks, temperament and hobbies. It actually makes our live much easier right now, but I’m worried about the whole individuality thing too. People ask, “how are they different?” and while they ARE different and we know how, it’s hard to articulate the subtle differences to other people. I really want their friends to be able to tell them apart when they start kindergarten, so maybe different hair cuts?

  6. Hi, I was worried about lumping my kids together as well and actually actively try to “compare” them in the sense that I’ve been keeping a monthly list since they were born of how they’re different (they’re 16 months now, fraternal g/g).

    For example, here’s part of what I have for Month 3 for Baby A:
    Started smiling first
    Congested after waking up
    Scratches her face and eyes
    Started cooing first

    and Baby B:
    Entranced by the stim-mobile, guaranteed to distract her from random crying
    Loves to cry
    Vomited whole bottle a few times
    Loves smiling for the camera

    I intend to keep this up as long as I can because I have such a poor memory and I do enjoy reading it once in a while.

  7. Ah Hunny, we all do the same thing, regardless if they are identical or fraternal. I do it, you do it and every other MOM out there has done it or will do it too. It’s because treating them as a unit is a survival technique that we slip into and forget to slip out of. And as far as the sleeping all night, mine are almost 5 years old and only this year did they start sleeping all night. Now the hard park is getting them to go to sleep before 10pm. The down fall to having twins, is the guilt that a mother puts on herself for not being able to treat your children as singletons, or showing the individual attention to each one or not doing things perfect. But you know what? It is only ourselves that do that to ourselves. If they were singletons you would be feeling guilty about something you do as a mother that you don’t feel guilty for now. So just take it easy and let life happen. They know they are 2 different people and you know you aren’t perfect but hey you try and you can’t be faulted for that!

  8. I’m an identical twin and also have identical twin girls (2 1/2 yrs) and I personally believe that individuality with twins isn’t influenced much by the parents! My parents NEVER separated us or did individual things with us, and frankly, we wouldn’t have wanted it that way anyway. We knew we were different than other kids, but at the same time, we didn’t know any different! We got asked so many times if we liked being a twin, but we had nothing to compare it to… it’s just the way we are and we wouldn’t have it any other way!

    I’m not ashamed to say that I compare my girls ALL the time! If one is capable of something, then I know the other is as well! My sister and I fed off each other positively and were very competitive, which was a huge impact in our success in school. If I saw her studying, then I realized that I needed to study too! We compared ourselves to each other just as much as others compared us. There’s just no way around it! Being a twin is a blessing and having them is even more exciting! Hope this helps a little ;)

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