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?