Twinfant Tuesday: Gender Differences in Infancy

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Categories Different Gender, Parenting, Parenting TwinsTags , 3 Comments

I am so thrilled to be a twin mom, especially one of boy/girl twins. Long before I was pregnant, I thought I would have a house full of boys, so the fact that I have my little girl is such a thrill (even more so because she is an absolute mini me).

From a human development standpoint, I get a giddy excitement (it’s the total nerd in me) in comparing Audrey and David and how their gender identities play such a huge part in their personalities. I mean, let’s face it: moms of boy/girl twins have a constant psychology experiment in their house.

I know that we are in the 21st century and breaking down barriers of traditional gender roles, but to be honest, they still exist. I want to be very clear that these are not my personal belief (or experience), but they are some of the stereotypical ideas.

Boys are traditionally be thought of as:

  • active
  • rough
  • hit
  • bounce
  • dirty
  • tough
  • destructive
  • having behavior issues
  • fight for 3 minutes and then go back to being best friends
  • mischievous
  • get into everything
  • like trucks, blocks, building, tearing down
  • hit milestones later than girls
  • better at math and science
  • don’t express emotions
  • if take charge: “leader”

Girls are traditionally thought of as:

  • sweet
  • imaginative
  • kind
  • look out for others
  • fight with words, not actions
  • hold a grudge
  • like to be helpers
  • like dolls, dress-up
  • hit milestones earlier than boys
  • better verbal skills
  • express emotions
  • if take charge: “bossy”

So let’s look at my experience with my boy/girl twins. Here’s some background: My twins were born at 36 weeks 5 days. They didn’t have any NICU time. Audrey (Baby A) was 6 lb 3 oz when she was born and David (Baby B) was 5 lb 1 oz. While they were small on the growth chart, we all went home together after a 3-day hospital stay. They were breastfed exclusively from birth until about 4-5 months, and then we did a formula bottle only every few days, eventually doing formula once a day at about 7 months. They were breastfed until the day they turned 15 months. Why did I feel like I needed to go into that? I wanted to show that these are rather healthy babies (despite their small size on the growth chart), so that doesn’t play a part in this comparison.

Gender Differences in Infancy and Beyond

Now, from their first day in the hospital, we immediately noticed character differences in Audrey and David. Audrey was observant: looking around, taking it all in, trying to figure this thing out. David was the one who cuddled up to us, wanting to be held and comforted and loved on. Audrey’s cry was more of a whimper (hoping to get attention at some point, but not demanding it), whereas David’s was a high-pitched, blood-curdling “I-need-you-right-now!” scream that made his whole body shake. Yet, both could be comforted almost immediately with being held or food.

As we got home and started breaking free from the haze of new parenthood (which is especially demanding with multiples), the characteristics from the hospital became even more apparent. Audrey (older by 8 minutes) would comfort David if she could. David would gladly nuzzle up to her if Mommy or Daddy was unavailable. Audrey would look around calmly to take in her mobile, the music, or whoever was new in the room. David, on the other hand, would move, “squiggle,” dance, and shake when he was exposed to new stimuli. Audrey’s laugh changed often to mimic our laughs (as if finding which one would be the best Audrey laugh to please those around her), and David’s laugh was a huge belly laugh that literally took over his whole body (I’ve never heard such a loud laugh from a little body). In fact, David’s laugh from infancy is still the same as now that he is a toddler.

Once we started doing more activities with them, these gender differences came out even more: David liked reading books (with us and by himself), looking at things that moved, and trying to dance. Audrey was happiest when she was with someone else. If David didn’t want to sit back-to-back with her, she would want to be with me (or another adult that she knew)- in our laps, being held, interacting in some way. Audrey was wary of new faces, but David never met a stranger. Both would become horribly jealous when the other got attention. Audrey’s fits would be a mock-cry and maybe dance in place to show her upset, and she would quickly get over it. David, on the other hand, would collapse on the floor, flinging his head and body around.

Now that they are toddlers, we see these stereotypical gender roles come out even more. It’s fascinating! We have the same toys available to both, the same books, the same activities. But Audrey wants the dolls, dress up, blocks, and puppets, while David wants the cars, trucks, and blocks. That’s not to say that they don’t both play with the other toys, but they gravitate to the toys that fit those gender roles. And this is without ANY prompting from us. The only thing we have done differently with them is dress Audrey in pink and David in blue (to diminish people asking about their genders).

It’s truly incredible to look at these two and see their differences. Are they just character differences or are they gender differences?

What experiences do you have with your children and meeting/breaking stereotypical gender roles?

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Twins Explaining Twins, Revisited

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Categories From the Mouths of Multiples, Interview, School-Age, Talking to KidsTags , , , , , , , 4 Comments

We got some funny and insightful thoughts last time I interviewed my daughters, 7-year-old M and J, about being twins. I figured I’d introduce a different related topic and see where the conversation went.

Me: So, I get a lot of the same question over and over when people realize that you’re twins. Does that happen to you too?
J: Yes.
Me: What kinds of questions?
J: Like really unimportant questions. Like, “Why aren’t you wearing the same clothes?” “Why is you hair so short and hers so long?”
Me: Mmm hmm.
J: And some reasonable questions, like my friend Amy’s*.
Me: What did she ask?
J: “What’s it like to be like a twin?” And I told her, “Sometimes it can be frustrating and sometimes it can be nice.” You know how it can be frustrating?
Me: How?
M: When we get into arguments.
J: When people can’t tell us apart.
M: Actually I like that.
Me: Oh?
M: I like pranking people like Mr. M and Mr. Michael and people whose names start with M. And today Mr. Michael said…okay, let me try to tell this one… he said, “J.” And I slapped my head because it was M, who is me. And he gave up and said, “Okay! Twins! Go to the line!”
Me: And there were some other reasonable questions, right?
J: Mmm hmm. And Mr. Joel asked, “What if you were fraternal?” And I said, “We would look more different and less alike.” And Mr. Joel said, “You look fraternal to me, but I know you were born identical.”
M: A wombat…
Me: A wombat**?
M: Mmm hmm. A Wombat asked us if twins, identical twins, always looked alike and were always wearing the same clothes. No! If one of the twins are a tomboy and the other is a girly girl, then the one that’s a girly girl might wear a princess shirt and the tomboy might wear…
J: A Spiderman shirt?
M: An Angry Birds shirt.
J: You know, some girls who aren’t tomboys wear Angry Birds shirts.
M: I know, that’s just because they, those shirts have at least one girl Angry Bird.
J: No, some don’t have any. Like, Amy isn’t a tomboy and she has an Angry Birds shirt that says, “I’m the bomb!” and it has the black bird on it. No girls.
Me: Do Caroline and Vanessa…(I began to type in parentheses “older fraternal girl twins” for your benefit. J stopped me.)
J: No, they’re identical!
Me: Are you sure?
M: No, they’re fraternal. They told me.
J: But they have the same colour hair and the same colour eyes and I can’t tell them apart.
M: Another argument! Yeah, but they told me and they know more about themselves than anyone else.
J: Fine!
Me: I’d like you to think about something, please. How do you feel when people try to tell you that you’re not identical?
J: Ugh, the girl named Annabelle who’s a Wombat… really a girl, but her group’s a Wombat… when she heard we were twins she was mean about it because we didn’t have the same haircut and weren’t wearing the same clothes and didn’t have the same faces and different sizes of shoes.
M: I don’t think that’s fair, because I like my unique heart-shaped face.
J: Then me and M, then me and M said we had enough of the talk and went to play Connect 4 and a little bit of Mancala and M was too shy to tell Annabelle that we were really twins and so I told her that it really hurt our feelings when people said we weren’t twins because it wasn’t really truuuuue. (I initially typed “true” back there, but J felt that some more Us were in order to capture what she was trying to communicate.)
Me: I understand the story. But how did you feel, when somebody said you weren’t identical?
M: Sad.
J: Really mad like I wanted to punch that person.
Me: Wow!
J: Embarrassed.
Me: Then how do you think Vanessa and Caroline would feel if they knew that you were saying that they were wrong about what kind of twins they are?
J: Like us? Like maybe they will feel like I was trying to be mean on purpose.
Me: I think we need to respect people the same way we expect them to respect us.
J: I didn’t know.
Me: I know you didn’t know, but does the lesson make sense?
J: (Nod.)
M: I’ve got a story. Once upon a time. Okay, sorry, did I mention that this was fairytale?
Me: No, you forgot to mention that.
M: Once upon a time, there were two little girls who were identical twins and they had friends who were older identical twins…
J: Older identical twins?
M: No, I mean fraternal twins. And J, one of the identical twins, liked Caroline more than Vanessa. And M, who was another one of the identical twins, liked Vanessa more than Caroline. They all lived in a castle together. But one day, a dragon came to eat them, but the brave knight killed the dragon into 5, no 10 pieces.
J: “5, no 10 pieces.”
M: The End.
Me: Which of the twins was the brave knight? All of them? (Yes, I know she was probably thinking of a man coming to save them, but I am going to do all I can to raise empowered women instead of damsels in distress. Back to the story.)
M: Yes! (whispering) Do I have a too big imagination? (regular voice) Well, actually, not all of them. Just Vanessa and Caroline. So, as you can imagine, each tore the dragon into 5 pieces each. The End.

*Names have been changed.
**Wombats are the youngest group of summer campers.

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Classroom Placement: An Update

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When I told you that my twin daughters were now in separate grades, many of you provided very thoughtful, thought-provoking responses.

The bulk of the opinions were on the side of keeping M and J at the same grade level, rather than having J skip 75% of kindergarten and 25% of first grade to become a 5-year-old in first grade, while her twin sister M stayed in her kindergarten class.

I can’t say I disagree with any of the arguments, although we decided as a couple to skip J up.

Yesterday, J made an offhand comment that M doesn’t enjoy reading, and my husband decided it was time to take her down a peg. After I reminded J that it was M who had recommended The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales to her, Daddy told J that she was no better a reader than M was. In fact, there were hardly any skills at which any one of them was significantly more adept at than the other. M was unsurprised by this announcement, but J was visibly deflated. I think she’s better for her ego having been somewhat shrunk, but time will tell.

M woke this morning to tell me that she had had a bad dream. She had dreamed that she had to leave her kindergarten teacher to go to first grade. I told her that this was something that would eventually come to pass, and reminded her that her past teachers had, for the most part, remained in our lives after she left their classrooms.

Many of the moms who commented on our decision to move J to first grade noted that, while supporting the individuality of children is key, being a multiple is a real and tangible part of our kids’ lives. To ignore that fact is to ignore a key component of their self-image. It’s interesting that my mother-in-law and I made that same argument when we were trying to come to decision. My husband and father-in-law were on the other side of that. Could there be a gender component at play here? Are MoMs and FoMs basically different in their outlook? How would your male partners vote?

As it happens, we ran into M’s kindergarten teacher, her beloved Mrs. K, at a birthday party over the weekend. Mrs. K’s daughter is in J’s first grade class, so our mommy circles overlap. M was giddy at the sight of her teacher and firmly attached herself to Mrs. K’s leg while we talked. In the midst of smalltalk, Mrs. K told me that M wasn’t getting the benefit of interacting with peers to encourage her reading; she will be joining J’s first-grade class during reading time. She has made leaps and bounds in her time management, both at home and in the classroom, and her confidence has shot up. If she stayed on the this trajectory, Mrs. K said, she would be recommending that M also move to first grade in 9 weeks’ time. While Mrs. K can find work to challenge her, she believes that she would benefit from having peers who challenge her too. J’s first grade class is already at the state-mandated maximum of 22 students, so they would most likely not be in the same classroom.

Does the possibility of M now going through school on the same schedule as her sister change your opinions about the wisdom of having J bypass kindergarten?

To the teachers out there, is kindergarten any less critical a year to children who have attended structured pre-K programs, or does pre-K simply give them a better chance for kindergarten success?

When not pondering parenting decisions, Sadia and her husband work from home as a geek and on base as a soldier, respectively. With their identical daughters, J and M, they are exploring life in El Paso after having been Austin-area suburbanites for the majority of their relationship.

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The making of a little girl

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I’m not much of a girly-girl.  I don’t really do makeup, I don’t have a purse or shoe collection. The SAHM thing means I spend my days in jeans and t-shirts.

By extension, it would seem, my daughter isn’t the girliest thing around, either.  I have a very pragmatic approach to dressing my kids, and I prefer casual and inexpensive clothes that let them climb and get dirty.  And my little girl, in particular, is quite a little monkey.  She’s very active and climbs all over the place.  Not only are frouf-y headbands and frilly dresses (with tights!) not my style, but they just don’t seem all that practical for climbing ladders and digging up handfuls of dirt in the yard.

But then, as all neurotic mothers will do, I start to wonder how I’m impacting my child and her view of herself as a girl. Am I imposing a “tomboy” label on her that has more to do with me than with her? Am I going too far in trying to avoid the stereotypical pinks and ruffles? Am I doing it more (or less?) because she has a twin brother? I don’t really think so.  She’s an active kid, there’s no two ways about it.  And plenty of her clothes are pretty clearly styled for girls.  But still, I wonder.

Silly girl

Now, as we approach her second birthday, she is once again letting me know how silly this all is.  Now that she knows her colors, she seems to be expressing a mild (but not exclusive) preference for pinks and purples.  She finds the baby doll in the pile of stuffed animals and gives it a hug and a kiss. She is (finally) letting me put a barrette in her hair to keep it out of her face. Of the two demands she will sometimes make in clothing choices, one is an insistence on butterflies (the other is her collection of Obama shirts… sometimes a little brainwashing isn’t so bad…).  And, of course, she still loves to run and bounce, she loves to kick a ball, she loves monkeys and pirates.

pink striped dress

And I have allowed myself to develop a love for dresses.  Still not the fussy, frilly (or expensive) type. Those still go too far against my fairly practical nature.  But a nice jersey knit from Old Navy?  Easy to wear and wash, and…. oh my lordy, so very cute.

21 Months

I will still try to keep checks and balances on how I impact my kids in terms of gender expression and stereotypes.  But darn it if that little dress isn’t fricking adorable.  And, at least now people don’t look at my kids and say “oh, two boys!”

What do you think? Do you struggle with clothing and gender stereotypes or practicality?  Do you just embrace it or ignore it?  Do you think your kids’ gender combinations (b/g, g/g, b/b, etc.) impact how you choose to dress them?

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