Book review: Emotionally Healthy Twins

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The opinions stated in this post are solely from LauraC and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of other HDYDI authors.

I was very excited to read the book “Emotionally Healthy Twins: A New Philosophy for Parenting Two Unique Children” by Joan Friedman. One of my major twin parenting concerns is how to help my boys feel as if they are not seen as a unit.  In the first chapter, Friedman lays out her philosophy, developed as a psychotherapist specializing in twins. Her philosophy is simple: treat your children as individuals and ensure they each get significant one-on-one time with their parents.

At this point, I could have put the book down. She goes through each phase of a child’s life and gives concrete examples of her two major points. Over and over and over. But the reason I felt I should have put the book down is her dire tone on the disastrous results to your children if you don’t give them enough space from each other. From her viewpoint, they should have separate rooms, separate pre-schools, separate activities, large amounts of one-on-one time with each parent, and their own friends. If you do not do all of this, you are the reason your children may have a tough time adapting to school or social situations.

Let’s get real. In an ideal world, of course we would be able to accomplish all of this. But in the real world, parents have a lot going on. How does a stay-at-home mom fit individual activities into their day, every day? How does a working parent get enough individual time with everyone? The reality is that families are going to spend a lot of time together, twins or no twins. And there are many other considerations when making the decision to have children share a room, share a birthday party, and go to the same pre-school.

In general, I agree with her principles. Jon and I try very hard to treat our fraternal twin boys as individuals, and we reinforce with our family and their teachers that we want them treated that way as well. In that light, I thought the book was good. And reading the book did provoke some thoughts for me on how I can give my boys more individualized attention. But as a whole, I worry that Friedman sets the bar too high for multiple parents. Like many sleep books I’ve read, I felt I was being told how I was screwing up when in reality, I was doing the best I could.

Has anyone else read it and have thoughts to share? (If you would like to read it, I’d be glad to send you my copy.)

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24 thoughts on “Book review: Emotionally Healthy Twins”

  1. Sounds like a very interesting book, however most likely the author probably never raised her own twins, let alone tried that adventure with an older sibling in the house to contend with. I agree with your closing statement- we are all doing the best we can with what resources we have- Amen!
    It seems her attitude is to “fight” the twinship and the twin bond, rather than embrace and accept it! I am proud that my boys have something special unique to twins and I won’t try to erase that from our lives or police the “detrimental” effects by strict separations. No way!
    They can share a room their whole lives if they want to, I’m not fighting that battle. That will be up to them. And because my boys are fraternal, they are quite different in temperament and personality anywyay. I do imagine, however, that this issue may be more pertinent to those with ID twins, and their unique issues in development.

  2. As with all things, you have to know your own kids and, as you said, do the best you can for them.

    In our house, our boys will be sharing a bedroom for the foreseeable future. This is a function of limited space – not a function of “you’re twins, you must stay together”. In fact, their younger brother shares a room with them as well and will probably do so for some time. We’ll never have a 5 bed house – and their sister will retain HER own room – so there will always be some boys sharing! But, as they grow, they can decide for themselves who will be sharing…

    At this moment in time (with four years to go!) we do plan to seperate our identicals for kindergarten but only after they have attended pre-school together to help each other get through the transition of being out in the “real world” (haha!)

    As for their activities, we will be letting them set the tone for how much time they do or do not want to spend together. While giving them a sense of individuality is something we work hard on, we recognize that they have a bond we can never understand. And if they want to play together and share friends and go to college together (some day), who are we to stand in their way if that is what keeps them happy and thriving?

  3. I am actually about two chapters into the book right now. I thought she has had some good points about treating them as individuals – no matching names or matching clothes, which is easy enough. When she started getting into how the girls should have separate drawers, etc. I decided it was a little unrealistic. Seriously, I’m lucky clothes get into drawers at all. I do think her point about individual time is good, but we already do some of that on the weekend – as in Dad keeps one daughter while I take the other to the grocery store. I think of it more as survival and getting breaks than nurturing their uniqueness, but whatever. I haven’t decided if I’m going to finish it or not. It’s a little pedantic in my opinion as well.

  4. Can you share some of her suggestions about how to give them enough individual time/space? I’d love to hear.

    Also, there is some research that shows that the old idea of separate classrooms always being best, especially when they’re young, is not true for all twins. I wonder how this fits in to her book?

  5. Hi… I was lucky to have Joan give a presentation on her book at one of my twins’ club meetings. I didn’t read the book but did come away from the presentation determined to be better about carving out separate time for my boys (almost 4 yrs old). We’ve been doing Friday night date night now for almost a year. Our version of date night is my husband takes one boy and I take the other boy and we go out to separate restaurants for dinner. The next week, we switch boys… the first couple of times we did this is was really rough. One twin cried and cried but it erinforced our need to help them to learn to be on their own more. Now we ALL look forward to date night. I highly recommend it – Friday nights are great, easy dinner (no planning, no clean up since we go out) after a long week. One side benefit is that it is amazing how much nicer a restaurant you can go to and how much easier it is to take one kid out to eat. There is no feeding off each other. It also really “forces” us to have individual conversations rather than just spending the time referreeing. It has been interesting to see how excited they are to come home and see each other after dinner (we typically always come home and have ice cream as a family and watch a video together). They don’t seem to annoy each other so much so I think it helps them to have some space from each other and individual time.

    We started out with separate rooms but wound up having to separate them when they climbed out of their cribs. That was fascinating to see how hard it was for them to be on their own but now they do seem to appreciate their own space. It hasn’t developed too much as all the clothes and drawers are in one room and there are no toys or objects of any sort in either room.

    That said, during the week with both my husband and I working and having limited time with each other, our time is pretty much 100% together, which is also important to develope.

  6. I think the separate clothes part is insane. My sisters and I occasionally were dressed the same and as the smallest I often wore my sisters clothes as hammy-downs. My mom was stay at home and we had all the same friends and activities. All 3 of us are fiercely independent (we starting pushing hard for it ourselves in middle school) and the best of friends. I do agree about no matchy names – that is too “in your face”. I think I’ve mentioned this before though – with 3 there is always a 2 v 1 play dynamic that encourages independence. I’m more worried with twins that they are seen as a “couple” or “unit”. I have found most of the baby parenting books (sleep, soothing, etc.) are very repetitive too. I guess they think we are too tired to retain much.

  7. Well said. As in most things, moderation is key. I think individual time is great, and obviously not treating them as one unit. But it really sounds like she’s trying to force an unnecessary amount of separation. Some siblings are really close and share friends even at different ages. Some are fiercely independent even if they’re close in age. I don’t think you need to force them to be apart so much.

    Though, like Rebecca, I’d love to hear ideas on good individual-time activities. That’s something M and I don’t do enough of.

  8. Strangely enough, I just finished the same book–I came across it after searching online for a book that would address some of the issues I’ve assumed are upcoming as my ID boys (who are 2.5 yrs old) move on toward preschool, etc.
    I found myself feeling much the same way as Laura. I respect the author’s perspective (given that she herself is an ID twin, is a psychotherapist, and has twins of her own) but I can’t help but feel she adheres a bit too rigidly to some of her ideals. My husband and I try hard to spend one-on-one time with our boys, treat them as individuals (their names are NOT alliterative, we DO NOT dress them alike, etc. etc.) but she is certainly asking a lot! I work PT, much of it from home and my husband works some from home as well, so we spend A LOT of time with our kids (who are not in child care). The time we spend is often all together. I can’t imagine how this would be significantly different even if our boys were singleton siblings.
    I agree with the author on several points–encouraging alone time with peers makes sense, for one, as does spending one-on-one time w/parents–but I find it hard to imagine having two birthday parties w/friends. Two family birthday celebrations, yes (we plan to have two special dinners out w/our boys, one just prior to their birthday, and one just after, so that each gets a special day) but given how hard it is just to make sure everyone is fed and dressed before we leave the house, the thought of planning two parties is enough to give me a panic attack!
    Overall an interesting read, and this is a book I would consider giving to a new parent of twins (perhaps with a bit of forewarning so as not to totally freak them out!).

  9. i have not read the book, and i do not mean to sound rude, but i don’t think i will. i sometimes feel like in the reading these books, though interesting, i tend to internalize and worry more than just figuring it out as we go. i seem to have a personality that does better in experimenting than in receiving directives.

    having said that, i am far from feeling like i ‘know’ it all, i just find a lot of support comes from you and other mamas i have bonded with via blog and by following your times with your children, i glean a lot of ideas and thoughtful discussion.

    and for the separate stuff…they have the same room and clothes and drawers and toys as of now, and they probably always will because we do not have extra rooms, i am too lazy to divide the other stuff, and truly, it does not seem to bother them terribly. we will see as they grow though.

    i heard two changes everything. :)

  10. The author of the book does seem a bit extreme in her views and guidelines. Separate pre-schools!? One on one time with a parent or parents is a great idea of course, but insisting on separate everything almost strips the children of one of the things that makes them special- being a twin! My best friend in the world has a twin, and one of her worst childhood memories is being told sternly by a teacher that she was “not allowed to play with her twin at recess.” They were already in separate classes, so the recess thing was really taking it too far. She bawled her little eyes all day until her Mom picked her up and set the teacher straight. I agree with Goddess in Progress – ‘moderation is key.’

  11. I haven’t read the book, but it strikes me that the author has a rather skewed view of the average family’s finances and schedules, much like the book “When You’re Expecting Twins, Triplets, or More,” which advocates that MOMs stop working by 24 weeks and rely on a lot of hired help, including (very expensive) nighttime nurses for the weeks following the babies’ arrival. Not everyone has a large house in which each child can have her own bedroom (and not everyone wants children to have their own rooms), and convenience and affordability play a very significant role in preschool choice.

  12. Thanks for the review. And thanks for reminding us that it’s okay to live in the real world and within our limits! I was almost militant in my insistence, before they were born, that our daughters have separate activities. Once they arrived, I realized that they carve out their own individual activities. Jessie’s answer to “Do you want to help me in the kitchen” is always “Of course!” Melody likes to help with laundry.

    I’m currently the only parent at home, I work full-time, and our only time together as a family on weekdays is the morning whirlwind, our commute, dinner, and bedtime. No room for leaving one kid out of any of those activities!

    We actively decided against matching names, though, and the girls only dress alike when they specifically ask to, usually about once a month.

  13. I second the “take it with a grain of salt and adapt to your situation” approach.
    My fraternal twin boys actually have separate drawers for clothes NOW at age 6 (because they have different sizes, and it’s easier like that).
    They share a bedroom, and while we are planning to move into a larger flat where they can have privacy, we don’t feel it’s urgent. My eldest _did_ ask for a separate bedroom when she turned 8.
    They also are together at school. My first meeting with the teacher after a few months of school went as follows:
    teacher: “So X is doing fine except being a bit restless. Y is very chatty and you should practice reading with him. In mathematics they both do well, although I wish Y were tidier. Any questions?”
    me: “Are there any problems related to them being twins?”
    teacher: “Twins? Oh yes, they’re twins. Sorry, I tend to forget it.”

  14. im sorry i havent had a chance to read everyone else’s comments so apologies if i am repeating here but…
    i think it is a shame that we have to ignore the fact that they are twins! take away that unique bond so they can be like the rest of us? seperate 2 people who have been together from conception?
    we live in such a lonely world – i think it is a blessing that my boys will have a companion of they choose.
    i have 5 sisters, a year apart for each and i loved the fact that there was always a sister just there. i was the 5th and all my clothes were hand me downs, we shared baths, rooms, in primary school i was in the same class with one.
    my boys are so different that i think they will naturally navigate to wanting diff things.
    we just try to do things as naturally as we can. we dont mind doing things seperately, there are some experiences that are much better one child – one parent. but we also like doing things together.
    i think the best way to raise your children is your way! you watch your children every day. you know if they like each others company or if they need to have some ‘me’ time.

  15. I’m sure parents of singleton children wish their kids would play together more and get along better with each other. My fraternal boys are wonderful companions. I would never want to break their special bond. I try to stay in touch with their needs and wants and give the individual attention when needed or wanted.
    As far as matching clothes, right now yes! They are 15months and when Costco has clothes for them it is bought in twos in all sizes. They don’t always wear the same outfit on the same day but I still buy 2 of everything. I know of more families of singleton kids with matching names and clothes then with twins. It seems that twins get a bad rap when that happens. ?? I think we all do what we need to everyday to balance and juggle our own individual lives with our children. Twins or not.

  16. Yeah, I looked at this book too and put it down when I realized how unrealistic it is. My husband and I on the occasional Saturday will each take a kid for some one-on-one time (trading kids each time we do it), but honestly I’m more interested in getting date night alone with my husband than I am in expanding alone time with kids! My kids are very different people and have been from day one. (They’re also boy/girl, which I know makes it easier for the outside world.) I have a sister who is a year younger than I, and while we enjoyed *extremely* rare one-on-one days with our parents (when they did happen they were usually an accident), the fact that they didn’t happen that often didn’t have any effect on our separate identities. And we were forced to dress alike a lot more often than my kids are. No psychological damage here…just lots of laughs when I see the old pictures….

  17. I have earnestly read the email responses about my book Emotionally Healthy Twins. I appreciate reading about each person’s reactions and opinions. I am pleased that both the positive and negative comments have stimulated thought-provoking ideas about how to raise twins and the importance of spending one-on-one time with each twin as is feasible according to each family’s dynamics. I felt that I attempted to convey in my book that the importance of the mother-child attachment is essential. I had no wish or intent to make mothers feel guilty or inadequate. I have been told repeatedly that many of my suggestions are unrealistic and heavy-handed. I recognize that there are no specific guidelines for each family – parents have to make their own decisions and priorities based upon many factors. My wish was to help parents explore why there is such an emotional resistance to spending alone time with each twin that has little to do with time or another pair of hands. I have spoken to so many moms all over the country who have told me that it had never occurred to them to spend alone time with each of their twins. One of my reasons for writing the book was to underscore the importance of this, not in any way to make mothers feel they are damaging their children. It is essential to acknowledge that an expert who writes a parenting book is simply sharing her perspective and thoughts about an issue. Hopefully, my book can be considered in that light and not as a weapon to condemn other points of view or to be punitive about conflicting thoughts. Thank you for sharing your opinions with me.

  18. I have twin boys, almost four. Whenever I meet an adult twin, I always ask the same question: “Have you liked being a twin?” I’ve never heard a “no”, not even a “sometimes’. I think that says a lot. I got some useful tips from the book, but I thought it was biased in being written by a twin who was unhappy with aspects of her upbringing and who specializes in treating twins with problems. I’d be more interested in reading a book by someone with lots of experience with healthy, well-adjusted twins. There are plenty of them! Also: The American/Western emphasis on individual ownership shouldn’t be confused with healthy development – they are not one and the same. My boys share toys, a room, and a dresser, but they do get some time apart and with one parent at a time, which is most important. I’m not going to force them to care that they don’t have their “own” toys and clothes when they clearly could care less and that would create all kinds of stuff to fight about and constantly negotiate. The world could use some more excellent sharers.

  19. I read the book and second most of the comments here.

    While individuality of course is important – I felt the author was almost ‘anti-twin’! I believe that twins like any other children or siblings will have their own ideas about how much alike/different/separate/together they would like to be. I don’t personally believe it’s our job as parents to dictate their relationship with each other. Certainly with the twin law and schools butting in to make that distinction for us, do we as their parents need to deem their relationship normal or not?

    Some children are more needy, more affectionate, and may want a strong bond with their twin and will protest if separated. Others don’t mind a bit.

    While the author seems to celebrate individuality with her twins, I felt dictated to how I should be raising mine. It was too opinionated for me, and I choose to let my twins lead the way when it comes to their relationship.

  20. I haven’t read the book and the reviews from some of my most respected friends have been universal negative, so I have no desire to read it. That said, I tend to dress them in differently so that I can tell who is who at at a glance for safety issues. They share a room, because there is no other option. We’ve attempted one on one time occasionally, only to have the girls rebel at being separated from one another. While separated, they repeatedly ask for their sister and demand to be reunited, although they will often go in separate directions on their own, as long as they know their sibling is nearby. Most of our attempts to declare specific ownership of a particular item is also rejected. Sometimes, they will immediately trade. Other times, they will declare the item to have shared ownership. I can count on one hand the number of personally owned items they claim. Perhaps this is a result of their age (3 years) or zygosity (monozygotic), or is just their personalities. Either way, I think the best approach is always to evaluate the specific children and respond to their specific needs to be together or apart as much as one’s family situation will allow rather than responding only to the fact that they are twins. Also acknowledging that their needs for separation/togetherness will probably ebb and flow as time passes and to constantly be on the lookout for changing needs.

  21. Hi!
    I am new to your site. Interesting topic I must say. I am a stay at home mother to my lovely boy/girl twins Abigail and Porter who will be turning 3 this April.

    I really liked the idea of date night with the kids. I can only imagine how hard it was in the beginning. My boy would throw a fit but my girl would love it. I’ve taken her out with me a couple of times. The boys stay home and chill.

    We only have a 2 bedroom house for now so separate rooms are impossible.

    On separating them in school: I have mixed feelings, but want to do what’s best.

    This article reminds me that we need to spend time with each child individually.

    -Shannon in Austin

  22. I haven’t read the book but am mom to 11 year old monozygotic twins. I follow their lead. Have never dressed them the same (or same but in different colors when babies and I actually bought the clothes). They have always slept in the same room (their choice), been in the same classroom (their choice) and enjoy the same extra-curricular activities (their choice). Both are much loved A Honor students, happy and healthy. Sometimes we parents just have to sit back and let our kids lead us no matter what the experts say. Works for us!

    And yes, both girls (and their older brother) are provided with plenty of much necessary one on one time. We do not work to make it happen it just does. I am a stay at home (work at home) Mom at present and when anyone needs some time with mom or dad they just ask.

    No need to complicate parenting multiples or singletons, just be there when they need you.

  23. Hmmmm. Thanks for the review. It doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.
    I think sharing rooms and schools and friends is a wonderful way to build a close lasting relationship with each other most people will never experience. They can definitely be treated as individuals while sharing many activities. Mine are girl/boy so I’m sure that does make it easier for people not to lump them together so much. Though most people think they are identical… lol Of course, I may change my mind in subsequent years as we encounter more outsiders with school, play groups and church settings.

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