Staying Out of It

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M is playing with a truck. R strides confidently over and, without force, simply takes over. M immediately backs off. He sucks his fingers for a few moments, then starts playing with a new toy.

Or, finds something he knows to be R’s special favorite thing of the moment and waits to be noticed. The second R sees him and runs over to retrieve his item, M is off like a flash to the original toy.

Or, screams for mommy.

In two out of these three scenarios, all of which happen dozens of times a day, peace reigns. My 16-month-old fraternal twin boys work out some kind of system by which they know who has rights to what, who can take over and when. One will often decide on a game, like driving trucks on a ramp, and bring a truck over to brother. Rarely is the invitation refused, but it’s never an issue if it is. They rove from activity to activity, together or separate, like cars on a freeway – coming close but not colliding (usually).

tumblr_n0uqsj0Xw51snhui7o1_1280So what causes conflict between my twin boys?


If I’m in the room, I can sense a subtle but palpable bid for my attention. There is whining, territorial behavior, and glances in my direction during conflict that I know they routinely solve on their own.

I recently observed to my mom that R is very dominant and I am concerned that he sometimes takes advantage of M (who, ironically, is bigger). She laughed and said, “M knows it.” Wha…? My sweet innocent baby, whom my heart keens to protect? Later she pointed out that R plays contentedly until I walk into the room, at which point he starts desperately whining and asking for things and clawing at my leg. And here I was so sure that he just missed his beloved mommy!

The fact is, I’m so IN this thing. I’m a stay-at-home mom, with my kids literally 24/7 (the occasional hour away to grocery shop is, sadly, bliss), and therefore I have no perspective on our triad relationship. However, all at once, as it often happens, it’s dawned on me that I’m truly living with two toddlers and that they are playing me like a fiddle.

So I’ve started stepping back. They don’t need me to solve their conflicts for them. In fact, I make it worse (reading RachelG’s review of Siblings Without Rivalry was a nudge in the right direction). Not only do I take away an opportunity for independence, I also unwittingly break the unspoken rules they’ve carefully constructed. The best move I can make is just staying out of it.

Truth be told, I’ve often scoffed at the “twin thing.” They’re just two kids of the same age that are related and live together, right? Maybe. As my boys’ relationship gets deeper and more complex, and more independent of me, there is a lot going on between them that I simply don’t understand. I just get to see my errors in the glances they are already exchanging.

tumblr_mzep7oV1Sh1snhui7o3_1280I really thought I needed to teach my kids how to be nice to each other, how to negotiate and compromise, even how to share and take turns. Now I’m not so sure. Twins have the supreme gift of spending time around someone with whom they are evenly matched. As long as I curb truly harmful behaviors like biting and hitting, they will sort out the details. And actually, they are more generous and thoughtful when I don’t prompt them. Not only do my boys know each other on a pretty deep level, they love each other. I see evidence of that every day. I need to support the mutual trust already in place between my sons, and have some trust of my own.

And they have gotten savvy. Gone are the days of the accidental horse-collar during an exploratory crawl. (For the record, M was laughing while R tackled him. So maybe it’s always been this way.)

tumblr_mmg7drXwAG1snhui7o1_500I’m starting to get what people mean when they say that kids grow up so fast.

What’s your experience with sibling conflict and mommy intervention?

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RebeccaD has 8 month old fraternal twin boys, R and M. She’s a teacher-turned-SAHM in San Francisco who loves dance, quilting, and geeking out over DIY projects. Having twins is challenging her perfectionism in the best possible way.

6 thoughts on “Staying Out of It”

  1. I don’t even know where to start with this. I’m a mom to 3 year old fraternal twin boys. I’m also a stay-at-home mom. I never felt like raising twins was difficult. The only part I’ve found hard (and I’m talking work-my-nerves hard) is dealing with the fighting between them. I feel like I work part time as a referee! I get told a lot that I should stay out of it because, like you said, when mommy is in the room and tries to help, it makes everything worse. I totally agree with you on this. But on the other side of it, I find that when I choose to stay out of it and let them work it out, they do sometimes work it out on their own, but more often than not, the screaming and whining escalates to a level that I can’t handle. So I do try and help them work it out (even at 3 years of age) simply because I’m trying to avoid another migraine. It’s funny, I have lots of friends with twin girls and NONE of them deal with this. The girls are way more calm. But my friends with twin boys (young and older) are constantly complaining of this. I’m told it does get better by age 4 so here’s to hoping this is true.

    1. Ugh that sounds awful. I also hear you on other people telling you how to handle the fighting – I get unsolicited advice on how to handle things and my first response is, easy for you to say, you don’t have to DO it! :o) So take all this with a grain of salt.

      I do still step in sometimes. Lately I’ve been trying a suggestion from “Siblings Without Rivalry” – someone comes to me crying, I sit between both of them and say, “M wants to play with that toy. And R wants to play with it too. I’m sure you can figure out what to do.” Then I walk away (subversively keeping an eye on things). Kind of amazed me, but it often works.

      But if it’s really bad, like biting or meltdown sobbing, I know it’s actually a different issue altogether – hunger, tiredness, needing Mommy cuddles, or needing a break from brother’s constant presence. If that’s the case, I take the toy from both of them and separate them for a while.

      But you’ve got a year and a half on me in terms of experience, and so do your twins… :o) Here’s hoping 4 is the age of peacefulness!

    2. I struggle with my 2 year olds because it goes from 0 to 100 in a blink of an eye and they are physical! Biting! Handfulls of hair. Pinching and twisting. Seriously. And they are girls. We are a chillish/no yelling/no tv/nursed 17 months/daycare kids. Honestly, if anything, they have taught this behavior to the other kids-I really don’t think they picked this up from them. They were biting long before the other kids the same age figured out what biting was. So I know I should stay out of it, but I also feel like I need to ward off situations where biting is inevitable because otherwise, skin is likely to be broken. It makes me crazy and constantly doubting what I am doing!

  2. Mine are right behind yours at 15 months. Though I think maybe having an older sister changes their dynamics. Especially, I think, for me.

    1. I don’t know how I would handle it with an older one in the mix – that is really challenging. I’m sure it’s a huge shift in dynamics and hard as a parent to suss out appropriate expectations given their differences in development and numbers (I’m sure the twins gang up on your older one from time to time!).

      1. You know, since mine are b/g and they also have a sister, they seem less like twins and more like regular siblings. And it’s generally pretty calm around here. The twins love to watch their sister and imitate everything she does. Because our firstborn is so gentle and mature, they have a great role model. I believe gender does have a lot to do with it too.

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