This morning, I received a frantic phone call from one of my fraternal twin sons. “Mom?” he whispered presumably while hiding in the bathroom as he’s not allowed to make cell calls from school. “I forgot my calculator and my math final is in a half hour. Can you bring it to school?” Under normal circumstances, I would have said “no” (lovingly, of course) as I’m not the kind of mom who saves her kids from every little calamity. But this was different. It was his quarter final! I felt I had no choice but to get in the car and take the long, 40-minute round trip ride to his high school. But I was annoyed. Really annoyed.
When I arrived on campus, I ran into my other fraternal twin son, the one who remembered to bring his supplies to school that day! I handed off the calculator to him and asked him to give it to his cotwin. “And tell him I’m very annoyed,” I said as I walked off. But as I was driving home, thinking about what had transpired I realized I broke one of my own rules. Instead of dealing with my forgetful son on my own, I involved his cotwin. Rather than leaving the calculator in the office like we had agreed upon, I placed the onus on my son to not only get the calculator to his brother in a timely manner but to reprimand him, too. Now he would be the disciplinarian, outing his cotwin’s careless behavior. And when it comes to parenting twins that’s a big no-no. It’s never a good idea to assign one twin as the enforcer of the other since even simple transgressions such as this one can suddenly escalate into all-out warfare and, I believe, fan the flames of twin rivalry. No, it’s better for each twin to be responsible for himself, and to deal with each child separately.
I learned this lesson (and a few more) in the sixteen-plus years as a mom to multiples. You see, as my twins have gotten older, they’ve had a greater need to be seen as individuals. Long gone are the days when they would hold hands and run freely in the park together or snuggle at bedtime. Now if one walks out in the morning with an outfit similar to the other, it’s a game of rock-paper-scissors to see who will go back to change his clothes. It makes sense as they’re in the throes of adolescence, on the brink of manhood. Every kid their age wants to carve out an exclusive niche for himself. Being a same-sex twin, however, it’s just a bit harder. Although they are still best friends and great brothers, their twin label, at times, can be a hindrance to the ultimate goal of evolving into unique, individual men. My boys are still amazed, for instance, at how many of their schoolmates buy into the “twin mystique,” that all multiples are inseparable or when they assume all twins share everything. Although my sons enjoy being classmates (they have algebra and chemistry together), they never study for tests together, sit near each other in class or swap homework. This, they say, confounds their peers.
As their mother, I try to be their biggest supporter. I’m not perfect, mind you, but I make every effort not to lump them together as a pair but to deal with them one-on-one. It’s always been my hope that in doing so others will follow suit. Or, at the very least, my behavior will encourage each boy to freely express his need for autonomy without worrying that it will hurt his cotwin’s feelings. It’s OK to want to go out without your cotwin, I tell them, to hang out with a friend alone or to be by yourself even if others seemed surprised by the idea, including your cotwin.
For instance, at the beginning of this past summer, one of my twins asked if he could go to summer camp. Alone. Since he had never spent a night away from his cotwin (not unusual for multiples, by the way), I thought it was a great idea. Twins need to have time apart from each other and as parents, we should try to make that happen. But once we chose a camp located on a rugged island where he would work as a counselor-in-training, his cotwin’s showed interest in going, too. (Who wouldn’t want to go to summer camp on an island?) But I stepped in and lovingly put the kibosh on the idea. Although the camp-going son would have accepted his brother tagging along (after all, he’s used to having his cotwin around), I advocated for his going alone. I gladly accepted the role as the bad guy so he could experience life as a singleton even if just for a week. His cotwin would just have to make other plans for the summer. He did and all worked out well.
Although I miss the days when my twins were little guys, I love this time of life. It’s fascinating to watch their relationship grow, mature, evolve—friends one minute, enemies the next. On the one hand, they’re polar opposites, yet they’ll always be interconnected as twins. They’ll always understand each other a little more than anyone else, including their future spouses. I will always be mesmerized by their very special relationship but I’ll continue to support both publicly and privately their right to be two, separate individuals.
This is the yin-yang of their twinship, and it is indeed powerful.
Christina Baglivi Tinglof is the author of six books including Double Duty 2e and Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples. She’s also the creator of the popular website Talk About Twins (http://christinabaglivitinglof.com). She’s the married mother of three boys including 16-year-old fraternal twins and a 14-year-old singleton.