No one could really disagree that parenting is a complicated responsibility. Maybe that is why saying “parenting twins is even more complicated and demanding” is hard to believe. But when you spend time with twins you will get a sense of the intensity of their interactions and their conflicts over dependency and right and wrong. Twins’ shared experiences create a closeness that is both extremely nurturing and also quite disruptive. Closeness brings a sense of well-being while fighting creates intense anger, which surrounds twins as they grow up.
In a position of authority, parents have the power to help establish an authentic relationship with each child and between the pair. Still, managing twins is extremely difficult physically and emotionally. Parents have to live in the middle of staged and unstated confusion. Unknown to outsiders, unspoken non-verbal communication between twins naturally reigns in childhood. Issues that arise, such as the need for attention, discipline, empathy, love, family, friendship, financial support and education, are kaleidoscopic, intersecting in different places and times and presenting double trouble for parents with twins.
I do not believe that parents consciously think about navigating their children’s relationship at first. They are too busy. The initial days and months of twin life present enormous physical and emotional challenges for parents, who have to decide how to divide their attention. Which infant is fed first? Should a schedule rule how Mom and Dad respond to caring for each child? Is hit and miss or whichever child is most demanding a way to deal with love and discipline? How closely should you follow the rules of your heart? There are no set answers to the questions; the answers are in continual flux. If you are honest with yourself, assessing the problem will lead to various solutions depending on what is going wrong—hunger, sleep deprivation, accident, illness—and who can help.
Here is the reason that parenting twins is so hard, frustrating, heartbreaking and heartwarming: Twins share an irreplaceable bond that originates in utero. Twin power and double trouble are based on their intertwined identities or fluid ego boundaries. Twins are born married. They hold hands as one. What grows out of their attachment is an ability to soothe one another and create chaos at the drop of a hat. Truly, twins have two opposite ways of making parents know that they have a very “special” job. Twins can calm one another down by playing together for hours. Mom and Dad get a break when their kids are playing together. Twins can also raise your blood pressure by creating astonishing messes and make you question your parenting ability.
Please give up wishing your job as parent was easier. My recipe for success looks simple to follow and simple to recite but following through is very hard to do.
1. Get to know your children. How are they alike? How are they different? What makes them cry? What calms them down?
2. Establish different books to read, games to play, and rituals to enact with each child. Play with one twin at a time every day using interactions that are not shared with the other child. These singular interactions will promote speech development and individuality.
3. Observe how your children play together and try to stop one twin from dominating the other twin. Know that dominance between twins changes over time. Still, make sure that your children are not relying on each other in life skills development. For example, if twin A is talking for the pair and twin B is thinking about plans of action, try to reverse the skills. Each child needs to know how to do both.
4. Twin fighting is so normal and so infuriating. Twin fighting exists because twins measure themselves against one another. Understanding the meaning of fighting is important. Does one twin feel more important than his brother or sister?
5. Establish consequences for fighting. Truly, with twins enough is enough. Time outs will work. Separating your children is an important strategy. Teaching them to use their words is extremely critical to reduce arguments
6. Keep your life filled only with what needs to be done when your infants and toddlers are small and hard to carry around. Limit parties and events and visitors. Family, friends, neighbors will all want to meet your twin children. Make a reservation list for visitors. Eliminating well-meaning distractions will help you focus on your children as separate individuals.
7. Create separate spaces in your home for each child. Introduce separate activities and eventually separate your children for longer periods of time.
8. In kindergarten, separation is really very important, and the development of friendships that are not shared needs to be encouraged.
9. Narratives/stories about how twins are different and how differences are normal will help twins develop their own sense of self. Remember, outsiders or onlookers always expect twins to be the same. More often than not, twins can be made to feel that it is shameful that they are different—but different is normal.
How you parent definitely depends on your childhood and how you were parented. What you give to your children that you didn’t get and what you pass on to them that is of value is an important personal decision. Parenting is a long-term experience that changes and develops over time. Young parents may find this reality hard to believe, but older parents know that the job seems never ending. Reacting to what is going on with your children as individuals and as twins, not reacting to what happened in your childhood, will clearly help you parent your twin children.