Do I Compete or Withdraw?

Sadly, despite monumental parental efforts, one twin may give up vying for recognition. I have seen this dynamic occur more frequently in fraternal twin pairs. Unlike identical twins, who appear more evenly matched in skills, talents, and preferences, fraternal twins are more like singleton siblings who happen to be born at the same time. Sharing only 50 percent of their DNA, they can differ significantly in terms of temperament, looks, abilities, and drive.

Frequently when parents tell me about noteworthy differences in their fraternal twins, I strategize with both the families and twins about how to best tackle these daunting circumstances. In many instances, one twin is labeled as extroverted and outgoing and consequently thrust into a more dominant role. Often, I ask parents to think about what the quieter child’s experience would be like if he were a singleton. Invoking this perspective helps minimize the understandable urge to compare the boys. Parents frequently feel guilty and helpless that the quieter twin is being left behind. He may hold on to his brother’s coattails or simply withdraw because he cannot be a part of his brother’s friend group or activities. It is heartbreaking to see one twin feeling content while his brother is sad.

Without any attempts at intervention, the “second-class” twin may carry this internalized inferiority for his entire life. Recently a mom wrote about her forty-year-old twin son who has not been able to manage his lack of success and unhappiness compared to his twin. While my advice may sound extreme to some, when parents of young fraternal twins have described their very unhappy circumstances, I have suggested sending the twins to different schools. Most of the feedback I have received in response to this suggestion has been positive and life affirming.

Notwithstanding this strategy, I urge parents to attempt to find different activities for the boys in the hopes of expanding their social groups and separately engaging in an activity that each one enjoys. Always being together does not enable the quieter twin to find his voice, friends, or self-worth. The peer group experience becomes the most crucial social variable as boys and girls mature. Feeling like a second-class citizen can impede motivation, identity formation, and self-worth.



Photo by NONRESIDENT on Unsplash


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