Christina Baglivi Tinglof is a mother of fraternal twin boys and the author of My Twin Pregnancy Week by Week, Double Duty, and Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples. The following article, published on June 19, 2018, is reprinted with her permission from her blog, Talk About Twins.
Why Is It So Hard for My Twins to Make Friends?
Christina Baglivi Tinglof
Question: My husband and I have 14-year-old fraternal twin boys. We meet regularly with other parents of twins to see if we are experiencing any of the same dilemmas. We discuss common teenage parenting issues, namely our children and their amount of screen time. A common problem we share is focused on twins and friendships. One family in the group has no problem with their twins making friends—their twins have their own, separate friends and shared friends. The majority of parents in our group, however, have noticed that our boys don’t get asked over to other peoples’ homes, or if our twins do reach out to other kids and invite them over, it’s not reciprocated. I would say that my boys even lost a friend in middle school, probably because the friend felt like he had to hang out with both of them and was uncomfortable just picking one of them. I get it. It can be hard for a singleton to navigate a twin friendship. But it hurts. I wish it didn’t hurt me, but it does. There are moments when I totally trust that someday it will all work out just fine. But right now, it’s not so simple. Any way to help this move in a different direction? I know that it’s really not in my court as a parent since my twins are now teens. But if there is a perspective that would help myself and the other parents in our group—perhaps something we could do more intentionally—that would be very welcomed. As one parent even said, “I wonder if our home just doesn’t feel welcoming?” And I have certainly wondered the same thing.
Answer: An important component to any child’s social well-being and emotional security is the ability to develop strong social bonds with same-age peers. Friendships are important! However, some twins have a more difficult time than their singleton counterparts in making and keeping friends outside of their twinship.
Some twin researchers believe that a tightly bonded, close relationship between twins can actually impede their ability to develop outside friendships since peers have a harder time breaking the “twin code.” Since twins spend more time with each other than with their parents, siblings, and other peers, they often develop intuitive ways of communicating with each other. They simply interact with each other in a way that outsiders may have trouble understanding. (It’s important to note, however, that recent research suggests that twins’ enhanced social skills—their ability to relate positively with each other—actually help them build strong relationships outside of the twinship.)
Yet your situation is not that unusual. I get many emails from parents of twins who share your same dilemma. So why is it difficult for some twins to make and maintain friendships? Perhaps the reason may be a confluence of several factors.
Think about past behavior, for instance. When they were younger, did your boys feel more comfortable venturing out together rather than separately? When one boy was invited to a party or play date, did both attend? There’s nothing inherently wrong with young twins sharing their social circles with each other, but unfortunately, when first impressions are set, they can be hard to break. In other words, even after twins feel comfortable venturing out alone without their cotwins, the damage might have already been done. Others may have gotten the impression (albeit a wrong impression) early on that your twins are still an all-or-nothing proposition. And rather than testing the waters by inviting just one twin to an event or play date, many nontwin peers choose to avoid the situation (and thus your twins) altogether.
Years back, a mom I know well had asked me for advice on this very subject. Her young son was friendly with just one twin at school and wanted to invite that child over for a play date. This mom was reluctant to do so. When I pressed her on why, she said that she always saw the twins together and it felt “uncomfortable” inviting just one twin. Long story short—even after my pleading, she still couldn’t do it. In the end, the two boys never developed a friendship.
What’s the lesson? You may need to work to change these perceptions. Even though twins are everywhere these days, many people still don’t understand the twin dynamic, and some may still believe that your twins want and need to always be together. Yes, your boys are teenagers and probably won’t appreciate your interfering, but if the current situation is causing one or both twins apprehension and anxiety, then definitely step in.
Start with the basics by looking at how much time your twins spend with each other every day. Are they in the same classes? On the same sports teams? In the same after-school clubs and activities? If so, you may want to gently steer each boy in a different direction. Encourage each to try new and different activities, something different from his cotwin.
Continue to encourage your boys to ask friends over to your house, too. But perhaps a friend check is in order—are these like-minded peers with similar interests to your boys? The best friendships have common connections, shared hobbies, and similar values. Furthermore, make the event fun—a popular, current movie perhaps, or a new video game that everyone is eager to play—but short! Some kids are uncomfortable heading to a friend’s house if it requires a long time commitment. Make it two to two and a half hours tops. And don’t forget the pizza!
Another option, however, could be to switch schools. A fresh start in a new environment may be just what each boy needs to establish himself as an individual rather than part of a twinship. It might sound a bit drastic, but it has worked for many families in the same boat as you.
Bottom line? Keep the lines of communication open with your boys. But your instinct is correct—it will work out in time.