Parents of multiples the world over have some similar concerns when it comes to raising their children—issues of identity, rivalry, competition, and comparison are all common. What is so strikingly interesting is how cultural differences affect the importance of these concerns.
I have just returned from a two-week vacation in Chile. In Santiago, I had the pleasure of addressing an overflow audience of parents who came to listen to my presentations about parenting twins and the emotional challenges of adult twin pairs. I was happily deluged with questions about separation, tantrums, school placements, and individual differences. The conference was organized by a fantastic group of five professional women who make up Centro SerMujer. The women are psychologists, psychiatrists, and prenatal experts who help women address matters having to do with infertility, prenatal care, and postpartum issues. They organized a lovely speaking experience in a beautiful venue.
One of the questions a mother posed to me highlighted an interesting cultural difference. She is Canadian and is married to a Chilean man. In many Spanish-speaking countries, calling a baby gordito (little fat one) is a term of endearment that has nothing to do with being obese or overweight. In fact, it is considered a compliment related to having a nice, healthy baby. But this mom of identical twins is struggling with the labels that have been attached to her toddlers by their paternal grandparents because she feels it lends a negative connotation for her children to be labeled gordito and flaquito. Flaquito is a diminutive of flaco, meaning thin or skinny, and is often used as an affectionate nickname. She worries how her children will respond to these labels when they are old enough to understand them and how she might explain her dilemma to her in-laws without being disrespectful or rude.
Moreover, I learned that it is customary for children to stay close to home when they attend college. One of the professional staff members from Centro SerMujer shared the emotional hardships she endured when she had to leave her hometown so that she could attend medical school in Santiago. She described how terribly lonely and isolated she felt being on her own without family. Certainly, there were only a handful of others in this situation, as it is highly unusual for young adults to make this kind of decision. In spite of her parents’ attempts to stop her, her desire to attend a medical school made it imperative for her to leave. It was a bold and adventurous move. She looks back on the experience now and appreciates how being on her own contributed to her becoming a very capable and strong woman.
In light of a number of circumstances, I had some difficulty explaining my concept of alone time; this is a problem that I face often when I give a presentation. In my efforts to explain the importance of creating a one-on-one parent-child connection by spending time alone with each baby, I am repeatedly confronted with the notion that this is impossible or unreasonable. I attempt to explain that being alone with each baby is a healthy means of nurturing the ability to think of twins as two separate babies. I will continue to work on creating effective strategies to help parents understand the importance of the parent-infant connection, one at a time.
It was a pleasure to share my research and knowledge with such an appreciative audience, eager to learn about twins and their special developmental challenges. I hope I will have another opportunity in the future to do so again.