When my children were young, we often read books from a series called the Berenstain Bears. The series included titles such as Too Much Birthday, Visit the Dentist, Trouble with Money, and Mama’s New Job. Each book addresses developmental challenges such as getting accustomed to a new baby, family and peer relationships, and the ethics of expectable social behaviors such as tantrums, name calling, and bullying.
A recent session with an adult identical twin reminded me of a particular Berenstain Bears book called No Girls Allowed. The story concerns a group of boys who exclude girls from their clubhouse. The parents respond to this injustice by helping the girls organize their own clubhouse. The story ends with the reconciliation of the boys and the girls, who invite one another to share their respective spaces rather than perpetuate exclusion and discrimination.
My patient, whom I will call Alana, told me that she yelled at her twin sister not to join the gym where she had just purchased a membership. Both women live near one another. Alana screamed at her sister, with absolute certainty, that she did not want her twin there. Alana vented her fear that her sister would steal her friends and ruin her experience. Although Alana felt somewhat vindicated that she stood up for herself and told her sister what she needed, she also felt guilty and ashamed. She asked me if acting so selfishly could be justified as healthy, acceptable behavior.
As I have frequently discussed, twins inherently and helplessly share time, love, and attention. Sharing seems endemic to twinship—for better or for worse. My toddler-age grandson is currently struggling with the notion of sharing and working out his sense of ownership in a developmentally appropriate manner. Unfortunately, twins do not have many opportunities to figure out feelings of possession and singularity until much later in their lives. To want an experience or possession of one’s own is often experienced by one’s twin as self-centered, exclusionary, and vindictive. Sadly, if a twin wants something for herself and does not feel inclined to share, a conflict may erupt.
Whether the point of contention is a gym membership, a relationship, or a career, twins who were denied the experience of embracing “self-ish” behavior in their youth may find themselves confronting irreconcilable rifts with their sibling. Teaching young twins that they do not have to share all the time can help them form separate—rather than shared—identities as they mature. With young twins, sharing often seems to be fused with empathic resonance. However, as a twin’s developmental need for individuation becomes more pronounced, the notion of equitable allocation becomes correspondingly more problematic and fraught with discord.
How have the twins in your life handled sharing? Please share your experiences in the comments below.