I had the pleasure, honor, and good fortune to speak at the beautiful Teatro Raul Julia at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in San Juan. The museum is an incredible venue that offers a myriad of events for all ages on the island of Puerto Rico. Dr. Lourdes Ramos, the museum’s tireless executive director, has inspired the museum’s impeccable reputation for excellence and innovation.
I stressed key points in my presentation that provoked thought and self-reflection. The first idea had to do with the notion that it is not possible—or even advisable—to love each twin in exactly the same way. Many parents of twins feel guilty if they feel more connected to one twin than the other. I pointed out that these differences are a key to exploring and supporting the individual temperaments and personalities of our children. Denying differences in order to assuage guilty feelings is not a healthy response. Acknowledging our feelings to ourselves helps us attach to each child, rather than attaching to the pair of them.
The second issue that I discussed at length is the concept that life is not fair and twins are not equal. The idea that twins should be treated with absolute equality is false and unrealistic. Twins who expect to be treated the same will undoubtedly develop exaggerated competitive feelings as well as be unprepared for the reality of life’s divergent paths.
The next topic tackled the difficulties that arise when we inadvertently label our twins in our attempts to differentiate them. For example, we might comment that David is the “social one” and Joe is the “shy child.” Attributing labels to our children can severely interfere with the development of each one’s individuality. It is good practice to describe rather than label—David likes to be front and center while Joe takes his time warming up to strangers. One father in the audience asked me if I had any advice about how to stop grandparents from labeling his twin daughters. I replied that I wished I had some magical formula to accomplish this but unfortunately had not discovered it yet! Perhaps he can suggest that the grandparents spend alone time with each granddaughter in hopes that it might give them more insight into the unique personality of each child.
The notion of too much togetherness arose as a number of parents had questions about when and if twins should have their own room and bed. I emphasized that a child’s capacity to soothe himself to sleep on his own is an important developmental milestone.
The older our children become, the more emphasis we put on their having a sense of self-mastery and resilience. Twins who feel excessively dependent upon their siblings will find it much more challenging to feel secure and safe on their own. Moreover, the parents’ willingness to put in the time and effort to find separate activities for each twin will see the potential benefits for that child to be able to take care of himself without his twin’s presence as a security blanket or crutch.
As I stated in the preface to my remarks, the majority of twins get along very well; however, for those twins who struggle with aspects of their relationship, I want to be the voice and resource they can access to understand the normality of their conflicts and comfortably ask for help. Twin rifts and conflicts can be resolved in a number of ways; however, it requires effective communication and trust to learn how to agree to disagree—a most difficult goal for twin pairs to achieve.
I close with a Facebook comment from a mom of adult twins who attended my presentation:
I attended a presentation by Joan A. Friedman, PhD offered in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was delighted with her presentation and enjoyed the interaction that came out of the presentation. It was a rude awakening for me, yet a great relief to hear her speak and share recommendations and suggestions. After the presentation I dined and shared comments and reactions of the presentation with the girlfriends of our twins and the experience was even more delightful and awakening. This evening made me think and reflect upon my years of parenting twins that I had laid to rest. The comments and discussions made me recollect and think again about my past experiences, and have forced me to reconsider attitudes and opinions on her points as a parent and teacher. She has brought a lot of good points and suggestions and information for parents (and teachers) of twins and multiple siblings. I will definitely read her books and share the information with friends. Twins are unique, and their life and sibling relationship is extraordinary. I admire my twins for surviving my parenting mistakes and faults, and love them even more for all their efforts in growing up healthy and emotionally good adults.