Do I Take Care of Myself or My Twin?
I received an e-mail from a college-age female twin whom I will call Molly. Molly reached out to me because she was feeling worried and frustrated about her relationship with her sister Maddy. Although Molly and Maddy were now in their second year of attending separate colleges, Molly felt ongoing concerns about their twin relationship. Molly and Maddy are the eldest children, with three younger siblings. Molly described that she and her sister were basically treated as a unit most of their lives and that their family was consistently in the habit of glorifying the twin connection. When Molly was younger, she told her mom that she hated being a twin sometimes. Her mother became quite upset with her and reprimanded her not to say such things ever again.
Molly described herself as the caretaking twin in her relationship to Maddy. Even though they have been apart for some time now, Molly still feels very responsible for Maddy’s emotional well-being. When they are together, Molly feels compelled to try to help Maddy get out of a bad mood by emotionally suggesting that they do this or that. Also, if Maddy calls and is upset or needy, Molly reluctantly feels an obligation to listen and to try to help her feel better. They have a much harder time being together now because they have lived on their own. Circumstances that used to be acceptable are difficult; for example, Molly likes things to be neat, and she cannot stand being around Maddy’s messy room.
Molly asked me what I tell parents when they mention that their twins are not getting along. I teach parents that this discord is an expression of their twins’ need to spend some time away from one another; it should be celebrated and valued because twins need to breathe on their own. Otherwise, how will they be able to grow up and be independent?