A mother of thirteen-year-old fraternal twin girls asked my advice about how to help the “cared for” twin develop more independence and self-confidence.
The mother remarked that both she and her husband give one twin special attention because she appears insecure and clingy. To their surprise, I suggested that they devote more time and attention to the “caretaker twin” because she may not be getting what she needs in terms of parental emotional investment.
Often, a child who is raised by “good enough” parents (parents who do the best they can, giving up the notion or expectation that perfection is possible when it comes to parenting) has her emotional needs satisfied and therefore usually grows up to be self-reliant and resilient. How can a twin who is busy taking care of her sister or brother be properly nurtured by a parental figure? This youngster may grow up feeling as if she has been emotionally neglected because her caretaking role has interfered with the fulfillment of her own longings.
Many parents of twins are unaware that the caretaker twin may grow up feeling as if her only function is to take care of others. As a result, she may miss out on the experience of being cared for, which can result in feelings of depression, emptiness, or existential angst. She cannot recognize her own needs because they were not sufficiently addressed; she does not feel a connection to her unique self except when she is caring for another.
While this twin caretaking behavior appears loving and altruistic when twins are younger, too much interdependence may ultimately result in uncomfortable roles as they get older. One, or both, of the twins might want to free herself from this burdensome bond. However, either one may run the risk of upsetting the other by demanding change. Our role is to help our twins revere and respect their twin attachment rather than have it evolve into a strangulating connection that interferes with their development of uniqueness and individuality.
Have you noticed a pattern of caretaking behavior in one of your twins? Please share your experiences or insights.