Twin Caretaking: Benevolence or Bereavement?

Mothers taking care of their infants delight in the reciprocal feedback that occurs between the two of them. The sleepless nights, the feeling of being out of control and overwhelmed, and the loss of predictability and consistency in one’s life can be beautifully modulated by the capacity to soothe the baby and see the signs and signals of recognition for all that hard work—the beautiful smile that the baby beams to his mother when they are together.

I think about these moments when I am speaking to twins, either separately or together, who have intensely pleasurable memories about caring for their twin. Recognizing how much they played a unique, special, and irreplaceable role filled them with a sense of blissful gratification. Recalling how much their twin relied on them for emotional fulfillment contributed to the caretaker feeling masterful and powerful. It is a dynamic oftentimes not seen, understood, or appreciated by outsiders.

What happens when these roles shift? A couple of scenarios are common. In the first, the caretaker tires of this responsibility and wants to move on. Ostensibly, she “drops” her twin and moves into other relationships outside of the twin attachment. How does her twin survive this abandonment? Usually not well in light of the exaggerated reliance and dependence she has developed with her caretaking twin. On the other hand, what happens when the cared-for twin no longer wants or needs the ministrations of her caretaker? The caretaker becomes incensed. This was not the plan she had in mind. She believed the twinship would be hers forever and assumed that neither sibling would ever entertain nor envision an end to this arrangement.

The feelings of anger, guilt, and betrayal experienced on both sides are genuine. Both twins find themselves suffering from an arrangement that neither one signed up for. Unearthing the unconscious interplay that happened and attempting to heal from these dynamics is a strenuous and burdensome task. Nonetheless, the relationship can be salvaged and redefined when both parties develop empathic resonance with the other’s experience and work through resolving the challenges of a situation that neither twin consciously or purposefully perpetuated.

Most twins have an enormous desire to live harmoniously with their sibling. When both come to the realization that their childhood roles no longer yield healthy outcomes, they aspire to construct a more adult mentality to initiate an authentic and reciprocal mature love.



Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash


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