Twins Join Forces against Mom

During this pandemic, I spoke with many parents who asked for advice about managing twins who collaborate to thwart parental expectations. One mom of fifteen-year-old identical twin girls told me that she cannot get more than two words in before they shout her down and shut her out. While this behavior was exacerbated by the girls’ isolation from everyone except their family, the mom explained that this habit of ganging up started a few years ago. During adolescence, the developmental urge to achieve separation and self-determination becomes paramount; consequently, the power struggles intensify within the family. These young girls were never apart in school or extracurricular activities. Their anger toward and rejection of their mom was ongoing evidence of their combined capacity to dominate one another as well as their mother.

In this particular case, the twins criticized their mother’s difficulty with demonstrating care beyond financial support. The mom had a high-powered job, was divorced from the girls’ father, and had to travel frequently. So, the family dynamic was long characterized by palpable bitterness from all sides. I felt sad listening to the mom and the twins share their frustrations and regrets about their present estrangement. They reached an impasse that appeared to have no immediate solution. Discounting the issues and making minimal efforts to defuse the conflicts resulted in a serious breach.

I hope that once schools reopen, the girls will have opportunities to redirect their energy toward social events and peers. Then their mom may find an opening to make emotional inroads and rebuild a relationship with each daughter. If you see signs of your twins ganging up, I strongly recommend confronting the circumstances sooner rather than later. Waiting to see if the behavior resolves itself may delay reasserting parental control. Structure, rules, and expectations help children feel securely attached and safe. Combining consistency and limits with emotional availability is the ticket to happy parent-child relationships.

Image courtesy of Hans Splinter (CC BY-ND 2.0)

1 Comment

  1. Mark L

    Interesting post. I’d never really thought about it until reading this, but right around adolescence (13-14 y.o.) my twin and I also began this ‘ganging up’ behavior towards our mother. I’ve always perceived this dynamic to be a reaction to our mother’s anger over the rough transition from being needed and admired, to being ‘shut out’ and ‘not needed’. This is of course the natural separation from one’s parents as they hit adolescence, but the transition seemed to be viewed by my mother as a kind of betrayal. So she began lashing out, and in reaction, we began ganging up in a more conscious way. While this still strikes me as more or less accurate, I’d never considered the notion that:

    “anger toward and rejection of (our) mom was ongoing evidence of (our) combined capacity to dominate one another as well as (our) mother.”

    The key insight for me here is ‘our combined capacity to dominate one another’. This feels like a pretty good description of the somewhat volatile relationship I have with my twin. It seems like the only way we can interact or ‘relate’ to each other is through a type of emotional dominance. And we seem to have intuited this without discussing it, because it feels like we semi-cooperatively ‘trade off’ with our dominance. If he’s amped about something, I need to let him dominate. And if I’m more passionate/aggressive, then he kind of allows me to dominate. And predictably, if the issue is one we both feel strongly about, well, it becomes explosive. So it seems that we do a continual dance of dominating – or allowing ourselves to be dominated by the other. Neither behavior strikes me as particularly healthy.

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