Do you recall the childhood experience of growing a bean seed inside a plastic cup stuffed with moist cotton? I was recently reminded of this when a mom of identical five-year-old twin daughters shared her story. She described how her girls rushed into the kitchen, each carrying her respective bean seed container. One of them was upset that her bean showed no growth while her sister’s seed was sprouting a healthy green root. The mom patiently explained that some plants just happen to grow more quickly than others. Many factors, such as sunlight, moisture, and the condition of the seed itself, contribute to different growth rates.
This story beautifully illustrates a truth I constantly repeat—we cannot make life fair and equal for each twin. Yet, as parents of twins, we often feel guilty and powerless when we compare and judge our children’s differences. During a recent interview on BYU Radio, the host asked me why many parents of twins promote sameness. I replied that this parenting philosophy seems to be perpetuated by three main factors: narcissistic pleasure, discomfort in acknowledging different attachment feelings, and a drive to make things fair and equal for the twins.
I recall a tragic anecdote about a mom who struggled with this conundrum. She was hopelessly controlled by her daughters’ need for absolute equality. For example, the girls tormented their mother when they discerned the slightest discrepancy—to such an extent that the twins became upset if the crusts on their sandwiches were not trimmed identically. Moreover, the mom could not fathom buying a pair of shoes for one daughter if she needed them without buying a pair for the other. The mother could not tolerate the ensuing relentless battle cry—“It’s not fair.”
This preoccupation with fairness locks twins in constant battles with one another and creates a vigilance about what each sibling is getting or doing. How will they learn to handle the uncontrollable environmental variables that will ultimately creep into their lives? From time to time, I receive a call from a mother of twins lamenting that one twin is excluding the other from a group of friends or an activity. If parents have not created an environment where each individual child’s behavior has specific consequences and expectations, how will she adjust to not getting what she wants and learn not to hold her twin responsible for that? If individual choices and independence are encouraged from an early age, each twin will gradually understand that managing the difficulties of life as best she can is her responsibility. Blaming one’s twin and parents for unfairness and inequities can eventually lead to uncontrollable fights, irreconcilable power struggles, and fallacious expectations.