Throughout the lifespan, twins can be each other’s best buddies, often able to comfort and entertain each other even as tiny infants. On the flip side of that coin, they’re also just as equipped at pushing each other’s buttons! While twins can certainly be a double dose of fun and joy, parenting multiples comes with unique challenges that go beyond what it’s like to support and discipline singleton siblings. Some problems are easier to navigate and solve in the moment, whereas others may require more long-term consistency and intentionality.
Let’s look at the special challenges twin families experience, and some ways of navigating them:
Dividing Your Time
From birth, parents of twins are faced with a tough question: if both need something (a bottle or diaper change, for example) at the same time, who gets their need met first?
Unfortunately, this question will never truly go away when you’re parenting twins; instead, the subject of the battle simply evolves as they get older. In preschool, it may be who gets to hold your hand. In middle school, it may be which activity you choose to show up for when the soccer game and violin recital both fall on the same day. In high school, it could look like who gets your listening ear first after they’ve had an argument. Yes, this challenge can exist anytime you have more than one child, but it’s especially intense between twins!
Short-term solution: Respond with gentle realism to your children’s “allegations” that you favor one twin over another. That might look like, “It’s really hard to be a twin and share everything, isn’t it? It’s also hard to be a Mommy and be the one who decides who goes first all the time! It’s okay to be annoyed with me.”
Long-term solution: It’s important that twin parents let go of the idea that there can ever be a perfect balance in making sure each child gets an equal portion of your time and energy. Unless you’re going to document every single thing you do for them, it’s not possible to keep track – and you may burn yourself out trying.
Just because this is a well-known issue between twins doesn’t mean it’s easy to fix. Even if you try your hardest not to outwardly compare and contrast your kiddos, they’re still going to get it from family and school – and each other. Competition can be the enemy of a close twin bond; of course, it’s impossible to completely eradicate it, but taking certain steps can help reduce some of the tension.
Short-term solutions: 1. It’s okay to verbalize differences in interests, but try to avoid comments based on talents and skills. (E.g., “Carrie loves art, but Jacob’s more into music” sits better than “Carrie’s good at art, but Jacob kinda struggles.”)
Note: it’s also important to be mindful about HOW these things are said. If you unintentionally sound more excited about one twin’s love of basketball while seeming neutral/bored on the other kid’s love of video games, they’re going to notice.
2. Reframe others’ comments, however well-meaning, if they occur in front of the kids. (E.g., if a family member says, “It’s obvious that Chloe is your shy one while Jacob is the outgoing one,” you can respond, “actually, they both have their shy and outgoing moments!”
Long-term solution: Mental comparisons by you and others are going to happen. It’s natural to notice when Ava is excelling at math while Alice is barely passing. Rather than putting it on yourself to never observe these things, notice that it’s happening, and be curious about it. Why is the comparison coming up? What does it mean to you? How might both twins feel about the difference?
Identity and Individuality
While your babies may have arrived as a set (and in certain ways it can be easier to keep viewing them that way), it’s up to you to help them embrace the individual traits that make them special. Yes, it’s good to nurture the special bond that twins share, but ultimately, none of us wants to feel as though we’re constantly lumped together with someone else. In an individualistic culture, we want to be valued for our uniqueness. When twins feel as though they’re allowed to differ from each other and that those differences are equally respected by their parents, this reduces some of that competition we discussed before.
Short-term solution: I’m not saying to never dress your young twins alike (it’s undoubtedly adorable), but provide lots of opportunities for them to choose their own outfits and hairstyles as well, particularly with identical twins. You can also encourage older ones to participate in different extracurricular activities, or teens to look into separate colleges after graduation.
Long-term solution: Appreciating twins’ individuality goes beyond how they dress and what hobbies they enjoy; it also means understanding that they will approach the world (and perceive your style of parenting) in distinct ways. For example, Twin A may love verbally venting to you after a tough day, while Twin B may refuse your attempts to ask questions and prefer to snuggle close instead. (You can read more about love languages here.)
Sharing and Fights
We’ve already covered the nuances of sharing your attention and time, but what about sharing more tangible items? Siblings of any type can turn the house into a battlefield over toys or the last popsicle, but this is especially pronounced in twins. Competition starts surprisingly early in life, and the constant refereeing can be exhausting for parents.
Short-term solution: If Twin A is vying for a toy that Twin B is using, don’t force sharing. Let Twin B know they can use the toy as long as they’d like – and then to let their sibling know when they’re finished.
Long-term solution: While it may seem easier to buy one set of toys and let the kiddos learn to share it all, it’s important for twins to have some things that are theirs alone – and to be able to decide whether they share or not! (Feeling that they have some level of control over their own beloved possessions will make them MORE likely to share with each other, not less.)
Frequently, one child has a more confident, assertive personality than their twin and will adopt the role of spokesperson for the both of them. You’d think that the quieter twin would take offense at this (and sometimes they do), but more often than not, they’re happy to let their more dominant sibling take the lead! While it may seem like the two of them are simply cooperating well together, this dynamic won’t be helpful for either of them long-term. (We can all probably think of an adult we know who has trouble making their own decisions, as well as an adult who constantly feels responsible for others’ happiness.)
Short-term solution: When you notice this dynamic happening, you can give your submissive child a voice without squashing the dominant child’s feelings. For example, let’s say you ask Mason what he wants for dinner, and Ryan pipes up that he prefers mac & cheese. You can say, “I hear that you want mac & cheese. Let’s make a plan to eat that for lunch tomorrow! Right now I’d like to hear what Mason would like to eat.”
Long-term solution: More than likely, this won’t continue to be a problem in the long run. As the quieter twin grows and find their voice (with your encouragement), they will naturally push against the more assertive twin’s commands. There may never be a perfect balance, but it may evolve into a sense of protectiveness and support, which is healthy and normal in twin relationships.