Twin brothers

Twin Taboos: Navigating the Social & Emotional Landmines of Twins

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the twin birth rate has increased by over 75% since 1980, and triplet, quadruplet, and higher-order multiple births have increased at an even higher rate. People are having children later and that is one of the main reasons for this uptick. The older a woman is when she conceives, the more chances her body intuitively gives her to conceive by releasing multiple eggs during her fertile time. Chances are, you know someone with twins or have them yourself. 

I am the mother of 3 wonderful adolescents, two of whom are fraternal twin sons. Every parenting journey is beautifully unique and sometimes heart-wrenchingly difficult. Parents of any type of multiples face challenges other parents never will, and parents of same-sex twins face challenges that are unique even within the twin world. My husband and I work hard to create an environment for our kids to thrive independently and still maintain a strong sibling bond. Occasionally, circumstances outside of our family upend our best laid parental plans. Whether it’s due to the general lack of awareness or basic insensitivity of others, there are times when outside influences can make the job of parenting twins and being a twin more difficult. Even parents of other multiples can make these mistakes! Here are a few tips on how to be respectful of twins and their families.

Do Not Compare the Children

Imagine if people went around constantly comparing you to your siblings. Kids compare themselves to their peers already. Please recognize that twins have a direct peer living with them 24/7. Any comparison you make may spark sibling competition where none previously existed or poke painfully at chronic sensitivities. Either way, the impact is not good. Don’t do it.

Do Not Call Them By the Wrong Name

If you want to be respectful, figure out a way to distinguish the kids. If you don’t know how, ask the parents. Let the kids and the family know that you care about their individuality and want to get it right. If you ever don’t know who you’re talking to, DO NOT guess. Just keep the conversation neutral so you don’t have to address not knowing who they are. Then, resolve to do a little more sleuthing to find your own way to tell the kids apart.

Do Not Assume They Are a Package Deal

Unless you check with the parents first, don’t assume they are a package deal. Don’t ever ask a kid whether you need to invite their sibling if you invite them. The kid should never be put in a position to make that choice! Some of this social engineering needs to be done behind the scenes, but how you ask the parents is equally important. Don’t lead by saying, “We plan to invite Baby A. Should we invite Baby B as well?” Instead, say “We are preparing a guest list. Do you prefer that we view your kids as a package deal?” The parents can let you know what, if any, considerations need to be made. Some twins thrive on living independently and have lots of interests that are different from their sibling. Other twins have very similar interests and personalities and enjoy living a more enmeshed social or academic life. And, for some twins, their preferences may be totally situational. Admittedly, it can be complicated. If you don’t know, ASK THE PARENTS!

Do Not Buy Them the Same Birthday Gifts

Unless they specifically ask for the same thing, do not buy them the same birthday gifts. Every kid wants to feel special on their birthday. Twins already have to share their special day with a sibling every single year. Try to help them feel uniquely appreciated on their special day. Better yet, make your birthday gift an experience they can enjoy individually on a different day.

Do Not Argue the Science of Multiples

If the kid says he/she is fraternal, don’t argue “But you look so much alike!” When you press on with this argument, you come across as obtuse and the kid hears “I don’t see any difference worth noting between you and your sibling.” Ouch! If the parents tell you the kids are fraternal, don’t argue even if you can’t tell the kids apart. I promise the doctor did not get it wrong no matter how much the kids look alike. Same-sex fraternal twins are just siblings who happen to have been born on the same day. Period.

Do Not Question the Decisions Parents Make About Schooling and Socializing

Unless you are a fellow parent of multiples gathering information to make your own decision for your own kids, do not question the decisions parents make about schooling and socializing. Whether the twins are kept together or separated is a private, family-specific, kid-specific decision with lots of factors at play.

Do Not Ask the Twins if They Were a Surprise

Every parent of multiples knows this is a not-so-subtle way of asking if the parents had fertility issues. Finding out you are having multiples is a surprise for every pregnant woman no matter how your kids were conceived. Who cares whether it was in-vitro or natural? Besides, it’s none of your business.

Finally, if you are a parent of multiples, DO NOT ASSUME THAT OTHER PARENTS DO THINGS YOUR WAY. I recognize that every family and sibling relationship is unique, even as I share these tips, the take-away should be that you need to do a little digging when other twins or multiples come into your life, particularly when they are same-sex. You’d likely want the digging done for your own kids. If this seems like there are a lot of landmines, that’s because there really are. Ignoring the landmines because it’s easier for you doesn’t make the landmines go away and can cause hurt feelings and, worse, self esteem issues. More often than not, twins view their unique siblinghood favorably. It is the outside world that creates unfavorable conditions. If you are a friend, teacher, or coach of a twin, PLEASE make the effort to get to know the kids as individuals. If you are in a position to share this wisdom in your school or sports organization, do it! My husband and I have had some truly unfortunate experiences on our parenting journey. We have also met some absolutely wonderful people who have the social and emotional intelligence to key into what makes our kids unique. For that, we are so grateful (& so are the kids)! If you take the time to approach these twin relationships with care and respect, I promise your efforts will be met with gratitude.

About the Author

When she is not navigating the perils of raising adolescents, Erin Castleberry is a mental health therapist and Media Director at Waypoint Wellness Center. She has presented locally and internationally on the effects of social media on mental health and held an adjunct professorship at Johns Hopkins University.

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