My take on twins

This summer I have been spending a lot of time with Josh's sister, Julie, who has become my closest friend.  She, too, has three boys, and is a kindred spirit.  Spending time with our families together means spending time with two teenage boys (hers are 15 & nearly 16), as well as a 10 year old.  Hanging out with her sons has me thinking about my boys when they are those ages.

While we were gone camping at the coast together, Josh & Conrad (Julie's husband) let Ethan drive a few times around the campground.  When Julie and I saw Ethan pull up to the campsite in the driver seat, we both teared up. How can it be that he, who was only one year old when Josh and I met, is already driving?  How can it go so fast through the years, yet drag on day to day?

It got me thinking about my boys (the twins) and their special relationship.  I wondered to myself how it will play out as they get older.  How their twinship will impact who they are and how they relate to the world.  All this thinking made me go back to my favorite twin book (ever!) and reread everything there is to know about raising healthy twins.

Abigail Pogrebin's One and the Same is my twin bible.  She relates what could be some super boring reads into a very readable novel, chock full of twin statistics and advice from professionals.

The overwhelming consensus is that twins need to be fed their individuality.  They need to know that they are (each) loved and appreciated individually.  Realistically, this means allowing distinctions between them (acknowledging Jack loves ketchup and Logan hates it) and appreciating the differences, even if it's difficult (letting the boys know we recognize that Logan is better at academics than Jack, whereas Jack is better at sports than Logan) and allowing these differences to be fluid (not therefore labeling Logan a "nerd" and Jack a "jock" because we know those qualities could change over time).  These are three things that can be challenging, because the tendency is to create fairness and equality between the twins to downplay any sense of competition or inequity.  But what it does, in essence, instead, is deny them the right to be good at something.

The way to create this sense of uniqueness despite their identicalness, is to spend time one on one with them.  We have done this throughout their lives, although perhaps more for simplicity (taking one to the store instead of two) than for the purpose of creating an individual identity.  But rereading Pogrebin's book inspired me to continue spending time alone with the twins.  And it encourages me to recognize each's strengths & weaknesses, not ignore them.

Yesterday Josh took Logan (and only Logan) to the beach overnight for some Daddy time.  He plans to take Jack to a baseball game later this month.  Their trips will not be "fair", but they will each experience something they enjoy, as well as have some undivided attention from their dad.

Society tends to want twins to be the same. To be treated the same, to look the same, and also to retain the relationship that is so highly revered.  Yet, reading Pogrebin's book, I came across many twin pairs who were "the same" and lost their twinship because of it.  The twins who followed their own dreams, who were celebrated because of what made them unique, were then able to appreciate & maintain their relationships with their twins.

I remember thinking when we found out that Wyatt was a boy, that I was glad for the twins to have a brother who was not their twin.  My thinking was that this relationship with another brother would allow them to see the twin relationship for what it was, something special.  I also felt that a third brother would dissolve the intensity of that relationship, and allow another aspect of brotherhood to shine through.  I feel that he has done just that.  The boys love him wholly, desire to spend time with him, and enjoy being with him.  He allows space in their togetherness.

I do fear, occasionally, that Wyatt will feel left out at some point.  I worry that he will feel like a third wheel, or feel less special because of his lack of twinness.  It's true he isn't a twin. But there's not much I can do about that.  What I can do, is make sure that all three of my children's uniqueness is celebrated.  I can ensure they get plenty of time with each of their parents, and I can allow them to have their own experiences.

Now for some of the fun (random) facts from One and the Same:
  • Studies showed that a tracking dog can find one identical twin if he has sniffed the other.
  • They believe twin bonding begins in utero from observing twin pregnancies. 
  • Identical twins are nearly as alike in IQ as the same person tested twice.
  • Chapter 6 lists all the things that Sheri Bayles (twin expert & trainer to parents of multiples) says you need if expecting twins.  Seriously a must-read for parents expecting multiples.
  • 72% of mothers had a favorite twin.  84% of them preferred the heavier of the pair.  "A mother looking after one baby attends to his or her needs without consideration.  In contrast, a mother of twins must constantly choose."
  • Identical twins who stay in touch live longer than those who don't.
  • "There are a lot of mothers with that eighteen-month gap between children, or a fifteen-month gap, and their life sucks, too. But it's not the same thing." Amen.
  • 45 twins died in 9/11.  {That was a shocking number to me.}
  • Left-handedness is more frequent among identical twins. (Logan is left handed.)
  • Twins reared apart are just as alike as twins reared together, which means that (minus abuse) parents are practically interchangeable, and your DNA impacts who you are more than your environment.  Nature over nurture.  "Our lives seem to be pre-chosen - all we have to do is live out the script that is written in our genes."
  • Happiness is 50% genetic.
  • Mostly Genetic:
    • allergies
    • alzheimer's
    • anorexia
    • phobias
    • sleep patterns
    • nearsightedness
    • multiple sclerosis
    • autism
    • back pain
    • anti-social behavior
    • alcoholism
    • depression
  • Mostly Environmental:
    • voting tendencies
    • attitudes on sex & religion
    • obesity
In reading the book, there were times when I was smiling ear to ear, nodding in agreement as people interviewed discussed twin pregnancy, bringing home babies, and the ill conceived idea that "they play together" instantly.  And there were times when I was in tears, reading about twins lost in pregnancy, childhood and adulthood, or twinsets where one suffered an illness while their (identical) twin remained healthy.
Lately I have noticed the boys talk in "we".  Even if they are alone, they will tell people, "We are five," or "We went swimming."  I am curious if that wil continue.  In the book, there is a twinset who never married. One brother explained it saying,  "Females have ignored both of us all our life."  Pogrebin notes his use of the singular "life" to describe both their lives.

I found in reading the book that there is a fine line between encouraging the closeness of twins, and forcing them into their duality so that their individuality is lost.  I hope, for the sake of our boys and their happy futures, that Josh and I can walk that line.  I want to encourage them to appreciate this gift they have been given in each other, but I also want them to know that they, individually, as my sons, are just as precious as any singleton.  The fact that they are twins is a bonus, on top of how awesome they are on their own.

I will close with a quote I found quite moving:
"Both the rivalry and the closeness may be fueled by the same thing: alikeness. That to me encapsulates the tension of twinship.  You want to be treated the same and you want to be treated differently.  You want to be alike and you want to distinguish yourself."


Allison Kirby said...

"He allows space in their togetherness."

i love this!

Marilynn Raatz said...

I love this post so much - the pictures are wonderful and really show how they are physically close to each other so much of the time.
I remember an interview with Bob & mike Bryan who are professional tennis players and they never competed against each other. Their parents felt that would've hurt their relationship. I love that you and Josh are walking that fine line!
I feel so blessed to have them in my life, I've always been fascinated with twins and this has been a wonderful learning, loving experience.

Dawn Frazier said...

I too have identical twins (girls aged 5). Mine talk in "we" as well. I try to foster their individuality but you can never break that special bond. And I don't think I'll ever understand what they are thinking when they look at each other in a certain way!

Anonymous said...

curiously, you talk about twins having separate identities, but yours are always dressed alike. i think you said before that they generally choose to dress the same, but sometimes you have pictures of all three boys dressed as though they're triplets. have you ever considered buying completely different sets of clothing, nothing matching? i wonder if your boys would ask to dress the same, or if they'd dress differently. i would assume they'll want to dress differently when they're older. i just find it fascinating.

Shelly Cunningham said...

I do enjoy dressing the boys the same, and so far, I have had no complaints from them. When or if I do hear that they desire to dress differently, I will allow it. It's interesting because in Alaska they dress differently more, because they want their friends to be able to tell who is who. But here in Washington, everyone they spend time with (family & friends) can tell them apart despite their being dressed the same.
It's funny you mention triplets because in Anchorage we were asked a few times if they were triplets, which was funny because they were all dressed differently each time!

Karen Hochstrasser said...

I am an identical twin. I loved this post. My parents did a really good job of making sure we each ahd our own identities, and yet we still have that special bond that I pray lasts forever. It is hard now that we are in different places in our lives, but at the same time we always have eachother to go to and lean on. It really is the best thing ever. I also have 5 other sisters whom I love dearly, but it just isn't the same.

Karen Hochstrasser said...

Oh, and we never had issues being dressed alike or not.

Anonymous said...

Basing an identify on clothing is pretty shallow. Being dressed alike or not is not going to produce a personality type. It is likely easier and cheaper to buy all the same clothes while the kids don't care. I think its cute when twins are dressed the same.

Barb Miller said...

Loved this post...and the pictures!

Kori Hiser said...

I have never researched or put much thought into being a twin, since it's just regular ol' life for me so whenever you post something about twins/being a twin, I am always interested to read to see if it applies. It's so fascinating to me.

I just adore that last picture of Jack & Logan. What handsome little men they are becoming! One to frame for sure!