For the most part, my teenage twin sons get along very well. But like all siblings, they have their moments. Big, loud, smack-down moments. It’s never easy to hear them speak rudely to one another, or worse, physically push or punch, but I only intervene when I see there’s an intent to kill.
Just kidding about the killing part. Well, kinda.
I’m lucky that my boys actually like each other. But that’s not always the case with every set of multiples. Not all twins are soul mates (including my own). Many twins are not best friends. In fact, some twins downright hate each other. (OK, hate is a strong word but it is an adjective that some twins use to describe their feelings for their same-age sibling.)
In the 15+ years since I’ve been writing on the subject of twins, I’ve received a fair amount of e-mail from distraught parents asking why their twins don’t get along. Although every set of twins is different and the circumstances surrounding the animosity that they feel for each other may be deep-seated, there are a few basic reasons why twins might dislike each other and twins fighting continually.
1. The Twin Mystique.
Whether born identical or fraternal, twins are first and foremost siblings, and all siblings fight. Yet to the outside world, twins have always been something more. Something fascinating and mystical. Our society sees twins as soul mates, inseparable from the moment of conception, their happiness dependent solely on the strength of their bond. Psychologist Joan Friedman, author of Emotionally Healthy Twins: A New Philosophy for Parenting Two Unique Children, calls these misconceptions the Twin Mystique, the idea that twins are nothing without each other.
Yet some twins simply can’t live up to this romanticized view of twinship. How could they as they would deny their own individuality in the process? The pressure to fulfill these cultural expectations may prove too much for some multiples, resulting in anger and resentment towards the one person they believe is holding them back—a cotwin.
2. Twins Lack Privacy and the Chance to Fly Solo.
Being the same age and many times, the same sex, twins are automatically grouped together. They often share a bedroom, a classroom, a yearly birthday party, many of the same friends and many of the same after-school activities. They rarely get a chance to do anything without their cotwin. In fact, research has shown that the average twin doesn’t spend a night apart from a cotwin until age 14, compared to a single-born child who ventures away from the family for a sleepover or summer camp for the first time by age 9. That’s a gap of five years! Furthermore, they are expected to be comfortable sharing every aspect of their lives. In short, twins aren’t afforded the same opportunities for privacy and solo adventures as single-born children. And when you’re a child, unable to fully articulate your need for space, your desire to break free from living your life as a pair, it can manifest itself in other ways such as resentment towards a cotwin.
3. The Couple Effect.
In his research back in the 1970s, French psychologist, Rene Zazzo, found that twins who grew up together often tried to exaggerate their differences in order to be seen as individuals while those twins who were separated at birth and then reunited as adults often found that they were remarkably similar. Zazzo called this twin phenomenon The Couple Effect. There is sometimes a conflict within the twin relationship, he wrote, between the attachment to the other twin and the sudden need for differentiation, personal autonomy and independence. For some twins, the need to be seen as different from one’s cotwin can far outweigh maintaining a strong relationship with that cotwin.
4. Twins Have Been Raised to Feel Responsible for Each Other.
Some twins (including my own) feel a responsibility towards the welfare and happiness of their cotwin. Yet that constant accountability for someone else (Is he happy? Is he lonely? Do I need to step in and help him?) can be burdensome for some twins. The result? Uncomfortable with the role of guardian, many twins pull away, distancing themselves from their cotwin.
5. They Don’t Get Enough Parental Attention.
Sometimes with twins, we tend to let them parent each other. It starts when they’re young and we don’t get down on the floor and play with them as often as we would if they were born singly. We don’t need to—they have each other to entertain. So as they grow up, their relationship with each other strengthens while the parent-child bond never gets a chance to fully form. But for many twins, simply can’t sustain that level of intensity with their cotwins.
Tips for Parents Whose Twins Dislike Each Other:
- Give up on the Twin Mystique. See your twins are two separate individuals with two distinct personalities, and treat them as such. Being a twin does not give you any special powers.
- Avoid dressing your twins alike, always encourage each child to explore his or her own interests, hobbies, and sports. In fact, introduce each child to different interests, hobbies, and sports!
- Prepare your twins for classroom separation starting when they’re toddlers and separate them in school as soon as you feel they’re ready.
- Allow for differences and disagreements between your twins. For instance, never say, “Don’t be mad at him; he’s your twin.” Sibling rivalry and arguments are a normal part of growing up. If you don’t allow for the negative feelings to be openly discussed, they’ll simply go underground where they will fester.
- Offer as much privacy as possible. If separate bedrooms are out of the question, at least insist on respect for each twin’s personal belongings. Never insist on sharing; we all deserve our own “things.”
- Never compare one twin’s behavior to the other as a way of shaming (“Why can’t you be neater like your twin brother?”) or as an incentive. (“If you get an ‘A’ in Spanish like your twin sister, I’ll take you both shopping.”)
- Find opportunities for each twin to live life (temporarily) as a singleton. Separate after-school activities, separate summer camps, separate schools if each is on a different academic path. What about separate birthday parties? If one gets invited out to a party or sleepover, don’t insist that the other tag along, too. Allow each twin the opportunity to live life as an individual, not as a pair.
- Always insist that each twin be responsible for his or her own life. If they both require lunch money, don’t give the money to the ‘responsible one’ but give them both lunch money! Never ask one twin to “keep an eye out” for the other or spy on him.
- It’s never too late to start spending more one-on-one time with each child. It not only builds trust between you and your child but it also gives each twin the opportunity to confide in YOU.