To know twins is to know the twin risks: always measuring one against the other; and forgetting that they are separate, complicated little individuals.
Whether you’re raising an only child or a gaggle of siblings, comparing children to their peers is hard to avoid. From birth weights to growth charts, first steps to high-school standings, it can be a constant battle not to judge one child against another—even if we all know every child is an individual.
It can be especially hard to keep this balance when the siblings are twins. From the moment they arrive, you have an always-at-the-ready comparison for your baby’s milestones.
Look, your brother can do it
Our twins have always been slightly different in height and weight, and have personalities we say we’ve known since the womb—one is a fighter, the other is more laid back. Their early milestones happened usually within a week or so of each other—first teeth, rolling over, crawling.
But when it came to walking, things were different. One boy walked unassisted in the spring. The other waited until mid-summer.
Four months. The ‘accepted’ age for walking covers about a six-month span, so that four-month difference is totally normal for kids born at the same time. Except when those babies are born two minutes apart and raised with all the same environmental factors. Then the four months is 120 days of comparing one child to another, encouraging one to move outside his comfort zone.
It’s 120 days of family and friends asking you if something is wrong with your son. It’s a life lesson in raising kids and the pros and cons of being able to measure them against their siblings and their peers.
Would anyone have questioned our son not walking until he was 16 months old if there wasn’t another toddler the same age around? Maybe, maybe not.
Of course it’s good to have guidelines about what a child should be doing at any age, and having a constant comparison can help with early detection for actual delays.
But constantly measuring those milestones by saying, “Look, your brother can do it,” isn’t fair to either child. And it’s a trap that they’ll likely face until they’re finished school. At least.
Don’t call them ‘The Twins’
Dave Atkinson is a twin. When he and his brother were younger, they struggled to not be seen as a unit.
“When we were kids, I found that as soon as an adult found out we were twins—and it isn’t obvious; we have never looked that much alike—they automatically stopped making an effort to figure out who was who,” Atkinson recalls. “We were either ‘the twins’ or ‘John or Dave or whoever you are’.”
‘I remember having a long-term substitute teacher once who had no problem telling us apart for several days, until she suddenly found out we were twins. It was like someone flipped a switch in her mind. We became one, indistinguishable entity.”
Stacey Guadarrama understands the challenge of seeing twins as individuals; she has taught twins in her classroom and has twin sons who are now in school.
“As a mom, I worried a lot about whether or not to split my boys [into different classrooms],” she says. Her sons, like Atkinson and his brother, are not identical, but get along well and are used to being together.
“I had heard from some moms and teachers that it’s best to split them up so they can gain independence, but I decided to keep the boys together since they were starting a new adventure and I knew they would draw support from each other.”
More than one easy label
While the boys’ first year in school is going well, Guadarrama says it can be frustrating and difficult to keep people from comparing them to each other.
“We don’t want one labelled the smart one and the other the sporty one, as they are constantly learning new things. We want to promote them exploring many sides to themselves. Our ‘sporty’ one may be the first to read since he’s interested in letters/sounds. Our ‘smart’ one might master a sport first because he understands rules. You just never know. They surprise us every day.”
Guadarrama says the bigger challenge in parenting twins is something faced by any family with more than one child—the need for individual attention.
“We want to treat them equally and give equal time to each, but they are individuals and sometimes one needs a little more attention that the other,” she says. “As a mom, I have to say ‘Yes, this is okay,’ and not feel like I’m playing favourites.”
For Atkinson, the real struggle with individuality came when he and his brother were separated. It was no longer about getting other people to recognize each twin’s individuality. It was about how they recognized each other’s individuality.
“Because we knew each other so well as kids—he was my constant companion—the hardest part was when we separated at college,” he explains. “We were both growing and having separate experiences. I found it really easy to get mad at him, because he wasn’t acting the way I had come to understand him. We had always grown TOGETHER, and now we were growing separately. It took me several years to get used to that.”
It’s a natural instinct to compare ourselves, or our children, with our peers. It’s a tool we all use to make sense of the world. But it’s not our only tool. Don’t let it be your only parenting method. Whether siblings are 10 years or two minutes apart, it’s important to treat them as they are – individuals.
For more on our family’s journey with premature birth, time in the neonatal unit, twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, and raising twins, check out these posts.
You might also want to read our story shared by Today’s Parent.