Treating twins as individuals

I know a woman, now in her sixties, who is an identical twin. Twins were a rarity when she was young. They were referred to as “twinnies” or “twins” always, they were dressed identically, and shared everything, including a bedroom, until she left to be married. They were treated as a unit, one person. They still look and sound remarkably alike. Even though she and her sister are incredibly close, she has a horror of ever treating twins the same way that she was treated.

May 2008. Easy to tell apart - Conal has more hair, a truism even today!

I’ve always shuddered when I hear twins with names that are really similar – Jim and Tim, Bella and Stella or themed, like  Cain and Abel. Although sometimes twins dressed alike look cute (when they are babies) once they are much more than toddlers, at the risk of offending, I think it is a little creepy, even though I understand the practicalities of it. Referring to them as”twinnies” or “twins” is not a very nice term. I appreciate that this is my issue and my attitude, but here are some of the reasons why I feel this way.

May 2009, facepainted and looking a bit more similar - Zac's hair has caught up and is curlier

I’ve rarely dressed my twins the same, I celebrate (and am constantly amazed by) their differences and I think it is vital to remember that they are no more similar than any other two of my children. I’ve always been fascinated that from a very early age, they’ve identified certain items of clothing as “mine”. For a long time, they shared a set of drawers, but recently the boys have asked to have separate drawers, and the clothes split was very easy, with only a few items in contention.

Until I had twins, I was a firm believer in nurture over nature. Now, I totally understand that our children are who they are from birth, and all we can do as parents is to smooth off the rough edges, maybe teach them some manners and right from wrong and that’s about it. Our boys have been different from day one. Conal has always loved to snuggle in; Zac has always wanted to face out. When they hug you, Conal likes to offer comfort, and Zac likes to take comfort – the way that they hug is completely different. Zac’s hugs are completely 100% full on enthusiastic; Conal’s are gentler, sweet, but more restrained. They fed differently and slept differently as little babies and continue to do so. Conal is imaginative, Zac very practical. And so the list goes on.

May 2010 - Zac in his favourite pink, Conal with his choice of Ben 10

We were already inclined to treat them as individuals and I think it helped us that they were so different from the very beginning. Physically, they are similar – not identical, but the same height and weight, and both have curly hair. They certainly look like brothers, but that’s where the similarities end. We are lucky – it’s easy to encourage their very different interests. It’s easy to respond to them differently because they approach us in different ways.

Our older set of 'twins'

I think that for us some key things are remembering not to compare. I’ve always found comparisons of children to be odious and feed into that competitive parenting which is so unattractive. I’ve always been happy to share my children’s achievements but not at the expense of another child. When you have children a couple of years apart in age, it’s easy to talk about individual accomplishments, because they are at different developmental stages. When you have twins, they are often at the same developmental stage at the same time, and it is hard to praise one without comparing to the other, or feeling that if you say something good about one, you have to balance the scales with something good about the other. Sometimes, you should just say a nice thing about one of them. We’ve had this situation before with our 13-year olds. They are three months apart in age, with my bonus son being the older of the two. This never stopped my daughter, and she used having a slightly older child around as a spur to do everything shortly after he did. Our two families spent a lot of time together, so when Nick sat up, so did Morgan. When Nick crawled, a few weeks later so did Morgan. But she talked first and much better. He had much better ball skills. She learnt to read faster and more easily. In their case though, they were not brother and sister, so their individuality was never in question. With twins, it is too easy to look at them as if they were the same person.

Other things we have tried to do is refer to them by name. For speed, we are heard to say “the small boys” but then we lump the older children into a “big kids” bucket.

We’ve encouraged their different interests and tastes. Zac loves to garden and build, so we do lots of that with them. Conal enjoys it too, but not so much. Conal loves horses, so lots of his books and his side of the bedroom have a distinct equine flavour. Zac’s favourite colour is pink, Conal’s is blue, so their clothes and bedroom reflect that.

We do make an effort to spend one-on-one time with them. And I was very careful to do separate baby books with equal detail – but then I did that with my older children too. I’ll never forget my younger brother’s baby book – which was my baby book with extra notes about him!

With all this though, twins have a special bond – ironically they are unique simply because they are twins. They shared a womb and no matter what else happens, they will always have that. We shouldn’t needlessly separate them or force them apart, but we should give them all the space they need – as individuals – to grow in a healthy and happy fashion. But I think most important is recognising that they have different needs and different personalities and should be celebrated for these and treated accordingly.

The boys looking incredibly alike, hair flattened, Jan 2012 with Poppa

Here’s a great article I found with tips on helping to remember the diversity of our multiples, courtesy of Pamela Prindle Fierro  at What else do you do in your family to promote the individuality of your twins?

Categories: Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Treating twins as individuals

  1. Tony Rutter

    Try being married to a twin !

  2. I know what you mean about refering to them as “twins”. It grates on me. They have names people! No excuses, especially when people know their names. I refer to mine when I need a quick reference as twiblings.

    • I know a FB mum who refers to hers as Gremlins!! I also find it interesting that because we tend to go to new activities as a family unit, people view the boys as an interchangeable set of 5-year olds and get them horribly confused. We’re going to experiment and try taking them into the next new activity 5 minutes apart and pretend we don’t know each other 🙂

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