Can Twins Have Too Much Togetherness?

by Joan Friedman

Many twins begin to interact with each other around six to ten months of age. As same-age siblings begin to discover one another, it's a thrill for parents to watch as the two hug, play, and communicate. Even their sibling squabbles are fascinating to parents who are learning to discern each child's unique personality. Most enthralling to parents of twins, however, is the ease with which each twin seems to anticipate the other's needs.

While parents of singletons complain that their preschoolers often have a hard time learning to share their toys with other kids, several parents of twins seem to have a special story about how easily the two share their belongings and how one child seems to look after the other. It's not that preschool-age twins never fight or argue, but parents are understandably impressed with their twins' compassion toward each other and their overall ability to get along. When it comes to their twin relationship, they seem to have interpersonal skills that singletons of the same age simply don't have.

With this in mind, many parents of preschool-age twins relate that twinship has some sweet benefits that make up for the initial rough ride. Parents rightfully brag about how the twins take care of one another, share their possessions, and play with each other for long periods, thus freeing up mom and dad to have a bit of time to themselves.

While parents of singletons must become their child's social secretary, scheduling play dates and classes in order to afford their youngster the chance to be around other kids, parents of twins consider themselves lucky to be freed from making such arrangements. The twins have each other. But is there such a thing as too much togetherness at this stage in your children's development?

Given that twins appear to enjoy being with one another, what's the harm in their spending most of their time together? Since twin togetherness is taken for granted as an inherent piece of the twin relationship, it may not occur to you that your twins might be missing an important part of their social and emotional education by not having the experiences singletons have. When they cling to the safety net of their automatic friendship with their twin, many children have difficulty forming relationships and making friends outside the family. In identifying so closely with their twin, they can come to feel that they must always act according to the needs of the couple, rather than their own needs. If twins go through their childhood as a couple, they miss out on experiencing their individuality as they interact with other people.

Perhaps you're wondering, isn't considering her twin's needs a good thing? Won't the constant attention to each other's feelings teach my twin children compassion when they get older? The problem is that twin relationships involving too much togetherness push compassion into the unhealthy realm of negating one's own abilities, desires, and goals.

Various child-development experts agree that a parent must parent a child; a child cannot parent another child. However, in so many instances, twins are left to parent one another because their parents misunderstand the twin relationship.

Being twins is an opportunity to have a close sibling relationship with someone your own age, but it does not take the place of being nurtured and guided by your parents. Time spent playing with your twin is not a substitute for one-on-one time with mom or dad. Nor does it offer the same opportunity for developmental growth as making new friends -- at the park, in a class, or at preschool.

A healthy twinship evolves when each sibling goes through the process of developing an individuated self. Parents need to encourage this process by spending alone time with each child and providing each twin with enough opportunities to be separate from the other.

Joan Friedman, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist for individuals, couples, children and families, specializing in twins and parents of twins. She is an identical twin and the mother of five children, including fraternal twins. She consults with educators, psychotherapists, and adult twins regarding issues unique to twins and their families. Dr. Friedman's expertise in child development and the psychology of twinship shape her distinctive parenting philosophy. For more information visit www.emotionallyhealthytwins.com

Copyright © Joan Friedman. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.