Thursday, January 14, 2010

Today I have my very first guest blogger! Abigail Pogrebin was a producer for Ed Bradley and Mike Wallace at 60 Minutes and she's an identical twin who wrote her second book (One and the Same) about the truths, hurdles, and thrills of twinship.

Since my book about twins came out in October, I’ve been asked the same two questions over and over: How does being a twin affect my parenting, and what would I advise parents of twins, based on my two years of research, numerous interviews with adult twins, and my own twin experience?

My first answer is: spend separate time with each child. It may seem obvious, but so many parents of twins don’t do it because they see how happy their twins are together, because they don’t want to intrude on their effortless bond, or because it’s just plain easier to take two at a time. But listening to my sister Robin tell me that she’s not even sure to this day that our parents truly know us apart and that she has struggled with a sense of distinction in the world made me very clear that individual time can make the individual. I am now hyper-aware of spending separate time with my two children, who are 12 and 10 years old. I make sure to wander into each of their rooms at odd times, and just flop on the bed and see what they have to say, or to take just one of them out for a meal. I know how the rough-and-tumble of life often gets in the way of independent outings: we’re all rushing to the same activities or taking the same trips together. There isn’t always that open-ended time to just chat or take a walk with no particular destination in mind.

My sister admits in my book that one of the reasons she didn’t have a third child was because she missed separate memories with our parents and didn’t want to risk having too little time for too many kids. It should be said that we had a wonderful, colorful childhood, and I think Robin wouldn’t trade it. But the absence of undivided time resulted in a muddying of Robin’s sense of self, and now that I’ve spoken to so many experts, I understand how common and problematic that can be.

The other advice I’d offer is to resist comparisons. They’re so tempting, but so destructive. Believe me, siblings will inevitably measure themselves ceaselessly, without a parent’s prodding. So many of the twins I spoke to said they were aware of who was favored, or what their convenient labels were – “the athletic one,” “the brainy one.” All those tags did in the end was make them feel boxed in.

One of the major themes that came to me in the process of writing this book is that twins are also muffled by everyone’s investment in their perfection. Yes, twinship is a kind of utopian intimacy, but it isn’t always idyllic, and there has to be room for chinks and conflicts. Psychologist Joan Friedman talked about the pressure on twins to be constantly equal and constantly unambivalent about being twins, whereas that same expectation isn’t there for non-twin siblings. Sometimes one twin won’t get invited to the party and parents have to restrain themselves to try to “make it right” and get the other twin included. Life isn’t always fair, and twinship shouldn’t confer an unrealistic sense of the world. Robin and I were ill-prepared for imbalances and we sometimes didn’t know how to handle them when they happened.

So that’s my guidance from a front-row seat on twinship: Spend separate time. Don’t label. Don’t compare. And let the relationship be a real one – with all its bumps and disparities. Also – pick up a copy of One and the Same! It will give you the insights of adult twins who remember where things went right and wrong: I feel sure you’ll glean some invaluable guidance.

Being a twin emboldened me, supported me and protected me. But I understand now that it’s also more complex than some want to believe, and parents should be the first to let the complexities breathe. Your twins will be better adults for the honesty.

8 comments:

  1. Wow! Awesome insight! As a mama of 14m old b/g twins, I definitely see where I could improve in my parenting techniques having this information. We really try not to compare our duo, but it's very hard. I think that we've split them up (and I took one somewhere and left the other at home) maybe once or twice, but not often. They are so young that it's probably not a huge deal yet, but I can see how it would be. In some ways, I think that having b/g twins will make it easier to not compare them and let them have their own friends and more of their own separate identities outside of their "twinship" (love that phrase!). I think that having identical or same gendered fraternal twins would make all of this harder.

    Thanks for the great advice!
    Carrie
    Mama to 14m old b/g twins
    http://takencare.blogspot.com

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  2. Great post! Still struggling to find ways to spend individual time with our boys.

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  3. I don't remember any individual time alone but there were 6 kids in our family. We dressed alike and loved being twins, still do. I can honestly say I can't think of one bad experience or something I would change about being a twin. We were raised with dysfunction and I believe it helped us to have each other in the chaos. We are still to this day each others best friend. Just my 2 cents worth!

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  4. Great post! I heard an interview with her on NPR and after that my husband and I spend alone time with S&H separately at least once a week. And last month they each had a sleepover with their grandparents.

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  5. Just wanted to say that this book is great! I'm having all of my family read it too.

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  6. I just finished the book and I found it intriguing! Now my mom is reading it. It certainly opened my eyes to some things I hadn't thought to worry about yet. I love how she approached the book as a researcher but keeps her personal experiences as a twin flowing throughout the book.
    We will definitely be spending separate time with each girl... even if they are dressed alike for the first few years while I can get away with it ;)

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