Two's a crowd

Two's a crowd

Sometimes twins are separate kids who happened to have been born at the same time

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 08/01/2013

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Dear Patti,
My twin daughters, Charlotte and Evelyn, are 12. While it’s difficult sometimes having twins, it’s mostly a true joy. Charlie is strong, a born leader, popular, occasionally stubborn, but very sweet, passionate and frequently smiling. She puts her heart into everything she does whether it’s soccer or reading tirelessly to her toddler cousin.
Evie is the better student (learning comes naturally to her) and has always been quiet, reserved and good at science. She adores animals and wants to be a veterinarian. 
 
The girls have always taken care of one another and been extremely close until just recently. Charlie has been pushing Evie away lately. This devastates Evie, as she sometimes struggles socially and doesn’t have a lot of other friends. Charlie complains that Evie copies the ways she dresses and wants her sister to create her own style. Charlie also told me she can’t stand it when people refer to them as “the twins” rather than using their names. She says she’s lonely and wants a best friend. My husband and I can’t understand this. Evie is the best friend she could ever have and would do anything for her.
 
Charlie was recently invited to a birthday party that excluded Evie. I knew this could happen one day and am prepared, but it bothers me that Charlie almost seems happy about it and has very little empathy for her sister.
We’ve always tried to value the girls’ differences but still respect the bond between them. Am I missing something? Even if they weren’t twins, I wouldn’t let one sibling turn on or reject the other. 
— Deena 

Dear Deena,
When twins first discover one another, it’s wonderful to watch them play, communicate, express affection, share and look after each other. As with your daughters, however, this relationship can often become more complicated when they start to reach adolescence. Developmentally, preteens and teens seek peers and others outside of the family in order to individualize and this can affect twinships. Additionally, normal teen rebellion can occur as rebelling against being a twin.
 
Charlie may be starting to have ambivalent feelings toward Evie. While she feels intensely close and doesn’t want to be estranged from or lose Evie, she might also feel constricted or smothered by their bond and want to be free of the twin relationship in order to become a separate, authentic person. These opposing feelings could be very distressing and confusing. Fortunately, she has a history of being kind to her sister and, with your help, can work this out and naturally re-bond. Explain to her that while under no circumstances will you allow her to be cruel and rejecting to Evie, you understand her normal need to grow as a separate individual. Help her realize that she can be loving toward Evie without giving up herself.
 
To you and your husband, your daughters are best friends. Charlie, however, only considers them as sisters. The closeness of twins makes it easy to forget that — like other siblings — they want to be able to enjoy the specialness of a best friend, explore that new friend’s differences and get to know their families. I understand you think it’s good that each of your twins has a built-in friend, but it doesn’t replace branching out beyond the family to have independent lives. Friendships are an important part of a child’s social development and it may be a mistake to think your twins don’t need friends because they have each other.
 
Let Charlie know it’s not her responsibility to make sure Evie is happy or to fix any social issues that Evie may have. It is her duty, though, to try to be a loving, empathic sister.
 
You may need to facilitate separate activities for Evie, such as a science fair or volunteering at an animal shelter where she’s likely to have more success socially. Help her to create her own world where people love her for herself and won’t compare her to Charlie. Talk privately with Evie about the pain and feelings of rejection she’s experiencing, but reassure her of how special she is in her own right.
 
If you could imagine Evie or Charlie as only children, how would you treat each of them? Support your daughters in discovering and appreciating their respective uniqueness. And, as Charlie requested, treat them as two separate children who just happened to be born at the same time.

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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