When One Twin Fights for Independence

Should a parent keep one twin out of a school activity just because her sibling is yearning for independence?

Q: I have 12-1/2-year-old identical twin daughters, one of whom is becoming resentful toward her twin: She wishes desperately that she was a singleton and becomes frustrated when her sister wants to do the same activities as her.

I see them as individuals, and my approach has been to express that each of them has the right to pursue whatever dreams or desires that she wants (within reason and budget), and that I will not deny one girl the opportunity to pursue an interest (like theater, in a school with just one drama club) just so that the other girl can experience the interest on her own. I'm sure this is just a phase she is going through, but this growing chip on her shoulder is upsetting her sister and me. Any suggestions?

A. With puberty comes a process called individuation, in which adolescents push to prove their individuality. It's likely that this frustrated daughter is needing to go overboard to prove her independence not only from mom and dad but also from her identical twin sister.

It's important to affirm to the twin who is trying desperately to carve out her individuality separate from sister by saying, "You're an individual, a unique person. Although you have an identical twin sister, you've a personality and style all your own." It's important to relate incidences where she's proven this fact to be true.

Of course, what she believes is that if they're not together in a drama club then she would have an easier time distinguishing herself from her twin. While this may be true, you can't, as you've stated, keep the other twin from drama club; doing so would be unfair. If one twin wanted to dress just like her sister, this you could prevent. But you can't stop one from pursuing an interest or talent.

Recognizing Her Uniqueness

Here are three approaches to take with the individualistic twin:

  • Affirm her wishes by saying, "I know that you wish you were a singleton. I also know that you'd like it if your sister wasn't in drama club with you. You wish that she would have a hobby or interest completely different from yours." This statement communicates to her that you understand her point of view and respect it.
  • Set the limit by saying, "While I understand your wish for autonomy, you'll always be a twin -- that's the way you were born. Furthermore, I can't forbid your sister from joining drama club. She has as much right to join as you do." You can go on to explain the genetics of identical twins by telling her that each of them has the same genetic make up therefore each may have inherited a talent for drama.
  • Don't expect her to say, "Oh I get it now that you've explained it so well." In time she'll come to this understanding but for now she would like her sister to take up chess rather than be in theater with her. She can wish and hope her sister will take up chess, but it's not the reality of the situation.

You're unlikely to instantly convince her of your point of view but in time she'll catch on. If she keeps bringing up the issue of drama club, don't engage in a debate: Just repeat the limit you've set, and do so matter-of-factly. In time she'll become bored receiving the same response, and will end the discussion.

Lastly, be sure to point out in as many subtle ways as possible the uniqueness of these two girls. There's no need to deny their similarities, but remember to notice and talk about their differences too.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of two parenting books, Mommy, I Have to Go Potty and Unplugging Power Struggles. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for HealthyKids.com and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Originally published on HealthyKids.com, January 2006.

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