'Double the pleasure, double the fun,' said the twin-centric Doublemint gum commercials that ran from the 1960s through the 1990s. But when twins hit their tween and teen years, are they double the headaches (or worse)?
In fact, parenting twin teens shouldn't be that different from parenting teen siblings of different ages, as long as the parents acknowledge and understand that this is the age when twins are most likely to pull apart and want to establish their unique identities. The attuned parent can help the twins through this emotional period when they might be feeling guilty, confused and conflicted.
Joan A. Friedman is a psychotherapist, author, identical twin and mother of twins. In addition to writing the books 'Emotionally Healthy Twins' and 'The Same but Different: How Twins Can Live, Love and Learn to Be Individuals,' she consults with parents of twins on important topics, including developmental discrepancies, behavior issues and the struggle to be individuals.
'Twin siblings are often torn between their love and loyalty to one another and their resentment and frustration. Twin siblings feel very guilty and confused about having such strong and conflicting feelings toward the person they love more than anyone else,' she writes in a Q&A on her website. 'Twins are often compared, and they have to work hard to maintain a balance with each other so that their feelings of connection remain intact. Twins long to be known as individuals rather than just noticed because they are twins.'
Milwaukee mom Vicki Rydell has always encouraged her identical twins, Emma and Abigail, to pursue their own interests. She had them placed in different classes starting with kindergarten.
'I was pretty adamant about having them separate so they would be treated as individuals,' she said. 'I feel like they don't like being compared to each other or people forgetting that they are separate people.'
Despite her best efforts, Rydell said they have long had similar personalities and interests, although one has been more likely to make decisions for the pair. All of that started to change at the start of middle school, when they were 11 or 12, and the one who was happy to follow along started to develop her own voice.
'Up until then, there was never any talk of being separate,' Rydell recalls. 'Then for their 13th birthday, they requested separate bedrooms.'
Today, as high school freshman, their interests are evolving, with one participating in poms and the other in band and cross-country. Rydell considers it a natural progression.
'As hard as it is on schedules, get them to pursue separate interests. They each need their own time so they are identified as individuals rather than a set of twins,' she said.
She also recommends that parents develop an individual relationship with each twin, spending one-on-one time and getting to know them better.
'I wish I had the opportunity to spend more time with them individually. Now we have that a little more, and I really treasure those times,' Rydell said.
Dr. Friedman writes that it's never too late to initiate alone time.
'You must be prepared for protests and tears. As they begin to feel more comfortable on their own, you can begin to talk about their separate activities and time with you and then gradually move to more separateness as time goes on,' she said. 'The key is introducing it slowly in tolerable dosages so that the (twins) do not experience overwhelming separation anxiety or trauma.'
As her twins continue to become independent, Rydell believes her girls' greatest joy in being twins is in knowing they have this person who will always be there for them.
And the down side? 'I'm one of those people who's always 10 steps ahead. I'm fast-forwarding to senior year, when I'll go from having two kids at home to having two out of the house. That part will be hard!'■
Maureen Connors Badding is an award-winning, Wauwatosa-based freelance writer, mom and habitual volunteer.