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Twin Discrimination

Are multiples treated differently from other children?

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Have you ever felt that your twins -- or triplets, quads, etc. -- were the target of discrimination because of their status as a multiple? It's not exactly a pleasant consideration; fortunately our modern culture is pretty intolerant of most forms of discrimination. The dictionary defines discrimination as, "the process by which two stimuli differing in some aspect are responded to differently" or "the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually." Maybe in that light it makes a bit more sense to consider some of the treatment of multiples as a form of discrimination.

With my own daughters, the impact of any discriminatory treatment has always been minor. Their status as twins won't keep them from achieving important goals like getting a job or hinder their success in life. The instances they've experienced are slight and infrequent, but they do exist. Let me share some of the experiences that I've taken note of through the years. Has anything like this ever happened to your family?

Excluded from Activities. I was eager to enroll my toddler daughters in the local Gymboree class. I'd heard that it was a great way to interact with other mothers and babies, as well as a fun bonding experience. Unfortunately, the company's policies prevented mothers of multiples from participating because they required that each child be accompanied by a parent. They would not allow parents of multiples to bring both children without another adult present.

Denied Access. In January 2011, a family in Halifax, Nova Scotia filed a complaint after a bus driver prohibited a couple from boarding a public bus with their six-month-old twins in a double stroller.

Denied Recognition. I'd handsewn an elaborate princess costume for each of my three-year-old twins. They looked absolutely adorable. Maybe it's hard for me to be objective, but they were by far the cutest kids at our neighborhood Halloween party. Did they win the costume contest? No. Although I can't confirm it, I suspect that they were denied a prize because they were twins. The judges couldn't choose both of them as winners, and they didn't want to single out one twin over the other.

Was this devastating for the children? Hardly. In the midst of the holiday sugar high, they never knew the difference. (Was it disappointing for Mom? Okay, I'll admit it. Yes, just slightly. Can you tell I'm still bitter about it?)

Overlooked by Association. At the end-of-the-season soccer party, the coach presented each team member with a certificate and said a few brief sentences about how she'd played that season. When it came time for my daughters' turns, he called them both up together. Instead of recognizing them as individual players, he made a joke about how he couldn't tell them apart so he'd let them figure out who got the certificates. At age seven, the girls did sense this slight. Again, it wasn't a harmful experience, but it was discouraging after they'd each worked hard to distinguish themselves as individual players on the team.

As you can see, these are all minor episodes with no lasting consequences on my twin daughters' self esteem. I can think of several other potential incidences of discrimination against multiples, such as:

  • Being excluded from playdates or parties because the host doesn't want to invite both children, and yet also doesn't want to cause hurt feelings by inviting one twin and not the other.

  • Being refused admission to clubs, teams or organizations that would accept a single child to its roster.

  • Some even claim that mandatory separation policies in schools is a form of discrimination, in that they force a class placement decision on the basis of a child's status as a multiple rather than according to individual needs.

What about your multiples? Have you ever had an experience where you felt your children were the target of discrimination based on their status as multiples? Do you feel it had a negative impact on your children? What, if any, action did you take?

Few people would intentionally behave discriminatorily towards twins; usually these actions are generated by a sense of confusion, misunderstanding or even misplaced good intentions. As parents of multiples, I think that it's important for us to be aware of potential discrimination, and use these experiences as opportunities to educate the public about our childrens' needs. Here are some ways to achieve that:

  • Use open, honest communication to inform teachers, coaches, community leaders, friends and neighbors about what life is like for multiples and how they'd like to be treated.

  • Gently remind well-intentioned people who mix up their names and encourage them to recongize each child as an individual.

  • Respectfully explain to friends about your multiples' individual needs and advise them honestly on how you'd like to handle separate or dual playdates.

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