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Parenting Twins Can't Be Fair and Equal

How Treating My Twins the Same Backfired in the Sporting Goods Aisle

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Updated April 16, 2009

One of my worst moments as a mother occurred in the sporting goods aisle. My six-year-old twin girls had a complete melt down. And I'll admit it -- so did I. I ended up abandoning my shopping cart with my intended purchases still inside and walking right out of the store. I simply couldn't take any more.

What sparked this tantrum? A pair of swim goggles. A pair of swim goggles that represented a turning point in my battle to keep things fair and equal with my twins. Let me explain. It was summertime. We spent countless sunny summer afternoons at our neighborhood pool. My twin girls, known as "water rats", loved the pool and would spend hours playing. Their favorite accessory was their swim goggles, protecting their eyes so that they could see underwater.

At the beginning of the summer I'd carefully selected two pairs of swim goggles for my daughters. Two equal but distinguishable pairs, color coordinated so as to be clearly identifiable to its owner. One afternoon as we packed up to go home, a pair was missing. One twin had taken them off at some point and left them lying on the pool deck, and they had disappeared. We looked high and low, checked in with the lost-and-found desk, but couldn't come up with the missing goggles.

While out shopping the next day, I stopped in the sporting goods aisle to purchase a replacement pair. Immediately, there was outrage. "Why is she getting a new pair of goggles? Can I get a new pair too? I want a new pair of goggles. It's not FAIR!" And of course, there was a response. "She doesn't need new goggles. She still has goggles. I want those goggles. It's not FAIR!" Jealousy and resentment flared between the two of them in an unending cycle of six-year-old unreasonableness.

There I stood, on the brink. What was the right course? Do I reward the twin who was irresponsible by replacing the lost goggles? Do I give in to the jealous twin who was demanding a new pair of goggles even though she didn't need them? Do I buy two pairs of goggles simply out of habit, because I always buy two of everyting? Do I buy none, and leave one twin unable to swim? Do we stop going to the pool altogether?

So many thoughts raced through my mind. As I stood pondering the situation, my twins' outrage escalated; their whining grew louder and more intense, their frustration with each other grew fiercer, their anger at me and my "unfairness" intensified. Emotions were rising. They were both acting like total brats and I was mortified. I snapped. "We're leaving!" I walked right out of the store, abandoning my cart and all of the items I'd wanted to purchase.

After we all calmed down, I realized that my well-intended attempts to keep things "fair and equal" for my twins was backfiring and creating unreasonable expectations. Since day one, I'd employed an approach of "do for one, do for the other." I'd always tried to ensure that they received equal attention, equal time, equal stuff. I'd count out the Cheerios and chicken nuggets to be sure that they each got the same portion. I'd endlessly tracked turns: who got in the car first, who got to push the elevator button, who got to choose the bedtime story.

Enough was enough. Unfortunately, I'd been reinforcing an unrealistic idea. Life is not fair and equal. Sometimes we get what we want and sometimes we don't. Just because a twin sister gets or does something doesn't mean that you have to also.

I don't even remember how I resolved the issue of the swim goggles. But I do know that I changed my approach to parenting twins and made my life a lot easier. In calmer moments, we had a long talk about fairness, jealousy and reasonable expectations about twin equality. Soon after, we addressed the issue again when one wasn't invited to a birthday party that her sister was attending. We still struggle with the issue of fairness and equality, but this incident definitely represented a transition in our approach to parenting twins. Twins are individuals and parents will be called upon to differentiate in their treatment of them.

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