It happens sooner or later in all twins' lives. It may not be fair, it may not be right, but it is a fact of life. Twins don't always get to do everything together, and eventually one will be presented with an opportunity to go where the other can't go. The first time it happens can be rough, with plenty of tears and emotion, especially for younger multiples.
Oftentimes, this event happens once the twins start school and become acquainted with other children. Perhaps they are in separate classes, and one is invited to a birthday party for a classmate. Or, an invitation for a playdate is extended and it only includes one child.
When this happened to my twins for the first time, it was devastating. They had just started first grade, in a new town, in a new school, in separate classes for the first time. My daughter brought home an invitation for a birthday party at a local marine science center. Her entire class had been invited. She was delighted and quite excited, and didn't seem the least bit concerned that her sister was not part of the fun.
At first, I dreaded the disappointment that would overwhelm my daughter when she discovered that her sister was going to enjoy a birthday party without her. I felt defensive and angry. I considered contacting the mom of the birthday child and demanding, "Don't you know they're twins? How can you invite only one of them?" I knew I was being unreasonable, They may be twins, but they're not a package deal. My daughter didn't even know the birthday child as he wasn't in his class and she wasn't being purposefully excluded.
Dealing with the Devastation
I broke the news to her gently. At age six, she didn't quite understand it; after all, she'd never encountered a situation where her sister was provided an opportunity to do something and she wasn't. She insisted that her sister shouldn't go at all. It was unthinkable that she would go without her. Up until the date of the party the following Saturday, there were many tearful episodes. I think that she believed that she'd be invited at the last minute, or that her sister wouldn't go to the party after all. As the day drew closer and the reality sunk in, she seemed more accepting of the situation, and actually began to look forward to an opportunity to spend one-on-one time with Mom and Dad. Since then, there have been plenty of occasions where one twin is afforded an opportunity that the other is not. While it's gotten easier as they've grown older and more mature, there are still ample doses of jealousy and hurt feelings that require a little TLC from Mom.
Tips for Parents
- Use your own judgement about the situation. Do what's best for your family. If it's simply too hurtful, it might not be possible for one twin to attend. If you're comfortable, consider contacting the parent to explain the situation and see if they can include one more child. If not, politely decline the invitation.
- Communicate with other parents. The parents of my daughters' friends have always been very appreciative when I'm honest with them about our preferences. Sometimes, they've confessed that they avoid inviting either of them because they feel they have to invite both, and I always reassure them that it is fine to arrange individual playdates and outings. In other situations, I have explained why it would be detrimental to exclude one or the other, and they understand that, too.
- Balance the feelings of both twins as individuals. They may have mixed emotions. For the one that is invited: excitement as well as guilt. For the one that isn't invited: jealousy and resentment. As a parent, it's your role to acknowledge and validate the feelings of both, even when they are conflicting, and to help them express their feeelings in a healthy and positive way.
- Try to keep things fair, but realize that there's only so much you can do. If one twin is invited to a sleepover, perhaps the other can invite a friend over. If one twin goes on an outing with a neighbor, take the other out for an ice cream treat. This balancing of the scales becomes a tricky game, though. Twin A may feel that he's now owed an ice cream outing, too!
- Explain clearly and compassionately, on an age-appropriate level, that twins aren't entitled to share everything. Simply put, there are going to be times when things are not fair and equal. It's a difficult concept to explain to young children, but encourage them to be happy for each other, even when they're disappointed for themselves.
What do you think? Share your thoughts about this issue.