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Book Review: Emotionally Healthy Twins

Joan A. Friedman's New Philosophy for Parenting Twins as Two Unique Children

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Updated November 10, 2008

Emotionally Healthy Twins by Joan A. Friedman

Emotionally Healthy Twins by Joan A. Friedman

Photo courtesy of Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
There are plenty of books that tell you what to expect when you're expecting twins, how to handle the challenges of caring for multiple babies, and even a few that offer some insight into the raising of older twins. But Joan A. Friedman's book, Emotionally Healthy Twins is unique in presenting a comprehensive strategy for parenting twins from pregnancy through adulthood. The author's background as a twin, a mother of twins and a psychologist specializing in twin issues gives her special insight into the topic.

A New Philosophy

Based on her experience growing up as a twin, parenting twin boys, and working with twins in her psychology practice, Friedman proposes the idea that "parents and others need to treat twins as two separate children who happen to have been born at the same time." She goes on to explain that this "... may involve fundamentally changing your mind about what it means to be a twin, adjusting your expectations about how twins should interact, and even giving up some of the alleged 'benefits' of having two children who are the same age."

To support her theory, she offers seven basic guidelines that can be applied to parenting twins at every stage of development, including re-shaping your thought process to think of the children as two unique individuals rather than twins, giving each child one-on-one time with each parent, encouranging twins to pursue their own interests and relationships, and dispensing with comparisons and "fair and equal" experiences.

The Twin Mystique

The author explains the concept of "The Twin Mystique," the idea that twins are romanticized in our culture. This is to blame for the expectations placed on twins to be similar and deny their individuality. It was interesting to note Friedman's illustrations of how parents -- who should know better -- sometimes buy into the mystique and hamper their children's efforts to develop individually. Recognizing the influence of the Twin Mystique, and how it impacts parents' treatment of their children, is one of the most important tenets of the book.

Putting It All Into Practice

These principles are sound strategies for all parents of twins. However, the implementation of the guidelines can be extremist at times and in some cases, unreasonable. As examples, she recommends that expectant parents insist that they are having "two babies" instead of twins and demand that baby shower gifts be unmatching and distinct. For babies, she recommends separate bedrooms and separate closets, and buying a single stroller in addition to a double stroller. Then she advocates for individual birthday parties, competing sports teams and separate camp experiences. These suggestions simply aren't feasible for every family.

Friedman's personal relationship with her own twin and her experience treating twins in her psychotherapy practice underly her philosophy and so the book tends to focus on problematic twin relationships. I sometimes felt that it overlooked the fact that many twins -- and their parents -- manage to work out issues of individuality without trauma or emotional scarring. Friedman sometimes seems almost insistent that twins must deny their twinship in order to grow up as stable individuals, and I just don't agree that that's always the case.

Despite these issues, there are so many good ideas and insights in this book, making it a must-read for all parents of twins. I particularly liked her emphasis on creating opportunities for one-on-one interaction and her solutions for overcoming the tendency to compare twins. The journal questions and parenting tips that conclude each chapter are invaluable takeaways that every parent will find relevant and useful.

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