Thursday, July 1, 2010

Getting To Know You

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I am a fan of getting some alone time with each of my children and really trying to nurture their individuality. By that, I mean that I really spend time trying to get to know, in some depth, what makes each of my children tick; what is our son like when he's not with our daughter?  What is our daughter like when she's not having to share everything with her brother? What do they like to talk about/do/eat? What will they share when they have mommy's ear all to themselves? It can be a true revelation to even the most involved parents when you separate your twins for some one on one time and discover parts of your child's personality you didn't know existed because they were either camouflaged by sibling rivalry or were missed because you were trying to focus on too many things at once!

There's a terrific book called "Siblings Without Rivalry" which, while not twin-specific, has excellent suggestions and discussions about what is going on underneath the surface when siblings fight. There is a section where the authors deal with what happens when parents struggle with keeping everything "fair and equal". I think this happens often with twins especially because they are so often together and so often doing the same activities. But what happens when they ask: "Who do you love more?", do you simply say "I love you both the same"? That might be your initial instinct but really, what your kids want is to know that you see them as unique individuals, that you love them for being who they each are.

From "Siblings Without Rivalry"-
"You can tell yourself," I answered, "that even though they seem to want everything the same, they don't really." He looked at me questioningly.  It was a difficult concept to explain.  I told them all the story of a young wife who suddenly turned to her husband and asked, "Who do you love more? Your mother or me?" Had he answered, "I love you both the same," he would have been in big trouble.  But instead he said "My mother is my mother. You're the fascinating, sexy woman I want to spend the rest of my life with." "To be loved equally," I continued, "is somehow to be loved less.  To be loved uniquely - for one's own special self - is to be loved as much as we need to be loved."

And so, we wonder as parents, "how do I really get to know my children?" I recently attending a workshop about "Triangular Attachment" (twins' attachments to each other and their parents) with Betsy Brown Braun. Betsy is a mother of grown triplets and a parent educator (among many other things). At the end of the class she handed out an extensive list of ways to nurture individuality in multiples. I found this list really insightful and comprehensive so I wanted to share some of it. The list is directly from Betsy, with a few comments from me added.

By the way, don't feel that you have to do all of the things on this list; that is setting yourself up to be overwhelmed and guilt-ridden. I always think to myself that if I'm doing at least 50% of all the things I wish I could do, then I am doing a great job. This is just food for thought and some of these ideas may sit well with you, while others may not. I'm interested to hear your thoughts!
  1. Tune into your internal feelings about each of your children. Key into their differences (rather than their similarities) and how they feel to you.
  2. As your children get older, openly encourage and applaud the children's obvious differences, their different tastes, and the different choices they make. Praise the act of being different and thinking for yourself. NOTE: praising their differences should be done without comparisons. As Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish say in "Siblings Without Rivalry": "...Whatever you want to to tell this child can be said directly, without any reference to his brother. The key word is describe. Describe what you see. Or describe what you like. Or describe what you don't like. Or describe what needs to be done. The important thing is to stick with the issue of this one child's behavior. Nothing his brother is or isn't doing has anything to do with him."
  3. Give each child the opportunity to make as many individual choices as possible. What do you want for lunch? What color shirt do you want to wear? If one child has the tendency to mimic what the other has chosen, be sure to ask him first, and heavily praise the choice. 
  4. If your children share a room, provide separate drawers (or dressers) for each child. Separate the hanging section of the closet, and separate storage for possessions.
  5. Solicit each child's individual feelings and opinions. If one is more outspoken than the other, take turns on who goes first.
  6. Do not [always] include both on playdates. You will need to facilitate this upon receiving invitations, as the world will think they are doing you a favor by inviting both children..
  7. Refer to your children's differences in response to the public pointing out their similarities. Note: children are paying attention all the time. Doing this helps them have the language to describe themselves when you're not there (ie: Yes, we look very similar, but one of the ways were really different is that I'm really good at art and my brother is really into sports).
  8. Refer to your children by their names. Or the children, the kids, the guys...but NOT the twins. [by this, Betsy is referring to the way you or others address them. ie: "What would the twins like for dinner?" "How are the twins?" etc. It is, of course, totally fine to celebrate the fact that your children are twins! They should know what it means, that it's a special thing and that your family is very proud of the fact. Just take care not to lump them together as "the twins", when referring to them, on a regular basis].
  9. Take the time to correct others who refer to your children this way; it's a clear message.
  10. Birthdays. This is a loaded one and asks a lot from parents. as early as you are able, celebrate your children's birthday separately. Think about providing separate parties as soon as you are able. If you cannot do separate parties, at the very least provide separate cakes and themes, as chosen by the children
  11. Encourage family and friends to gift your children with different things and [if possible] not one to share.
  12. Avoid comparisons like the plague. Comparisons create jealousy. Jealousy thrives in a feeling of inadequacy or being less than. Comparisons eat away at self esteem.
  13. Allow your children to cultivate separate existences. Often multiples' separateness needs to be taught to them.
  14. Allow your children to own their own toys. Not all toys should be shared. Color code toys or put child's letter on the back, allowing them to readily claim their own. Children who are given permission to own something are much more able to share. Children often see their toys and possessions as an extension of themselves, and separate possessions will validate their sense of separateness and individuality.
  15. It is okay for one child to be unhappy because the other has received the thing she wants.  Learning to tolerate disappointment is a crucial lesson.  Resist the temptation to fix it.
Again, from "Siblings Without Rivalry": 

"'Each of you is so special to me, because each of you is so different.  What would I do if anything happened to my Amy? How could I bear the thought of losing someone who is such a pleasure to be with and talk to?  I'd never find another one like her anywhere.  She's a complete original.  It's torture to even think about it!' That did it.  She seemed completely satisfied.  She never even asked me how I felt about her sisters.  She just wanted to know how much I valued her."

These are just 15 ideas out of a list of 40. Betsy offers numerous workshops on a variety of parenting topics including one on August 8th entitled "DOUBLE( Triple!) YOUR PLEASURE: Multiple Birth Parenting". I will most likely take this class, if you decide to go as well, let me know! 

I'd love to know what you have tried in terms of nurturing your twins' individuality. What's worked well for you? What hasn't? How do you feel about the idea of it? If you are hesitating about doing this, try it on for size. Our children are beside themselves with excitement over getting me all to themselves. And having time away from each other actually helps strengthen their bond. This morning I had time alone with my son while my daughter went to a play date on her own. As they were parting, he said "I'll miss you!" to her and she hugged him. I melted. Giving them time apart allows them to realize how much they like being together. All that, in addition to developing their sense of self? What more could I ask for?

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach

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1 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Christina Simon said...

Hi Gina! I don't have twins, but your blog is great and the part about birthdays is something I deal with every year. My kids, a boy and a girl are almost 3 years apart. But, they are born 8 days apart. Up until my daughter was about 6 they could share a birthday, but now at ages soon-to-be 10 and 7, no way! I'm fine with two birthdays a week apart at the SAME location:)

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