In the past three decades the number of twins born in the U.S. has risen by more than 75 percent, mostly due to increased use of fertility treatments. As these twins have grown into teenagers and adults, they face many challenges that “singletons” may not, like learning to be an individual while being part of a twosome. Many of us romanticize the life of a twin, and think they are blessed with someone who understands them deeply. But what about twins who don’t like each other? Or those who have become so entwined, they struggle to make any changes in their lives?

The Reality Behind the Twin Mystique 24 April,2014forum

Nancy Segal, professor of psychology and director of the Twin Studies Center at California State University, Fullerton and author of "Born Together -- Reared Apart: The Landmark Minnesota Twin Study"
Joan Friedman, psychotherapist and author of "The Same but Different: How Twins Can Live, Love, and Learn to Be Individuals"

  • Hilary

    I’m a mother of 20 month old identical girls. I have questions about when to “separate” them so that they can have their own identities….. should they be in the same classroom? Should they share a bedroom? They are very close now and I think that they would have a hard time being separated. When is the best developmental time to separate them at school and in the home (separate bedrooms)?

    • DK

      Ours were in school together until K (I have identical girls, too). They share a bedroom. They love being together AND being separated. They have a triple identity – each individual and as a unit (they guest just said something similar). And both are healthy in my observation. We encourage group and separate play dates, mom/dad time, grandparent time, older sibling time.

      (and they are speaking about conflict now – my kids have a ton of conflict (normal, sibling-type conflicts) and we let them work it out, give them the tools and support the idea that they don’t always have to do things together (games, playing in the backyard, etc.). Learning to deal with conflict is something that we don’t just ignore with twins but with all kids – too often we say “shake hands” and move on and that does not work. It is more obvious and acute with the twins but the same tools we are giving our twins, we are giving (or trying to give) to our older kids)

    • Kristine

      I am an identical twin and mother to identical twin boys. I recommend separating them early. I really don’t understand why this is such a controversial topic. Even when they are in school, they spend their mornings, evening, weekends, family vacations, etc all together. There will be no shortage of time for them to be together. Give them a few hours apart each day so they have time on their own. It also helps others differentiate the twins and call them by their correct names, which is a much bigger issue with identicals. Good luck!

  • Alicia Hodenfield

    I am the mom of 6 1/2 year old boy fraternal twins. One of the best things we did for them was have them observed in pre-school. It gave us insight into how one twin was dependent on the other for social interaction. We knew then our decision would be to have them separated in kindergarten so they could develop separately and individually. As they are nearing the end of 1st grade, I am grateful we made that decision. They interact with and play together, and with each others’ friends and they are developing their own friendships… they look out for each other, but no longer in a dependent way.

  • SP

    One of our 4-year-old fraternal twin girls is developmentally way ahead of her sister (and most peers) in almost every domain and it’s possible the latter (baby B) has some learning issues. Although we’re extremely careful never to compare them and to emphasize that individuals are different, Baby B is very aware of where she stands relative to her sister. This has recently been causing conflicts and competitiveness where there used to be none (they’re very close and usually play well together), and affecting her self-esteem, tendency to give up easily, etc. How do we encourage & support her while also ensuring her sister has opportunities to feel proud of her accomplishments too?

  • Twin Mom

    Is there any way to listen to this live?

  • timestwo

    After reading Abigail Pogrebin’s book One and the Same, I began to realize that there can be serious concerns about developing individuality with twins. The natural ways many singleton siblings are separated are not always present with twins. From naptime, to bedtime, to preschool, my identical five year old twins are rarely separate from one another. Even parents of their friends see them as a package deal and invite them together to play dates and birthday parties. My girls have requested to be separated for kindergarten in the fall, which I think is a great start. I’d like to know when it is appropriate to start discussing the challenges my girls might face in their individuality and separateness. I look forward to reading your book.

  • Carol

    My identical twin sister and I grew up in San Francisco. Our mother dressed us identically until we were 13 years old. Our father made sure we were in separate classes in school. We are now both high school teachers in different schools and appreciate both the delicate and common sense upbringing practiced by our parents.

  • RA

    Fraternal twins don’t really count. They’re practically just normal siblings.

    Ms. Friedman is, for lack of a better word, annoying. That she claims with pride “i don’t work wiith quantitative stuff” is quite telling.

    Listening to her, she’s just creating another victim group which society is oppressing who need special medicalized attention.

    The incessant negativity from her is obnoxious.

    Ok, i’m done snarking now.

    • Mark Downing

      Didn’t listen to the show (missed it!) but I loved your comments on JF. So many of NPR’s “guest experts” similarly raise issues that are silly. Medicalizing a simple twist of fate is silly. We expect that my daughter’s identical twin boys (5 mos old) will be great pals, have each other’s back and, hopefully, learn to live their separate & individual lives. In contrast, my fraternal twin step-brother & sister, now in their early 50’s, have been unable to launch independent lives; they both married early but divorced with no offspring and continue living together even now. Lovely people, just not independent of each other as adults.

    • Kristine

      As an identical twin and mother to identical twins, I find Ms. Friedman’s remarks refreshing and true. Society puts such expectations on twins, yet it creates lots of challenges in terms of identity and independence. Popular media perpetuates stereotypes about twins as do some twins wishing to capitalize on those stereotypes. It’s nice to hear someone talking about the reality of the topic and getting beyond stereotypes and into the truth.

  • Rachel Leibman

    I have an identical twin sister. My mother’s brothers are also identical twins. My mother tried hard to treat us individually but when you look so much like someone else, people around you tend to treat you like the same person. It was difficult sometime. When we got to high school, we realized that we were constantly checking each other, making sure our twin didn’t embarrass herself. Sara would kick me under the table or give me a look when I was holding forth and I would immediately know to shut up. We decided to go to different colleges and since then we have lived in different cities. But we are still very, very close.

    I don’t think we feel any competition with each other. I think that it is exactly the opposite. If she is suffering in any way, I feel it so acutely.

    Rachel Leibman, San Francisco

  • Adrianne Bowes

    The recent documentary about artists-“Singh twins” points out (over) valuing separation is a Western concept. As Sihks they disagree, and artistically do all their work together,happily!

  • Peji

    Please address the impact of identical twin sisters on their other sister (me!). I often felt that I have less than a sister because they ALWAYS side with each other. Once one asked me to help her with a sort of intervention because her twin was making some bad choices – I did and twin 1 backed off immediately leaving me alone as intervener! I love them but pretty much don’t even try to be close to them. Note they went to school together, roomed in college, etc. They SHOULD have been separated unlike the POV of the speaker, even if they don’t request it.

  • tom_merle

    I caught the first half of the show and during that time there was no opportunity for Dr. Segal to discuss her incredibly important work with the Minnesotal Twin Study and what she is doing now at Fullerton State. Identical twin studies get to the heart of the nature/nurture interaction.

    One could argue while probing how twins should be raised is important, in the global sense Prof. Segal’s work is far more important. For us to intervene in education and societal issues we must know how to work with the genetic component which probably accounts for 50 percent of human behavior. And the best information on the respective roles of heredity and environment comes out of the research on twins raised apart, going back to the “Jim” findings.

    Very disappointed. Unless the second part of the show did a 180, please have Dr. Segal back without a therapist.

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