Ahhh, the twin bond. That magical connection that twins are supposed to have, based on sharing a womb for a few months. They’re probably telepathic, of course, and can feel each other’s pain…
I’m joking, of course. Twins are just normal kids, and I certainly don’t know of any with supernatural relationships. However, I do think some twins form a very strong relationship with each other, probably because they’ve got little option, given how much time they spend together. Hattie and Joe are huge friends, utterly devoted to each other, and have been like that since they were old enough to move independently. Their loving sibling relationship is one of my great parenting joys.
When I read Facebook pages for parents of multiples I often see new parents expending a fair bit of mental energy on the question of how to maintain the twin bond, or develop the conditions under which it may flourish. People talk about sleeping their two babies in the same cot, for example, both for the sake of convenience (newborns are so tiny: you can definitely fit two of them in), and because of a belief that they’ve started a relationship in the womb that should now be maintained.
I think their bond is very strong for a few reasons – some of which we’ve probably engineered, and some that are the luck of the draw. The main innate factor is the complementary nature of their personalities. They’re different enough to make things interesting and to bring a range of attributes to the relationship. For example, Hattie is a very sociable little girl and possibly a future leader, whereas Joe is a really good team member who doesn’t readily initiate contact with kids he doesn’t know – so, Hattie will readily find opportunities for them to play with kids, and Joe will happily join in. The ‘lead twin’ dynamic changes in other contexts: Joe is more willing than Hattie to practise new skills, and then is very keen to help and guide Hattie has she (somewhat more reluctantly) attempts a new task. It’s so sweet to hear him encouraging her, and praising her in her efforts: “That writing is really good, Hattie!” – and it’s lovely to see her unquestioningly incorporate him into her games with other kids.
Another innate factor that helps them to have a strong bond is the way in the which they’re similarly quite gentle and fairly risk-averse kids. If one of them was gentle and the other one was very physical and risk-taking I imagine it could affect their joint ability to interact easily.
Temperament and attitude to risk are elements over which we’ve had no influence, but there are certainly some parenting choices we’ve made that have supported their bond. One obvious one is the fact that they’ve spent virtually every waking minute together since birth, aside from the very occasional hour when one child has had a doctor’s appointment, for example. In retrospect I think I would have liked to have split them up a bit more often, both so they could become accustomed to time apart, and so Tristan and I could have more one-on-one time with each of them, but it’s been difficult to manage it in the fact of their total disinterest in doing anything without their twin. I know we’re unusual in this regard: virtually all of our twin parent friends have spent a great deal more separate time with their kids. And I suspect this may be An Issue for us at some point – for example, I fear it would be very difficult to persuade either Hattie or Joe to go to kindy alone, if their twin was sick.
Looking at our parenting choices from a more positive perspective, I think our insistence that we only use kind words and gentle hands to each other has helped them to have a very affectionate relationship. But again, I think a lot of this comes down to their personalities, too: we’ve been clear on standards of behaviour, but it’s also been very easy to enforce them with children who very seldom get upset with each other, or take a swipe at their twin. I’ve never heard either of them say anything deliberately unkind to each other (or to anybody else), which might he because they’re nice little kids, but is also possibly because I doubt they’ve ever heard Tristan or me criticise people or be deliberately unkind, either. Monkey see, monkey do!
When Hattie and Joe start school next year they will go into a Reception that is largely play-based, and that provides a transition between kindy-type activities and the more formal environment of a classroom. Apparently children typically spend anything from six weeks to a term in Reception before moving into a Year One class. Unless there is a significant difference in their readiness to move on, we’ll be advocating for Hattie and Joe to enter the same Year One class. I’m comfortable with them being in different classes from Year Two onwards, but during their first year I’d like them to have each other close. I figure that there are plenty of compromises involved in being a twin (even if they don’t realise it, given that they know no different), so it’s only fair that they should benefit from the key advantage of not having to navigate the possibly-daunting new world of school without their best friend nearby. One of the endlessly endearing features of their relationship is the way in which they’ll sidle together and hold hands in any times of mild uncertainty, so I’d like them to retain that option at school.
Of course, I know that their relationship could eventually face challenges. A lot of parents of school-aged parents talk of the upset caused when their children begin to make friends independently of each other and are separately invited to play dates and birthday parties, leaving one child very sad at home. Ordinarily this seems to be less of an issue for boy/girl twins, given that primary school children tend to be very heteronormative and form friendships almost exclusively with their own sex, but in our case, with a child who is clearly gender stereotype non-conforming and who greatly prefers playing with children of the opposite sex, it could be an issue. And tales of times when one twin has wanted to be in a separate classroom and the other one has wanted to stay with their sibling make me wonder how we’ll cope if that kind of situation comes up. But I figure we’ll sort things out as required – I certainly don’t want to deprive them of the happy, loving relationship they currently enjoy, simply to mitigate the risk of problems that may not eventuate. For now, we’ll just continue to take pleasure in the lovely friendship Hattie and Joe enjoy.