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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Identical and Individual: What not to say to a Twin...or Their Mom

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, I know that full well." Psalm 139:13-14

 I could not bring myself to use the word "identical" for a very long time.  My head knows that being an identical twin is such an amazing and miraculous occurrence that it will create a strong bond, yet my heart fought back against this word. 

After reflection, my hesitancy to use the word is because so many do not understand what it actually means. To me it means they were the same zygote that split into two. To a majority of the world, identical means exactly the same person, times two

My heart screams NO! They are not the same! They're EACH wonderfully and fearfully made. So unique, and each so amazingly wonderful in his own right.

One of the most common questions I'm asked about my identical twins is, "Isn't it amazing that they have such different personalities?"  

My snarky Mama response wants to be, "Isn't it amazing you can ask such a dumb question?! They are two separate people! " But that is unhelpful and unkind. 

 Identical twins are rare, so they are a mystery too many. Maybe you've grown up hearing stories (or seen movies) of identical twins who know when the other is wounded from 1,000 of miles away. I can then see how this adds mystery and confusion.  You  think they are just clones of the same person.

 Twins are not clones. Twins are physically, and spiritually linked, just as you and your siblings are connected, but are not the same person.  Identical twins get the added bonus of spending their entire lives together, going through the same stages together. But this bond does not make them the same person.

 Identical twins share DNA, they do not share a soul.

I believe our God is sovereign and powerful enough to create two identical bodies with two different souls. He knit their hearts and minds together in my womb, each of them...separately. One twin is not an accident or afterthought once the first one was knit.  He knew them both separately, before their zygote split.  He uniquely gifted them with their own talents, souls, and spiritual gifts. I see this as a similar miracle to when God took my mother and father's DNA and miraculously made different combinations of different people between me and my siblings.

Defining through Comparison
For you to better understand my twin baggage, I need to share that I am also a twin. I have a fraternal twin brother, and I often share the fact that I thought my last name was "the twins" until I was in Kindergarten (not kidding). Picture 5 year old me introducing myself, "Hi, my name is Robyn-The-Twins, nice to meet you."

Even though we were boy/girl twins, we were seen as a unit. From my earliest memory, I wanted independence & individuality. And then I quickly received my wish....through comparison.

Let me add a disclaimer now that I know this was not, and is not, intentional. I understand that twins are mysterious to many, especially identical twins, and you are trying to connect to them in some way by seeing their differences. I sympathize how hard it must be to not be able to tell identical twins apart.
But please think about the fact that you are trying to get to know them by who their sibling is and not who they are.

 It may be a shift in thinking to try to get people to see my point, but please follow me. If you were asked to write a sentence about who you were, would you write something like:

"I am more a more creative & bossier person than my brother, and I am much more nurturing than my husband."

OR would you write:

"I am an artist who loves taking care of her family."

In the first example you are defining yourself by other people. This may seem like an extreme to you, but it is what young twins hear all the time when you ask about them by comparing them to their twin sibling. It is what I heard for years, as I was constantly compared to my twin brother, and my sons get it even worse that we did.

I will give you a few examples of what a twin & their mom (since I am both) hears when you asks these questions. Keep in mind these are all real questions that I have been asked about my identical twin sons IN FRONT OF THEM.

  • You Ask: "Who is the leader?" Twin may hear: "Who is the follower?" or "Who is in the bossier one?"
    Variations on this question: "Who is the more dominant one?" & "Who takes charge more often?"

  • You Ask: "Which one is the good one?" Twin may hear: "Which one is the bad one?"

  • You Ask: "Do they have the same personality?" Twin may hear; "I can't have a personality outside of my twin." or "I must act out to get attention and prove I am different."

  • You ask: "Do you have a favorite?" (Yes, I have actually been asked this in front of my kids)   Twin may hear: "Since there are two of us, Mommy has to pick one."

Do you want to be called a follower? The less dominant one? How does it feel as a little boy to be the passive follower? Do you see how that can be something that could change how they see themselves as men when they are older?

On the other hand, would you want to be perceived as the loud bossy one? I know it has taken me years of  struggle to see my leadership gifting as anything other than me being "the bossy girl". I stayed away from some leadership roles because I had unconsciously taken this label into my identity.

Be careful when phrasing your questions around a comparison of their sibling, you may unintentionally  give them a false label they could carry with them for a very long time.

Although usually well-intentioned, the fallacy at the heart of some of these questions is the polarized perspective: if one is a leader, then the other must be a follower, if one is social the other must be shy, etc. What I've been fascinated to discover is that both of our guys often have the same trait, but express it differently. They are both leaders, but one child is more outgoing and direct in his leadership whereas, his brother is more quietly confident in his.  The more direct child will outwardly boss his brother more, but other does his own thing and his brother eventually joins him.

I am no scientist, and I may be wrong in how I view this, but I have watched my two boys for ten+ years now. I have witnessed two children, who technically are suppose to be the "same person'" according to their DNA, born as two unique and different people. As they grew, they have different personalities. They are quite similar in many ways, which is to be expected of course.  But they are not the exactly the same, and they are not opposites.  They are uniquely themselves. They are each who God knit them to be.

So I will amend my snarky answer with, "Yes, it is amazing that they have two different personalities, because the God who made them is Amazing."

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