Fraternal twins occur when two eggs are fertilized by two sperms and grow concurrently in the womb. They may be two girls, two boys, or one of each. And no doubt there will be a bond because of their twinniness, but they usually don’t have the same strong bond as identical twins. It’s like the difference between tacky glue and super glue!
Identical twins, on the other hand, occur when one sperm fertilizes one egg and then that fertilized egg splits somewhere between conception and implantation. They have identical DNA (unless the egg splits unevenly), which gives them an identical appearance, and identical blood type. However, environment plays another role in the development of “identical” twins. Because of their location in the womb, one may receive more nutrients than the other. Because of the swirl of amniotic fluid, one will have different fingerprints than the other. Even a slightly different umbilical cord length changes their fingerprints. And, so far the crime solvers haven't come across any two identical fingerprints!
Now for the character education - Rules for raising independent twins
Rule #1 – Always call them by their given names. When they are born, well-meaning friends and relatives refer to them as “the twins.” Make sure that everyone knows each twin’s name.
Rule #2 – Dress each twin differently. That well-meaning relative who brought identical dresses was probably dismayed to see only one of the girls in the dresses she had given to both of them. As tempting as it is to see two identical babies in identical pink dresses or blue sailor outfits, force yourself to realize that had they been born two years apart, they probably wouldn’t have had identical outfits.
Rule #3 - Let each child decide which hobbies to pursue. It may be difficult for people to understand why one child wants to take piano lessons while the other wants to play soccer. They may be identical in appearance and similar in personality, but they should be encouraged to pursue their own interests.
Rule #4 – Let them form their own friendships. Just because one twin is friendly with the next-door-neighbor’s kid doesn’t mean that his twin brother would also find him worthy of his time. Certainly it is easier to send both next door to play for a few hours, but if one prefers to stay home and play board games with you, cherish that individual time together.
Rule #5 – Give them different presents for birthdays and holidays. Again, the well-meaning relatives manage to sneak in identical gifts under the premise that they wouldn’t fight over the same gift that way. OK, I can understand that logic, but to also get them the same card? When was the last time two individual children fought over getting the same birthday card? Get to know the individual child and give him or her a gift and card tailor-made for him or her. While we’re on the topic of birthdays, when they get older and cultivate different friends, consider holding two separate birthday parties on separate weekends. Yes, it’s more work at the time, but they will be grateful for the individual attention.
Rule #6 – Look carefully for symptoms of dominant twin syndrome. Yes, this is a real problem because one twin will usually dominate the play scenarios and conversation. Look for ways to include the non-dominant twin by asking him or her to choose the TV show to watch or the dessert choice. Take the dominant twin aside and discuss how dominance is affecting his or her twin’s independence.
Twins will always be a curiosity and in some cultures they are held in high esteem. As you celebrate our nation’s Declaration of Independence this weekend, watch for the interaction of any twins at your family picnics and see if you can help them to assert their own personal sense of independence!
Renee Heiss is the mother of a single child and twins. She has seen all of the above rules broken and then enforced over the past 36 years!
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