Comparing Twins -- Or Not.Jane Roper
Last week, Elsa and Clio came home from preschool with pictures they’d made of thumbprint snowmen, with sparkly bits of snow pasted around them, and magic marker additions of snowman features, hats, and background accents.
The pictures looked quite different from each other. Clio’s was a tranquil, minimal scenario, while Elsa’s was a busy explosion of color. (More pictures after the jump.) I thought they were both fantastic, and the girls were very proud, so I taped them up on the sliding doors at the back of our house.
As Clio and I stood admiring them (Elsa had busied herself elsewhere), Clio asked, “Which one do you like better?”
“I like both of them,” I said. “I like how yours is very peaceful and pretty, like the snowman is standing in a quiet snow flurry, and I like how Elsa’s is exciting and colorful, like there’s a big, rainbow-colored magical snowstorm going on.”
“But which one is better? Do you like mine better because it’s peaceful?”
The fact of the matter was, Clio’s was more like something I would probably have made at her age — neat and carefully executed and “correct.” It was, in some ways more aesthetically pleasing. But Elsa’s was just…so…well, uniquely Elsa. They were both beautiful in their own way. How could I compare them?
But lately — and this has been developing over the past few months — Clio seems to want to be compared to Elsa.
She wants to know who does a better job of things (“Do I behave better in the grocery store than Elsa does?”) and who’s a better singer / drawer / dancer / etc. Even who’s cuter or prettier: The other day as she was sitting on my lap I pressed my cheek to hers and said, “I love your soft, cute cheeks. Ever since you were a baby, you’ve had the softest cheeks.”
“Softer than Elsa’s?” she asked.
We are so careful not to compare the girls, and to show them equal amounts of affection and attention. Sometimes it gets to the point where I wonder if it isn’t such a great idea. Example: Clio really is a better singer than Elsa — better pitch, better tone. But if we compliment her singing, she’s likely to say, lately, “Am I better singer than Elsa?”
So we say something like, “You’re both good singers, and it’s so great that you both love singing and love music.”
But Clio pushes it. “But who’s better?”
Should we be acknowledging and encouraging her unique talents? She wants to be a musician when she grows up, after all. Is she hoping that we’ll tell her she’s extra good at it? And does that require, in her little head, knowing that she’s better at it than her sister?
And is she feeling, in a more general sense, a need to differentiate herself? A need for more individual attention?
I don’t know if it’s a twin-specific thing, or if all siblings — especially those close in age — go through this. My brother and I had very different strengths and weaknesses, and some shared ones. But I don’t know if we ever asked our parents, point blank, if one of us was better than the other at something. (Mom? Dad? You reading this? Please weigh in.)
But I also kind of knew that they thought I was better at, say, drawing. Because I was. (Sorry, Kev.) And that my brother had stronger, natural talent for playing piano. (Because he did, and does — he’s a professional musician, in fact.)
I think some things were easier because he was a boy and I was a girl, and there were some more (stereo)typical gender differences between us — he was a better athlete, I had better penmanship and a much, much neater room.
Anyway. I’m a little at a loss as to how to handle this. I have tried to talk openly with Clio about it, and ask her why she seems to be asking these kinds of questions. But no progress there.
Any thoughts? Theories? Advice? Similar experiences?
DOUBLE TIME, my memoir of parenting twins and battling depression (among other things) is now available for pre-order!