Twins – what is their experience of parental separation?

Having worked with a few twins who have experienced their parents divorce,  I’ve noticed they can sometimes be labelled as the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ twin. But just because they were once ‘wombmates’ doesn’t mean they’re identical. If anything they represent the ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ and are bound to display their unique characters and have different reactions – but perhaps not quite as polarised as on first impression.

Twins have their own distinctive personalities. Although they have the same genetic makeup and shared a womb they will be different and will therefore need differing support. These womb mates inevitably get compared and one thing I have noticed is the ‘good’ and ‘bad’, twin dichotomy does play out, depending on what the parents favour and value.

As twins have to share their parents, time, attention and compliments, demonstrating fairness and equity is even more important for them. While one twin has screen time, the‎ other will be snatching the device off them! One can ‘flip’ as the other ‘flops’.

So what happens for twins in the context of divorce or separation? Well as their personalities differ, so do their reactions. One can explode and show a lot of anger in a volcanic way and be more demanding of a parent as the other goes quiet and seems to be internalising a lot and you may wonder what is going on for them. On the whole parents worry about the volcanic ‘bad’ one and will view them as the one to be concerned about and needing to be more supported. I think both will require different support and possibly specialist counselling if needed. It is the ‘good’ one that is seen as OK and the louder/angry one as not. However, it may be that the louder one is voicing the discontent felt by both twins and simply acting as the ‘spokesperson’.

As for the quieter one, they may need to let it out in a different way too. Twins not too dissimilarly ‎take on the roles that siblings do in a family and have a tendency for a preferred emotion.

One can be the sad one, more tearful and sensitive and the other the angry one, more explosive, more honest and ready to express their feelings and reactions.

So how do you work with both these children in tandem? Fairness is important but treating them equally is not easy in practice. As with any child, a parent learns to respond and work with each of their children’s personalities and needs. Similarly, with twins – it’s just that they may need it at the same time and the demands of the ‘twinship’ does put the pressure on for parents.

Comparisons are bound to happen and being labelled or viewed in a binary way is indeed very likely to happen in intense and stressful situations. Talking to their emotional brain and acknowledging what is happening for them helps to process their feelings.

Play is also very therapeutic for children who need ‘time out’ and enables them project their emotions onto toys or drawings and help to unblock emotions. Doing a silly angry dance at home with some music can help to release the cortisol (the stress hormone) and then maybe have a chat later to help process and acknowledge the more difficult emotions.

Proposing to the quieter child that they can leave messages under your pillow or creating a ‘worry box’ for them to leave messages in is a helpful idea. You can then talk about the message later or hold for them until they are ready.

Finding some imaginative and resourceful ways to open up the more difficult arena of emotions helps children to self-regulate and to face their emotions rather than avoiding them. They are then able to digest them in a healthy manner. Indeed these will be essential tools for life.