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Twin Sons Have No Relationship

by Fel
(Sydney, Australia)

My fraternal twin sons are 17 and in their last year at different high schools. They have a 13 year old sister.

I realise in hindsight that my husband and I have made loads of mistakes over the years in terms of parenting, despite being reasonably intelligent and certainly very loving parents.

Actually, I think many of our mistakes stem from us being too loving, in that we were not as consistent or firm as we should have been. I lose a great deal of sleep over that as I can now see where we went so very wrong. That said, they're healthy, intelligent and good young men overall so we're pretty lucky.

My question has to do with the boys' relationship with one another, which is pretty much non-existent these days. I find that very sad as they were good mates when they were babies and small children. Over the years they've shared obsessions with Lego, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, for example, and usually played together well.

Now, if you ask them, they'd say they hate one another. They have some friends in common and sometimes go out in a group together but they rarely address a word to one another voluntarily and, if they do, it often ends up in an argument or put downs, at least at home.

Different Personalities

The thing is, the boys are very different in every way. One is quiet and a bit of an introvert, the other is very much an extrovert, strong-willed, opinionated, etc. The extrovert has always been good at sports, while his brother played but lacked confidence so never did all that well.

Both boys were assessed as being academically gifted when young but my extrovert was difficult at school, disliked by teachers and ended up being bullied so badly in high school that we moved him to another school. He does OK at school now but his social life and sport are his priorities so he doesn't put in nearly enough work. This worries me because I did well at school. His brother is quieter, wants to do well and works hard at school.

The thing is, my extrovert son started being quite uncaring and rough with his brother when he was about five or six. He was bigger than his brother, more physically adventurous and in a real hurry to interact with the world but was careless of his brother's feelings and often hit him if he got in the way. This got worse as they got older, especially with verbal put-downs, with Mr Extrovert often telling his brother that he "sucked at sport".

I now realise I handled all this very badly, usually rushing in to protect my quieter son and blaming his brother.

In hindsight I think that early on Mr Extrovert was acting out his frustrations with school at home and I didn't see it.

Challenging For Parents

Through all this, my husband and I had no idea what to do. We wanted to spend more one-on-one time with each child but this was hard to do with money issues, work and three young children. We did always try to show that we value each boy for their unique selves and their different strengths (which we genuinely do) but we obviously didn't succeed in convincing the boys of this. They had to share a bedroom for longer than we would have liked but now have their own rooms.

Mr Introvert never really hit back physically but, as they got older, he fought back verbally. Not surprisingly, he now dislikes his brother and reacts badly to anything he says. He has been so brow-beaten over the years he wants nothing to do with his brother.

Mr Extrovert often still puts his brother down for being unsociable. He feels we always favour(ed) his brother because he does better at school and that we blame(d) him for all the conflict in the house. He says he tries to be nice to his brother but his brother is horrible to him.

So, they are stuck in this cycle of speaking to one another as little as possible and, when they do have to, they're abrupt or rude so the other boy responds in kind.

Sibling Rivalry

I have heard many stories of siblings who didn't get on as children but became friends as adults and obviously I'm hoping this will happen with my sons. On the other hand, many adults don't see their siblings at all and I'd hate this to happen with my boys.

There's very little written about sibling rivalry between twins and advice about siblings of different ages never really seems to fit.

Identical twins seem to get on a lot better but my girlfriend's fraternal twin sons (who are a bit older) also don't get on so perhaps it's not uncommon? I have another friend with fraternal daughters and they're good friends but they have been at different schools since the age of 11 (they're now 19). The girls have always had their own rooms but the other boy/boy twins still share so maybe this is a factor?

One of the few things I found about teenaged twins said that one of the main tasks of adolescence is for the young person to separate from his/her parents and find his/her own identity but that twins have the additional task of separating from their twin.

Can you suggest any strategies we could try to help them interact in a positive way or do you think we just have to leave them to it and hope for the best, give that they're now 17? They have very different career paths planned for next year and one is considering moving away from home to attend university and I actually think this might be a good thing for their relationship.

I just can't help thinking that we've stuffed things up so badly with these two and it tears me apart inside when I realise how we should/could have handled things. They are so very different but so gorgeous in their own ways and I'd love them to appreciate one another and the special relationship they could have.

Comments for Twin Sons Have No Relationship

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Difficult Twin Relationship - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Fel,
Firstly, you are being very hard on yourselves as parents! We all learn from our experiences and often kick ourselves around in hindsight for not being good enough. It sounds to me like you guys have done a pretty good job, and all we can ever do is the best we can at the time. I think you are blaming yourselves way to much to say you stuffed things up with them.

You can't actually control your boy's relationship with each. Sure how you reacted to their fighting does have an impact, and often parents actually make it worse by stepping in too much.

A Foundation Of Love

And the other thing I will pull you up on - you clearly are a very loving family, and that is the NUMBER ONE priority when it comes to raising children. Personally I don't believe in being overly tough unless you are allowing yourself to be disrespected or don't have personal boundaries.

I think one of the biggest mistakes many many parents make with their teens is holding the reins too tightly and being too strict. This just serves to put a barrier between you and gives them more to push against.

You are right, they need to pull away, not only from you as parents, but also from each other. It is sad to see our kids fighting or being unkind to each other as the way to pull away and assert their differences.

Myths Of Twinness

There are a lot of myths around twins too - that they are supposed to be incredibly close and have a special bond no other siblings have. Sometimes that is the case, sometimes it actually creates more sibling issues as they have to compete from the word go.

In the limited research I have read (and you are right there is not a lot) twin boys more than girls can have a very competitive or argumentative relationship with each other. But then boys in general can tend to more argy bargy type energy, which can seem very confrontational and difficult to live with. Many non twin sibling boys, particularly when close in age, seem to have to compete and have a lot of power struggle issues, so it may also be a boy thing!

Part Two Follows . . .

Difficult Twin Relationship - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

Friends As Adults?

There is no predicting how their relationship will end up as adults. My two children were born a year apart to the day - most people assumed they were twins and in their younger years they fit a lot of the stereotyped twin relationship - finishing each others sentences, extremely close, went though the school years in open plan classrooms together.

Then at 14 my son spent a year overseas living with his father, and when he returned I was shocked at the change in the dynamic between them. The constant bickering, put downs and unkind comments they both made drove me nuts, it had never been part of our household, and I was saddened that their close relationship seemed to have gone.

They are now adults, and do have a very close relationship again - my daughter even moved to London with her husband to be nearer to her brother and his family. So you never know, it may well be that your sons end up closer when they become adults.

Twins With Unique Personalities

A lot of families with twins emphasize the twin thing way too much, so actually condition them to having to be the same. I have a friend with twin sisters and those two are in their forties and cannot operate independently, turning down job promotions, unable to have relationships with a partner, and living together, bickering away like ten year olds!

Wiser parents like yourselves have allowed their twins to develop their own personalities, and can see different strengths in them both. Your boys clearly have very different personalities and a different focus as to what is important, and this is a great thing that they are not so enmeshed they can't think for themselves. Attending different schools has probably helped them to be more independent and that was a good decision, particularly when one was having problems.

I also have twin half sisters, and they couldn't be more different. They were close when small, but by the time they reached their teens they were into totally different things. They are now gradually getting to know each other as young adult women, but live in different countries and have a different lifestyle.

It takes time to build a new shared history based on being an adult, and letting go the "stuff" of childhood. Some siblings do that, some can't move past the resentments of childhood, and really as a parent you can't make that happen. You can only unhook they way you relate to them, and make sure you are not a part of the dynamic - ie defending one or criticizing the other, or trying to fix things up. Their relationship is no longer your business!

Part Three Follows . . .

Difficult Twin Relationship - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Build YOUR Relationship Not Theirs

The main focus for you and your husband needs to be your relationship with them individually, not focusing on the boys interactions with each other. They probably need to assert their differences, and maintain their distance from each other at this point, and no amount of you trying to make them closer will work.

It is more important that you keep the lines of communication flowing between you. It is hard for parents of teenagers to start to trust that their kids have to start making their own decisions and mistakes - we want to give them the best start in life as possible and we want to protect them and make sure they don't make bad decisions. But we do better to start to lean more towards the listener role, being a sounding board for them to test out their ideas and thoughts, and only giving our opinion or thoughts when asked, or after they have voiced their concerns or thoughts.

Parents Need To Listen

The biggest complaint teenagers have, is that their parents don't listen, so they don't feel they can talk to them.

The more you can model good listening, the more your boys learn from you and down the track will have integrated some of those skills. The more we jump in and try to sort things out, the more we stop our kids from learning better negotiating skills, or to be better communicators.

Often they just want to let off steam, to have a rant and then it is over. We often make things bigger by trying to give advice and ideas for how they can sort something out, and turn it into a bigger issue. There was many a time with my teenagers that I intervened with my counselor hat on, only to turn round 15 minutes later and they were off doing their own thing quite happily and it was nowhere near as big a drama as I had thought (or my kids told me to mind my own business!)

When one of your boys is having a rant about the other to you, simply listen without giving advice or getting involved (hard to do I know!)

Part Four Follows . . . .

Difficult Twin Relationship - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

Parents Have Needs Too

But it is hard for parents to live with fighting and conflict between kids, particularly if it goes against the family rules - ie no put downs, no physical violence etc. Kids do have to be allowed to fight to some extent - if we stop them from expressing their anger or make them feel it is not OK to be mad or to express strong feelings, then we simply push the resentment underground.

But you also have the right to a reasonably peaceful home so setting some boundaries might be a good idea for your sanity!

At 17 they are not really that likely to be very responsive to you trying to mediate and make them be nice to each other. But you can insist that common rooms in the house are a no putdown zone for example. Or meal times are to be a time of sharing the day, without put downs or judgements. Choose the time you are finding the most stressful that you want different for you - aside from wanting them to be closer.

By setting boundaries on what is acceptable round the dinner table for example, you are making a stand on having some parts of your home as neutral and stress free. It won't work all the time, but you can then send them elsewhere if they have stuff they want to work out.

By pulling back on trying to intervene - firstly you remove yourself from the dynamic so that interrupts you adding your energy into their dynamic. Secondly you set the scene for saying, "I trust you guys to work things out for yourself - I would like you to be kinder to each other, but it is up to you to learn to get along."

Teenage Development

Teenage years are all about relationships. Yes schooling is important, but we actually have way too much emphasis on it much of the time. Developmentally, a teenager is learning about relationships as they move into adulthood. So siblings and family is the perfect testing ground for asserting power, learning to handle conflict, learning to stand up and speak out. As parents of course that can be a bit exhausting!

Teenagers, and right up until our 20s are also developing the parts of their brain to do with morality, values and empathy, and much of the time they are selfish and self centered! It takes time to be able to see how they impact on others, or to choose to behave in ways that consider someone else's feelings. More often than not it is about winning and putting their own needs first.

Your boys have already asserted themselves and are struggling with power issues between them, and much of that is a good thing, even though it is hard to live with.

Part Five Follows . . .

Difficult Twin Relationship - Part Five
by: Annie Desantis

Encourage THEM To Solve Their Issues

If they are open to hearing you - which at 17 you really have to pick your moment - then help them to work towards solving problems and creating win win scenarios rather than having to beat or be better than the other, or just resorting to putting the other down. We all have needs to be liked/loved and accepted and currently they have pushed each other so much they are unlikely to even admit that they want the other brother to like them.

They will have other situations in life where they have to deal with challenging personalities, so how they learn to deal with each other will give them some good skills in the future. Just opting out and saying "I hate him," doesn't solve the problem of having to live together, or having friends in common. If you set an expectation of - it is up to you to sort this out, and I trust that you can figure things out - then you move away from having to have the role of peacemaker trying to make them be nice.

Most likely a lot of their on going interactions will be full of put downs and power issues, but some of the dynamic will happen when they have competing needs. For example wanting to use the bathroom at the same time in the mornings, control of the TV remote, being in the kitchen etc.

"Guys, figure out what you need and then negotiate with each other to find a solution you can both agree with" "You are both nearly adults and I know you can work together better than this"

Then leave them to it - if you get hooked into trying to mediate; "he said this, he always does that..." then you are contributing to keeping them as boys and not allowing them to mature and learn to communicate more effectively.

Future Family Events

It sounds like they have their plans for next year sorted, and the difficulties of them living together will no longer be such an issue next year. Keep family connections going by having regular family dinners, brunches or BBQs, and make time to meet up with them separately, or with your daughter.

Their dynamic will change once they are not living together - that does not necessarily mean they will be best friends - but a lot of the friction issues will no longer be present. Learning to relate as adults takes a bit of time, we all tend to revert to old ways when with our family!

Part Six Follows . . .

Difficult Twin Relationship - Part Six
by: Annie Desantis

You HAVE Done A Good Job

You clearly love them to bits and are really proud of them, so just focus on that and all their strengths, and let them sort out their own relationship. Not easy I know! But you and your husband have done a great job, you have not failed as parents just because your twins have challenges with each other. They have their own journey in this life, and whilst it is preferable that they do regain their closeness, what is most important is that they have happy fulfilling lives.

Just to finish off - you also have a 13 year old daughter, and I am wondering where she is in all of this? The household will be very different next year when one of your boys moves out, and the dynamic will shift. I am just wondering if the drama with the boys means her needs get sidelined a little?

Good luck with weathering the storm, and stop beating yourself up for being a terrible parent. You aren't. It is pretty clear to me you have done a pretty good job - no parents are perfect, and the most important part of being a parent is simply loving them and making the best choices you could to build a solid family. Your boys may not like each other much right now, but I am pretty sure they have a strong family bond with you all.

Feel Free to comment back, or ask for any further clarifications. Hopefully we might get some feedback from other readers also.

take care,
Annie D :)

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