Multiple Personalities: Are Twins Less Distinct from One Another Than Singleton Sibs?

Family Matters on 06.09.11
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I only have two kids, and they happen to be twin girls who will be two years old in a couple weeks.  So I'm a bit hesitant to make generalizations about multiples, since I've never had any other family configuration with which to compare the experience.

Despite not being an expert on the differences between multiples and singletons, I have figured out a few things that people want to know about twins from participating in the following conversation approximately one million times:

Nice Stranger: Oh my gosh!  They're so cute! 

Me: Thank you!  I agree!  I thought I was the only one who felt that way.

Nice Stranger: How old are they?

Me: Almost two.

Nice Stranger: Oh wow.  They're really close in age then.

Me: Yeah.  They're, um, twins.

Nice Stranger: But they're not...

Me: Identical?  Nope.  Fraternal.

Nice Stranger: But they're both...

Me: Girls.  Yup.

I give the friendly stranger a minute to process the information--to search the archives for the rudimentary knowledge of genetics that they gleaned from their 10th grade biology class. 

No, twins do not have to be identical. Yes, they are called "fraternal" even if they are girls.  Yes, human gestation takes about 40 weeks, so singleton siblings are usually quite distinct from one another, especially in the earlier years.

I used to be shocked when people didn't realize that our kids were twins right away.  Although they don't look very similar, they are exactly the same size, and, you know, at the same developmental stage.  Because they're twins.  Sometimes I'm tempted to say they're three months apart and just let the stranger stew on that for a while.

It's not that I expect everyone to know all about the freaky world of multiples: it's just that I'm amused when people ask questions without thinking for a second or two first.  When I'm in a situation where I don't know exactly what's going on, I'm always very careful to avoid exposing my ignorance, even when there's no shame in it.  But that's just me.

Anyway, there are some standard questions that we muddle through, and then the conversation inevitably gets around to this:

Nice Stranger: So, are they pretty similar?  Or do they have totally different personalities?

Me: Totally different personalities. 

Nice Stranger: I thought so!  [points to Twin A] She's the shy one, right?  And her sister is the extrovert?

Me: Hmm...kind of.  In some situations.  It's more complicated than that though...

At this point, if my interlocutor seems genuinely interested, I'll give her some examples of how complex their personalities are, even at such a tender age.

Twin A, I'll tell her, is shyer around new people than is her sister, and this makes folks think she's introverted and aloof.  But when they're at home, she's the leader, the clown, and the daredevil; and Twin B copies almost every crazy stunt her sister pulls.

So Twin A is physically daring but socially reserved, and her sister is the opposite, right?  That's not so hard to grasp.

Okay-but that's not all, I'll say, if my new friend isn't bored yet.  Even though Twin A is clearly the leader in some ways, Twin B torments her by stealing every toy she picks up, "hugging" her when she doesn't want to be bothered, or shoving her for no reason whatsoever.  Twin A rarely fights back, but instead simply cries for her parents.

Aha, my interrogator says.  Twin B resents Twin A's status as leader and tries to undermine her through a campaign of harassment. 

Kind of, I say.  But Twin B also seems a little protective of her big sister when she's freaking out about something.  Like when she gets inconsolably terror-stricken by the garbage trucks that patrol our neighborhood on trash pickup day. 

Scared of Garbage trucks? I thought Twin A was the fearless one.

Sometimes.  Not always.  There are some things, in fact, that she is just scared to death of.  Mostly big trucks.

So Twin A is fearless of the physical world, except when it makes big scary noises.  And Twin B is fearless as long as her big sis goes first; but in some cases she has to be the braver one when things get too loud and dramatic. Right?

 Well, I say... 

Then, if my companion hasn't excused herself yet, I might tell the story of one evening last weekend, when we went to the beach

Twin A--socially reserved, undaunted by physical obstacles but a little cowed by her younger sister, frightened of loud noises--squirmed out of her mom's grasp and plowed into the crashing waves, shouting "Self! Self! Self!" like a 30-inch tall Walt Whitman with a case of surf-stoke. 

Meanwhile, Twin B--socially confident, slightly cautious but not phobic, alternately pushy toward and protective of her big sister, and not particularly concerned with big loud stuff--clung to me like one of those Koala clips you used to put on your pencils in grade school, wailing, "All done!  All done!  All done!"

Wow.  So they are totally different.

Yes, I say.

And kind of unpredictable.

Oh yeah, I say.

And they have, like, their own personalities.

Yes, I say.  Just like regular people. 

Regular people.  Just smaller.

Yeah, I say.  Smaller, and once you think you have them figured out, they completely change.

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