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A guide to parenting identical twins
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A guide to parenting identical twins

Having identical twins can be a unique experience muddled with joy and confusion. How can parents transform it into a ‘twin-win’ situation?
Raaga Iyer (left) and Swara Iyer (right) with their father.

Sofia Rodriguez, an Argentinian woman, recently made headlines when she tweeted about being unable to tell her identical twins apart. She had to eventually resort to the police and get her babies’ fingerprints to identify them. While this may baffle many, it may ring a bell for parents of identical twins as such faux pas are common when parenting identical twins (monozygotic twins).

Saraswathi Anand, a marketing professional from Bengaluru and a mother of identical twin girls, Swara Iyer and Raaga Iyer recounts getting confused between her babies during their initial months.

“Usually when one of them caught a cold, the other would catch it too. It was an uphill task to keep tabs of who had what symptoms. This led to instances where I mixed up their medicines. Once, I ended up giving medicines to the same child twice,” says Saraswathi.

Twelve years down the line, Saraswathi has outgrown such confusions, but looking at her girls’ pictures from toddlerhood, she still sometimes struggles to tell them apart.

Why do identical twins look alike?

“When the sperm fertilises the egg, the zygote (fertilised egg) grows into a fetus. Identical twins  are formed when the zygote splits into two and grows into two separate fetuses,’’ says Dr Gunda Srinivas, Pediatrics Emergency specialist, Aster RV Hospital, Bengaluru.

“Since both parts carry the same genetic material, they have identical features and are of the same sex,” Dr Srinivas says.

Dr Srinivas points out that in fraternal twins (dizygotic twins), there are two separate eggs that are fertilised by two separate sperms.

Unique challenges of parenting identical twins

Challenges of parenting identical twins goes beyond just mixing them up.

“Identical features don’t always translate to identical personalities, interests and capabilities as environmental factors influence the development of individual personality traits,’’ says Dr Srinivas.

He opines that developing their sense of individuality and nurturing their unique interests and talents is paramount for parents to evade possibilities of identity crisis.

“My twin girls are unique individuals. While both are equally gifted in sports, one is inclined to pursue it and the other is passionate about art,” says Saraswathi.

Saraswathi also notes temperamental differences in her twins, where one is a fighter in spirit, the other gives up easily. One is a people pleaser, while the other is assertive. While some things are a cakewalk for one, the other has to try harder.

“These differences pose bumps and manoeuvring through them to keep a positive environment can feel like a tightrope walk,” says Saraswathi.

Tips to tell your identical twins apart

In her tweet thread, Rodriguez mentions that she tied a blue ribbon to Valentin, one of her twin babies which helped her tell them apart, but not for long. “I never thought I would get them confused — Valentin always (wore) a blue ribbon, but when I realised that it was too small for him, I decided to cut it (off),” The babies were recently sick and when Rodríguez changed one of her son’s onesies, confusion hit. “It was crazy,” her tweet read.

Dr Sameer Sadawarte, HOD & senior consultant, paediatrics and neonatology, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, recommends tips for parents of identical twins to avoid mix-ups.

  • Look for bodily markers like birthmarks, moles.
  • Identify differences in complexion
  • Assign a fixed schedule for tasks like feeding, toilet training and sleep.
  • Syncing schedules of babies like changing diapers, nursing can help reduce mix-ups and confusion.
  • Dressing them differently using distinct colours, accessories, hairstyles
  • Paying attention to distinct personality traits.

Comparison and sibling rivalry

While comparison between fraternal twins is common, it may increase manifold for identical twins which can be a bone of contention.

According to Dr Arun Garg, a pediatrician, and pediatric gastroenterologist from Bengaluru, parents should not force identical twins into the same hobbies and interests. “Setting expectations based on each of their capabilities, will reduce instances of comparison, jealousy and sibling rivalry,” notes Dr Garg.

Saraswathy remembers an instance when her twins were part of a sports tournament where they were competing against each other.

“I was in a dilemma as I didn’t know whom to support. It was inevitable that one would lose. Dealing with contrasting emotions can be tricky while parenting identical twins,” she says. Saraswathy encourages them to pursue their interests’ and goals and avoids comparison. However, their appearance and capabilities are compared by others, which irks them.

Social faux pas

Monozygotic twins are often mistaken for each other causing frustration and irritability. 

“Once, when snacks were being distributed in school, one of them was accused of taking the snacks twice by a teacher. In reality, her twin had taken the snack earlier,” says Saraswathi.

“In imaginative exercises like essay writing, their output seems similar due to their shared experiences. This is often mistaken for copying each other’s work, resulting in feelings of resentment,” points out Saraswathi.

She has worked with her twins’ teachers to sensitise them and avoid instances of mix ups and resultant confusions. She attends their PTMs on different days to focus on one child at a time.

Dr Srinivas says that twins should be encouraged to have separate peer networks outside of their twin bond as it helps them explore and nurture their individual selves. “Monozygotic twins tend to share a special bond which can increase chances of dependency and separation anxiety.”

Takeaways

  • The challenges of parenting identical twins extend beyond not being able to tell them apart. Nurturing individualities and catering to their unique interests can pose challenges.
  • It is important to help them explore their individual selves.

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