November 11, 2015

Please Be Mindful of What You Say To My Kids

I get a lot of questions and comments as a twin mom. I'm used to it and usually it doesn't bother me. But lately we're getting this one question that I had been humoring but is really starting to get to me:

"Which one is the troublemaker (or boldie, handful, evil twin, easy one, enter some other insulting but "cute" descriptive term)?"


"Double Trouble! You've got your hands full, Mom!"

Just last week at the grocery store a woman looked at my girls for all of 3 seconds and stated very matter-of-factly, "Oooh, I can tell you're the troublemaker," to Jules. I asked her why she thought that and she said, "She's got that smile, the other one just looks more cautious."

She was right, Jules was smiling and Viv was furrowing her brow at her like she tends to do. It seemed innocent but this exchange really made me stop and think about what happens when people make assumptions about kids, often based solely on the looks on their faces.

At the very least I wonder since when did a smile equate troublemaking behavior? Just because she's a little more outgoing? Isn't that a desirable trait? But I'm really trying to figure out why it's ok to say that to her face? Even if that smile does mean she's a little more brazen, does it warrant being called a troublemaker? That's not the association I want my daughter having with smiling, would you?

Are we not at the point yet where we realize our words have meaning, even for the youngest of people? People still don't understand that what we say impacts how they feel, about themselves and the world around them? And, more importantly, would she have said anything at all if her sister wasn't sitting behind her, not smiling?

I've noticed that we don't tend to do this with typical siblings - make guesses about what type of people they are, at least not in comparison to their sister. But it seems like as soon as you mention the word twins everything becomes black or white. We try to find their differences and define them, to figure out who they really are. Just because they were born at the same time.

Just being a twin does not mean one is inherently good or bad. Yes, they came from one egg that split but not in such a literal sense that they each inherited only one kind of particular personality traits. That's just crazy. And yet, when you ask my toddlers "Which one likes to give Mommy the hard time?" you are insinuating that one of them was born to be bad.

We need to remember, not just for twins but for all children: who they are at any given moment does not define them and certainly doesn't give us any logical reason to label one as "trouble" or as "the good one".

The last thing I need is one of my kids thinking she has an excuse to be a rebel just because she was born that way - while her sister got all the "good" parts.

Trust me, neither one gives me an easy time all the time. I'm fairly certain that's normal, yes?

Also, for the love of all things, please do not call them double trouble. Yes, there are two of them. Yes, kids can be hard at times - ALL kids are hard. But they are not double trouble. I can't figure out why people say it - so many do - but I think they just think it's cute. It's not. At least not to me.

Would you ever stroll past a family with just one child and randomly proclaim, "She looks like trouble!"? No, right? So, why is it different for my kids? Oh right, because they happened to be born together.

Exhibit A
Exhibit B: Each exercising their right to be 1 year old. Not double trouble. Just 1 year old sisters.

I remember people categorizing me as a child and it drove me nuts. Even though a lot of the time people were making accurate assessments it stung to hear that the adults I cared about thought I was a worry-wort, dramatic, a smart-ass or a know-it-all. I didn't choose to be these things, it was partly my temperament and partly just me trying to figure out how the world worked.

Instead of bucking those descriptions I chose to embrace them - it's what everyone thought I was anyway, so why not? I made it a point to be as obnoxious and theatrical as I could, to garner attention with my outbursts and seemingly uncontrollable emotions. By the time I was 18 I had made up my own mental illness and was on my way to getting myself committed when I realized I didn't want to play this game anymore. I made a choice to break the trend and change the way people thought of me. I reinvented myself in college, lost a lot of my old friends as a result and ultimately became a happier and healthier person. But I really wish I didn't have to go through all that to get there.

Would it have been different if I never tried to fit in the boxes people put me in?

At 15 months old I have no idea who my children are and even if I did I certainly wouldn't want to slap a label on for them to carry through their lives.

Yes, it can be fun to draw comparisons and psychoanalyze them, especially because they are identical twins (trust me my inner psych major is always itching to experiment with them). But the fact is that aside from our most basic personality traits, those that make up our temperament (think: would you rather be alone or in a crowd, do you prefer reading or running, are you anxious or easy-going?) we are meant to be fluid - changing and adapting as we grow. At the very least none of us are still the same type of person we were at 15 months old.

We need to realize that what we say matters. What seems innocent can cause harm. Those labels can and do stick and they can hinder growth, especially when there is a negative connotation attached. Like the word trouble. That's not something I want for my girls. My fear is that at some point they will internalize the idea that one is good and one is bad, or worse that they are both bad just because there's two of them. And who knows what will happen next.

So, please, when you see a set of twins out and about, don't ask which one is the troublemaker. Don't ask which one is the favorite. Don't assume to know anything about who they are based on the few seconds you've watched them or the looks on their faces. You wouldn't compare and label a set of adult siblings you just met so why treat my toddlers any differently?  Imagine how you'd feel if someone labeled you as "the bad one" just because you were having a moment. Or if you were the "good one" because your sister was scowling. It's not fair and it's not ok.

Instead, say something like, "Are you having fun shopping with your Mom?" "I like your pink shirt." or "I see you have a sister, I bet you have a lot of fun together!"

Again, I know it's hard - they're identical twins and that changes the way people think of them. I can't change that (but I'm going to try). Regardless of what you see in those few minutes you talk with us, it means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Your words, on the other hand, do mean something, so please choose them wisely.