In the placid waters of Horseshoe Lake, 10-year-old Eric struggles to stand for the first time on water skis. His identical twin Eddie sits in the boat, eager to take his turn, but Eric brushes him off. Just before heading back to the dock, he finally takes a triumphant spin on the water. Yet the crushed look on his brother’s face dampens his joy. Now 57, Eric Painter recalls his remorse from that event like it was yesterday. “We were so close. That’s why I felt bad about cheating him of an experience.” He vowed to never let that happen again.
As twins, my husband Eric and his brother Eddie have shared a rich history together: First friend and confidant, easy playmates, and later, best man at each other’s weddings. Their connection taught them how to be empathetic toward others. Twins have varying degrees of closeness, but one thing is certain: This sibling tie shapes a child’s identity through life. What is it like to raise twins? We asked three families to share a few thoughts.
Dax and Cash
As 6-year-old fraternal twins Dax and Cash Evans play video games together. They love competing, vying for the highest score as they chat and grin. “They are each other’s biggest distraction,” admits their mother Rachel.
“My biggest joy is that they will always have each other,” says the 32-year-old, a hairstylist at Sachë, a T-shirt and graphic design business and salon co-owned with her husband Eric. “They are never lonely. They play together, bathe together, and spend nights out together. They are totally connected.”
With their dark brown eyes and side-swept bangs, the boys could pass for identical twins. But as fraternal twins, created when two different sperm fertilize two different eggs, they share 50 percent of their DNA, the same as any siblings. Such twins often look and act nothing alike.
Dax and Cash share a room, often sleeping in the same bunk bed. But they have different temperaments — Dax is a rule-follower and peacemaker while Cash prefers to lead. And the two never dress alike. Early on, Rachel set out to help them build their own identities.
She started by placing the twins in separate preschool classrooms. At first, the boys missed eating lunch together, but now each has his own group of friends and a ‘best friend’ at school. After school, the kindergartners reunite for soccer practice, playing on the same competitive team.
Often, twins learn to cooperate ahead of their singleton peers. The Evans seldom buy two of the same toy, figuring their boys must learn how to share. Now they easily do so with each other and friends. And if Dax asks for a lollipop at the store, he’ll say, “Cash would like one, too.”
The annual birthday party tests negotiation skills. “I give them a few choices for the theme and tell them to choose one. If one feels stronger emotionally about a theme, the other will usually agree to it.”
Rachel says her sons share a rich bond, but still see the world with different eyes, “One of our boys may be a neurologist and one may become an amazing artist. The sky’s the limit.”
Lucy and Josie
Lucy and Josie
Chris Davis, a staff writer and critic for the Memphis Flyer, is raising fraternal twin daughters with his wife, Charlotte. Their 13-year-old girls share interests in music and songwriting and play together in their own band, with Lucy on bass and Josie strumming guitar. The duo writes about growing up, backing it up with spirited punk or garage-rock sounds. Josie usually writes lyrics, while Lucy contributes riff ideas. “I’ve never seen adults work and plan together as well as they do,” says Davis. “They are as different as night and day, yet complementary.” Rehearsing the song “Awkward,” Josie sings:
“I’m with my friends and he’s with his, too
Which makes everything awkward because we’re in middle school”
Lucy rejoins, “Separating us are walls.
He’s across those halls.”
For a time, the couple worried about Lucy finding her figurative ‘voice.’ “Josie is outgoing while Lucy is more introspective,” says Davis. “She emerged as a force of nature and was so dominant over whatever was around her, we didn’t want Lucy to disappear.”
The couple encouraged the girls to pursue separate activities, but the twins missed spending time together. Now the eighth-graders attend Snowden School where they share the same classroom and circle of friends. Their natural bond grew stronger with the esprit de corps in their home. Without extended family locally, “We are our own island and do lots of things together.”
There are occasional disagreements, but the relationship helps the girls navigate the ups and downs of adolescence. “As I watched them play together, I realized that they were working on skills. So much play is just a rehearsal for life.”
Violet, Merrick, and Gus
Violet and Gus
As a kid, Shannon Arthur had an inside view of twin dynamics. She grew up with fraternal twins, a sister and brother who today are not close as adults. Arthur and her husband Adam are now raising their own 4-year-old fraternal twins, Violet and Gus. While she doesn’t romanticize twin relationships, Shannon hopes her twins’ bond remains strong into adulthood.
She worried that her older son would have difficulty making room in his world for fraternal siblings. To her surprise, Merrick, now 6, has socialized easily with the twins.
“The three are buddies and play together very well. It’s turned out to be a wonderful thing,” says Arthur.
In fact, Merrick and Violet were most similar in their interests for a time.
“As they have gotten older, we have seen more combinations. Merrick and my twin Gus now enjoy doing the ‘boy thing’ together,” says Arthur, a freelance web designer. “We give them space to find their interests and support them.”
Fraternal twins of different genders typically find it easier to individuate and branch out socially. “Sometimes I forget that they are twins,” says Arthur. But when it comes to tattling, Violet and Gus join their twin peers in a common behavior.
Arthur says their policy is simple, “If you’re not hurting someone or something or breaking an important rule, you don’t need to tell us about it.”
If the kids complain, Shannon and her husband remind them of the tattling policy, then let them practice working out conflicts themselves.