Care and Feeding

We Raised Our Adopted Daughters as “Twins”

One got an internship in modeling, but the other was rejected. How should we deal with the resulting envy?

Two unhappy teenage girls sitting on opposite sides of a couch, refusing to look at each other.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by IndiaPicture via Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I adopted two baby girls from India, and we raised them as twins, despite each of them having a separate biological family. So while they’re sisters, they look very different. In the summer after their junior year of high school, both girls wanted to get internships. “Priya” interned at my husband’s nonprofit, and “Marie” interned for the daughter of one of my clients, who runs a modeling agency.

It seems that Priya feels jealous and possibly jilted that her sister was given this opportunity. She went on an interview of her own and was told she didn’t have the “right” look. This crushed her, especially considering that, as twins, they are used to doing things as a team.

Priya asked Marie to stop modeling if they couldn’t do it together. Some very harsh and bitter words were exchanged. My husband and I didn’t get involved because, at 17, these things usually get sorted out by themselves. But it’s been two weeks of chilly silence and comments about “airhead models,” and I’m sick of it. My husband thinks that this is taking a toll on Priya’s self-esteem and that we should make Marie quit modeling. But she genuinely enjoys her job, and it doesn’t make sense for her to work at a froyo parlor when this pays better, makes her more confident, and is a possible career path. They hardly ever fight, so I’m a little out of my comfort zone. Can you help resolve this?

—A Model’s Mom, Not a Model Mom

Dear AMM,

Your letter implies there may be something else that you and your family will have to confront that is much more complicated than the current rift between your daughters.

When you say you raised them “as twins,” surely you mean that you wanted two babies and chose to adopt two who were the same age, but that they are clear that they are sisters by love and not by blood … right? Like, it isn’t the case that you told these children—or anyone else—that they were actually twins in the literal sense, is it? I’m being silly, right? Of course. Because that would be B-A-N-A-N-A-S, to tell your kids that they have a particular bond that is specific to people who shared a womb and all that comes with that (such as, you know, having the same biological parents). No. You didn’t do that. You wouldn’t do that. Right???

Let’s assume I misread and that your twins know that they are “twins” with an asterisk and not actually living a lie. Is this the first time that a difference between the girls’ appearance has been an issue? Of course, as they are not twins, it is to be expected that they don’t look just alike—which is, of course, why it would be absolutely wild to tell them that they are actually twins, but you definitely did not pull that sort of stunt, of course you didn’t—but how do the variances in how they look factor in their experiences, both shared and independent of one another?

Is Marie typically acknowledged as more “beautiful” than her sister? Are there contrasts in their complexions, or hair textures, or body types, that may lead to her being treated as the better looking of the two? Is she more confident or outgoing, warmer or more charming? How have you acknowledged the differences between them while affirming them as equally [insert all of the good things we want our children to believe about themselves]?

If this is a long-standing issue that has gone ignored, it’s important that you understand it as a precursor to what happened when a (seemingly inept and certainly insensitive) employee of this agency told a 17-year-old girl that unlike her “twin,” she doesn’t have “the look” for modeling without regard to how painful that could be.

It’s possible that Marie has long recognized that she isn’t considered to be as pretty or striking or, to use a very gross word that is often used to describe girls and women of color, as “exotic” as her sister. If so, you and your husband need to do some major work to help both your kids understand that the complicated beauty standard in our country should not be used as the arbiter of their worth as young women, nor to determine their relationship to their own physical features. Light-skinned girls are not prettier than darker ones, for example, and the fact that they are treated as such is inherently wrong. We can’t assume our kids will just figure this out on their own and make peace with wherever they land accordingly; we have to make it plain and break these norms.

You shouldn’t take modeling from Marie because Priya hasn’t had luck with it yet; however, you must speak to Marie, without her sister present, about just why this is more than a classic “If my sister gets X, I want it too” situation and what her “twin” may be experiencing right now. It’s important, especially if there is a vast difference in how “pretty” the girls are thought to be by most folks, that she develops a level of empathy for both her sister and others who may never be told they belong in front of a camera.

As far as Priya goes, figure out if modeling is something she truly may have been passionate about, or if she’s simply reacting to the snub and/or how it may be reflective of some of her other experiences with regard to how she and her sister look. If it’s the former, then there are other modeling agencies in the world (and many, many working models who do not have “classically beautiful” features or the sort of “unique” looks that are most readily associated with the industry), and you can support her as she pursues this—explaining, of course, that this is a difficult business where rejection is more common than affirmation and that even some of the most famed models in the world heard comments like the one from Marie’s agency over the course of their careers.

If, as I suspect, this had less to do with a desire to pose than it does with not getting something her sister got, you should also speak to her about finding the thing that brings her the same fulfillment that modeling provides Marie and help her figure out just what that is.

Also, the girls are at an age where they are establishing their senses of personal style and grooming habits. You shouldn’t say, “Well, Priya, maybe if you tamed those bushy eyebrows, folks would see you’re just as pretty as your ‘twin,’ ” but if her looks have been a source of insecurity, you can help her to start habits that help her to feel as confident in her own body as possible: introducing her to a good skin care regimen, taking her shopping at a mall on the other side of town that has the unique pieces that she tends to gravitate toward but can’t find at your usual haunts, allowing her to get the bob haircut that she’d been asking about, etc. We can tell our kids they’re beautiful until we are blue in the face, but they have to feel it inside.

Wishing you every bit of luck! Also … your daughters definitely do not think they are twins, right? The idea that a certainly white and likely American family saw fit to raise two Indian girls as twins without telling them that they weren’t actually twins is one that will haunt me at night; please email us back to let me know I’m out of my gourd for even thinking that could be a thing.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am writing in to get some perspective—I’ll even take a forceful “mind your own business.”

A number of my longtime friends are now having their third and fourth children. These women are fantastic mothers and wonderful friends, but I cannot overcome my anger at them for having so many kids in this climate. They get frustrated at a society that doesn’t take recycling or plastic reduction or composting seriously … and yet here they are, bringing more children into this world!

It’s none of my business, I know. I’m a mother myself. I recognize that the act of having children is an inherently hopeful one. But I also believe that in this day and age—where half my country has just been on fire—it is also a selfish one. I would never say anything to my friends, but how does one reconcile these feelings? If intelligent, thoughtful people are continuing to have multiple children despite knowing the repercussions, what hope is there then at all? For any of our kids?

—Judgmental Earth Mother

Dear JEM,

Here is what you ordered:

Mind your business.

Here is what you need: to recognize that while, yes, our planet is fucking fucked and that having large families can take a toll on rapidly challenged resources, parents with more than two kids are neither primarily responsible for the condition of the world nor are we equipped to fix things by simply having fewer kids.

Speaking of, while I am not sure which burning country you are from (the figuratively smoldering United States or the literally on-fire Australia), there has been a decline in the global birth rate, and fewer families than ever seem to be capable of filling up a minivan. It seems awfully unproductive and a bit cruel to take your anxiety about climate change and our poor environmental stewardship out on women who’ve chosen to have bigger families than your own.

Your friend with four kids isn’t a billionaire corporation dumping waste into an urban water supply; shaming her for her choice isn’t going to save anyone or anything, except for the cost of inviting you and your one kid to any future events with her brood.

You should find a more appropriate way to channel these feelings, such as volunteering with an organization that does earth-preserving work and, perhaps, speaking to a therapist about what sounds like anxiety that deserves to be tended to before it causes you any more undue emotional turmoil and/or finds you coming out your mouth to tell another person that she birthed too many children. Climate change is scary as hell on its own; let’s not become ghouls in our neighbors’ lives as we try to navigate it.

• If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 10-year-old son is generally cheerful and has good manners. He’s lucky to have lots of adults in his life (us, both sets of grandparents, adult friends) who love him and like to take him to do fun things, like go to the theater or the climbing gym or a children’s museum. The problem is that he pretty much never, ever remembers to thank them for taking him somewhere. He’s better about physical presents, but basically has a zero percent success rate on outings. When reminded, he says thank you immediately, and if we tell him right before he gets picked up, then he often pulls it off, but I feel like by this age he should be able to understand that it’s hurtful not to express gratitude when people do nice things for you. What can I do to help him get this through his head?

—Mad About Manners

Dear MAM,

Many of us parents instruct our children to perform certain courtesies without explaining just why they matter. It’s not enough to simply emphasize that it’s important to say “thank you”; you have to help your son to understand just what gratitude is, why he should be grateful for the bounty he enjoys, and the importance of expressing it verbally. He has to know what appreciation feels like on the inside to show it.

Talk about the fact that not all kids have a safe place to rest their heads at night or enough food to keep them satisfied throughout the day, not merely as a reason to finish his peas or say “thanks,” but to truly recognize himself as fortunate for having all of what he needs and much of what he wants. Speak about the function of work in an adult’s life—how we perform labor in order to earn the money that is used to take the children we love places or buy them things, and that this labor is not always enjoyable or ideal, but that we are often willing to sacrifice and toil in order to give, and that he should be appropriately grateful as a result.

“Gratitude attitude” is a complete sentence in my home, a reminder that my daughter should not feel entitled to presents or trips or anything that is outside of providing for her needs and that she has failed to be appreciative of what is before her. Once you’ve begun to really unpack the concept, a phrase like that can pack a little more power than “you forgot to say ‘thank you.’ ” Best wishes to you all!

P.S. Kids his age also forget to flush the toilet; it will be a long time before he acts on the majority of the wisdom you have given him. Be gentle with him and yourself!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a single mum to a 3.5-month-old baby. I work a second job three or four nights per week, leaving my son at home with a nanny around 6 o’clock and arriving back between 10 and 11. I love my side gig, and it has kept me sane throughout my pregnancy and first months with the baby. I have a solid career, so this isn’t just about bringing in extra money. It’s hard to imagine my life without this brief window of time where I get to have adult interactions and feel like more than a blob covered in milk and drool, but I’m worried that I might be traumatizing my baby.

How important are bedtime routines? Am I scarring my child by leaving him with nannies in the evening?

When he’s with me, my son is normally very happy and calm, albeit a bit fussier in the evenings. But when I leave him with the nanny or his grandparents, he’s OK for no more than an hour before he starts wailing for me, crying for up to half an hour, and then falling asleep of exhaustion. I believe that he is getting good care and that he likes the people who watch him in my absence; they feed him, sing to him, carry him around—all the things that I do. These caretakers think that he really misses me and feels abandoned, which seems consistent with his behavior.

I don’t know what to do. Will my son be scarred for life from spending these hours away from me? Should I let go of my beloved side gig to spend even more time with him? Or should I hold strong and wait that he adapts to it? He will start nursery school three days a week very soon, and I worry that it may be too much time overall without me. I feel that I don’t know enough about infancy development to judge the impact of this. Help?

—Working on Working

Dear WoW,

Not sure where you live, but in my country, the majority of mothers work, and children spend the bulk of their time in the care of other adults. Are there millions of happy, healthy, well-adjusted people who have been raised this way? Yes. Would many of them have benefited from having more/better quality time with their mothers or other parental figures? Goes without saying.

New motherhood is hard. Single motherhood is hard. Parenting an infant alone, even with routine breaks, is one of the most difficult tasks on the face of the earth. I salute you for even having the presence of mind to establish a ritual that is almost entirely about you, as much of the social messaging we’ve received has told us that 1) we are obligated to prioritize our families, and perhaps our careers, over ourselves and never the opposite; and 2) that failing to do so is selfish, immoral, and/or a reflection of the inherent brokenness of a single-parent home.

Alas, though we moms—single mothers, at an even higher capacity—are tasked with creating lives for our children that are curated with their best interests in mind, we did not abdicate our responsibility to also do the same for ourselves at the moment in which we became parents. Furthermore, if we don’t invest time and effort in meeting the individual needs we have that do not center our kids, I firmly believe that we hinder our ability to best meet the ones that are about them. Or, in simpler terms, Mama gotta have a life too … or else.

Your part-time job sounds like it was literally dropped in your life from the heavens: You get quality time away from your child that allows you to tap into that part of yourself that is often shortchanged by the work of motherhood, and while earning money? Where are they handing those out? I think a whole lot of our comrades in this struggle would like to find one.

Keep your peace and keep your job. Your son sounds like he’s fine. You deserve a life outside of the one you have with him, and by establishing that now, it will become the only norm he knows (as opposed to you surprising him—and potentially upsetting him—by waiting until later in his childhood to carve out meaningful time away).


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