Care and Feeding

Must I Always Invite Twins Over as a Pair?

Identical twin boys.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Barbara Penoyar/Valueline/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 son has been close friends with two boys who are twins (“Johnny” and “Sam”) since pre-K. The twins couldn’t be more different—Johnny is a sweet boy, and I am happy he is friends with my son. Sam professes that he’s my son’s best friend, but Sam is controlling, says mean things, and generally seems to make my son feel bad. My son asks for playdates with Johnny and hangs out with him at school. He doesn’t ask to play with Sam anymore, but hasn’t explicitly said he doesn’t want to play with him. To date, I always invite and include both brothers. If they weren’t related, the natural path would be to limit playdates and time with Sam. But while Sam seems like a toxic bully for my son, he’s still just a kid and I feel like he would be crushed to be excluded. But what’s the twin protocol for these things?

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—Twin Confusions

Dear Twin Confusions,

I’m an identical twin, so I feel qualified to answer this one. You didn’t mention how old the boys are currently, but I’ve been where Sam is right now. Growing up, my identical twin was definitely the nicer and more popular between us. Heck, the dude won the “Cutest Boy” superlative during our senior year in high school. Did I mention that we’re identical? I didn’t even finish in the top five of the voting! To say that stung is an understatement. But I’m over it now. Yep, completely over it. For sure.

I digress.

Anyway, I clearly had some jealousy issues with my twin growing up, and those issues made me behave in a similar manner to Sam regarding controlling our mutual friends. I ended up tagging along on playdates when it was clear some of my friends preferred my twin to me. Eventually I remember a mom of one of my friends telling my mom that only my brother was invited to an event and not me. Using your words, I felt crushed to be excluded the first time it happened, but I remember it made me realize that maybe I’m the problem. Granted, I was a teenager at the time, so I didn’t experience that epiphany without my mom leading me there. Even though I wasn’t the “perfect friend,” eventually things changed, and I became more self-aware of my actions.

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Depending on how close you are with the twins’ parents, you can have a similar discussion about Sam’s behavior and how you would like for your son and Johnny to play alone for a little while (not permanently). If they react the way my mom did by understanding there is some truth to the concerns about Sam, then they will have a conversation with him and behavioral change should be quick to follow. Of course this all assumes there aren’t any underlying concerns for Sam that could require treatment by a mental health professional.

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If Sam and Johnny’s parents pull the “all or nothing” card when it comes to playdates, then you’ll have a challenge on your hands, but that doesn’t mean you should feel bad about expressing your true feelings. You can continue the playdates, but you should also set clear boundaries with Sam about the behaviors you are unwilling to accept when he’s in your home. Also, you need to teach your son to stand up for himself and set some boundaries regarding how Sam treats him.

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My parents did a lot of things right regarding raising twins, and one of the best things was ensuring we were viewed as individuals and not as a package deal. They never put us in matching clothes, they requested to have us in separate classes in elementary school, and constantly corrected people who referred to us as “the twins.” In doing so, it lessened the blow later on in life when people chose to hang out with my brother instead of me, because we were treated as two unique people with different personalities. Hopefully other parents of twins will get the memo, because it truly makes a difference.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have three kids: 10, 8, and 5. We have been friends for 15+ years with another couple. Their kids are 8, 5, 5, and 2. Last year they moved to be about five minutes away from us, and now all our kids go to the same school. Our friends are great people; kind, caring and the first to bring you a meal if you’ve been sick. The wife and I are good friends and text several times a week. However, their kids are awful.

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Once we went with them to eat dinner at a fast-food joint, and my husband said it was the most stressful thing he’s ever done. Their kids were hiding under the table, running around, stealing the free mints and pocketing them. Just totally out of control. Their oldest threw a toy and struck my middle in the face. He apologized but was not otherwise punished. One of the twins was interrupting the other kids playing video games by repeatedly turning off the TV, then screaming and throwing a fit when caught. Her parents sort of threw their hands up like “Eh well, what can you do?” It’s like they have no control over them.

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We have planned for our two families to spend fall break together and rented an Airbnb cabin in the woods. I’m nervous. She has already commented that she’s worried about her kids sleeping in the cabin, there’s a cool pinball machine, and she’s afraid her kids won’t go to bed and/or will wake up in the middle of the night to play with it. It seems like a non-issue to me, just tell the kids they can’t play in the middle of the night and then if/when they do, implement consequences. This would work for my kids. We’ve already put down the deposit. But I’m having major second thoughts about three days with their kids.

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What happens when her kids get up in the middle of the night to play pinball and my 5-year-old goes with them? And then mine is grounded and theirs gets a slap on the wrist? I feel like it’s confusing to my kids; if we encountered kids behaving like theirs at the local playground, I’d tell my kids to stay away and yet we have booked a 3-night stay with them. I don’t know what to do. My kids are by no means angels. Do we keep hanging out with our friends’ heathens? Or do we cancel the trip? And if so, what do we tell them?

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—Badly Behaving BFFs

Dear Badly Behaving,

I’m wondering what was going through your mind when you put down a deposit on the vacation. Was it along the lines of, “I know my friends’ kids drive me absolutely insane and my husband said that a 45-minute dinner at Burger King with them was ‘the most stressful thing he’s ever done,’ but I still think it’s a good idea to use a boatload of my hard-earned money to spend our entire fall break with them”?

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I’m just kidding, because I know the reason for agreeing to the trip is how close you are with the kids’ parents. That said, I don’t think you should cancel the trip, because that would only succeed in making things awkward for you and your friends. Instead, you can make it a teachable moment for your kids.

You can pull them aside beforehand and set ground rules on their behavior, such as no playing pinball in the middle of the night. In doing so, you should remind your kids that your family has different consequences for bad behavior than your friends’ family, and whatever punishment their kids get (or don’t get) is irrelevant.

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Since you’re close with your friends, I think it would be wise to share your personal ground rules with them. You can say something like, “Just so you know, my kids will be grounded if they wake up in the middle of the night to play pinball. I’m not here to tell you how to raise your children, but I wanted you to be aware of how I plan to handle this with my kids. Hopefully everyone will follow the rules and we can have a good time.”

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Perhaps your friends will think you’re being a stick in the mud for not allowing your kids to let loose, but there’s nothing you can do about that. Your focus needs to be on modeling the behavior you want your kids to exhibit. The best-case scenario is once your friends observe how you interact with your kids during an entire vacation, they will realize that they’ve been allowing their kids to walk all over them. Hopefully they’ll learn to set some stricter boundaries going forward as well.

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

My sister and her husband have two children, a boy, 6, and a girl, 5. They are sweet, if rambunctious, kids who I see a couple times a week. My sister and her husband are not perfect, but they have a strong relationship and are dedicated to their children.

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I don’t know exactly what’s causing this, but my nephew seems to have developed some disconcerting personality traits. Aside from annoying, typical kid things like whining and pouting and picking on his sister, he does things like steals toys, lies, cheats at games, and is physically aggressive. My sister has told me another mom approached her about his behavior with her son. I’ve seen him yell at his friends. He threatens people to try and get his way. If it were my son, I would have had him meet with a counselor over a year ago. My sister and her husband have done nothing that I’m aware of, aside from try to talk with him in the moment when things come up. I know they do yell sometimes, but they are overall a very loving family.

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I’m so worried he will grow up without the ability to cope with his emotions and struggle with relationships. I have no idea how to broach the subject with my sister. Any advice?

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—Worried Sick Sister

Dear Worried Sick,

Stop me if you’ve heard me say this before, but I always believe the direct approach is the best approach—especially when dealing with family members. If you can’t keep it real with them, then who can you keep it real with?

You should be aware that there could be an underlying behavioral issue with their son that could be causing him to act out in certain ways. Instead of commenting about how annoying he may appear to be, you should come from a place of compassion by saying, “I’ve been noticing Jack’s behavior, and it’s concerning to me (feel free to use recent examples). You mentioned how another mom spoke to you about him, so it makes me worried that there could be something going on. Have you considered talking to his pediatrician or a counselor? I’m not trying to be judgmental, I only come from a place of love because I want to help.”

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Hopefully from there your sister will open up to you and share her concerns about her son, which will lead her to taking the requisite actions to help him. However, there’s always the chance that she will be offended or write off his behavior as being “normal” for a kid that age. If you’re up for it, you can respond by reminding her that no less than two people who don’t know each other (you and the other mom you referred to in your letter) are bringing this up, so there probably is something to it. If that still doesn’t work, then you have to let it go and be at peace with the fact that at least you raised some awareness.

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I believe that the overwhelming majority of parents only want what’s best for their kiddos, and I’m sure your sister and brother-in-law fall into that category. That said, parents can often operate with blinders on and aren’t aware of how their kid’s behavior impacts others. Hopefully this conversation will serve as the wake-up call they need.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I have 4-year-old twin girls. Recently, my wife broached the topic of having another baby. While I’m not objectively opposed to three children, there is one thing giving me pause—I feel like the third child will feel left out, being the younger sibling of twins. The girls have such a strong bond. While I’m sure they will love and be wonderful to a younger sibling, I’m afraid they just won’t develop the same closeness. If we start trying right now, the girls will still be 5 by the time the baby is born, which is also a significant enough age gap that they’ll never really be in the same stage growing up, and the younger sibling will always be trailing behind (as in, because of the age difference, their interests will never really align until they are adults). I picture family vacations where the girls have each other as built-in friends, and the younger one will feel left out. I expressed this to my wife, and she thinks I’m overthinking it too much. Am I? Is there a way to ease this fear? If we do have a third, how do I make sure he/she doesn’t feel lonely?

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—Three’s A Crowd

Dear Three’s A Crowd,

Wow, multiple twin questions in one week is almost as rare as twins themselves—but I’m here for it.

In case you missed it, I am an identical twin and I also have an older brother, so I understand why you could feel this way. The overwhelming majority of the twins I know were very tight as kids, and definitely closer with each other than their other siblings. That was the case in my household, too. Granted, since our brother was three years older than us, he already had his established group of friends, so the close bond my twin and I shared wasn’t as heavy of a blow to him.

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However, I think the point to be made is we still love our older brother dearly and even though he wasn’t included in everything we did growing up, he always knew how adored he was by us. Yes, I understand the inverse would be true in your case with a baby being brought into the world with tight-knit twins who would be five years old—but that’s when you have to trust the fact that your baby would also be loved dearly by them.

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I should note that it’s highly unlikely that your twins will develop the same type of closeness with the baby that they have with each other, and that’s OK. Think about it, many people reading this were closer with one of their siblings than others, but in most cases that didn’t mean they didn’t love their other brothers or sisters. It just meant their relationship was different.

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Your baby will find friends, activities, and passions—and in doing so, you can do your part to nudge your twins to do their best to keep the little one involved as much as possible. My parents needed to nudge my twin and I occasionally to keep our older brother in the loop, and that’s perfectly normal. It’s not like our brother fell into a deep depression by being the so-called third wheel as a kid, and all three of us have a great relationship as adults today.

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My take is that your concerns are understandable, but overstated, and shouldn’t prevent you from having a third baby if you want one. Family is family, and if you are raising children in a safe, healthy, loving household, then everything should turn out just fine.

—Doyin

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