Traditionally, winter holidays are set aside for the family to enjoy being together. Like all families, families with twins eagerly await sharing a great meal, presents, and stories told of a year very positive yet also filled with some unfortunate events. In my experience, twin families have more expectations than non-twin families for finally getting along with each other, because twins, in their quest to be right, hold on to anger and resentment that surfaced recently or 20 years ago.
Mom usually says, directly or indirectly, to her twins, “Are you getting along?” The implication of this loaded question is that you should be getting along. Parents are also implying: “You need to get along, as it makes us unhappy and ashamed when you are bickering. You are too old to not respect one another. What will family and friends say if I report that you ignored each other the whole time you were visiting?”
There is pressure in every part of the planning for the holiday parties.
Twins Are Often Wary of Social Situations When They Are Expected to Get Along
Twins dread being put in awkward situations where they must perform in a “dog and pony show” to entertain others with the closeness of their twin bond and their alikeness. Answering questions of comparison are inevitable and totally annoying, critical, and humiliating. “Is your sister making more money than you this year? Why are you so much fatter than your brother? Who has the best spouse, house, and children?”
I could go on and on. I think you get my point that holidays for twins and their families are loaded with unfortunate and hard-to-get-around obstacles related to comparisons.
On the other hand, guests probably enjoy their twin measurement inquiries, as twin alikeness is fascinating. Twins find holidays very stressful. However, twins do holidays out of obligation to their parents, children, and relatives. I know how much I dislike holiday gatherings. I have spoken with countless twins who would prefer to avoid holiday time. To be fair, some twins like the attention of family and friends, and for them, I am happy.
Twins know that being a twin is challenging, very different from the idealization of a perfect relationship which is advertised and promoted in the media and elsewhere. Without a doubt, I know that twins fight over huge issues like, “Who will have the guests at their house?” And minor problems like, “What bakery should we go to to buy a pie?” And of course, “Should ice cream be served?”
Outsiders just don’t understand the fighting that naturally goes on between twins, and that is very difficult to stop.
Being sensible or logical never works when twins have set up expectations for perfection or disaster. One twin, Jane, says to her twin sister, “This will be the best Christmas we have ever had. Mom and Grandma will get along and agree on how to set the table and where to seat the guests.”
Of course, mom and grandma getting along will not happen. Grandma will want her favorite child to sit next to her and demand that she gets her way.
Jane’s twin sister, Genna, sees the future clearly. She remembers how ignored she felt last year, and how embarrassing dinner was because her twin refused to eat more than 10 peas. Genna decides to skip the party altogether. Taking her children to an amusement park is her solution. Some guests are shocked when Genna does not show up. The party goes on as planned, though it is difficult for everyone to find out that they are not the favored child. It’s like being placed at the children’s table.
What Will Help Make Holiday Events Calm and Reassuring?
Can I recall a good holiday story? Not really, but I have some ideas that will limit disaster.
- Keep your expectations in check. By this I mean do not idealize or awfulize the celebration. Not everyone will get along. Some children will be rowdy and demanding. Others may play quietly on a board game. Some guests will arrive on time and respectfully take their place at the table while others will complain and attempt to change place cards. Some guests will enjoy the food while others are quick to complain.
- Amazingly, twin fighting will start at the slightest hint of an insult and live on through the night. It is hard to stop fighting once it starts. Probably it is better to stay well out of the fight.
- Ask guests to be positive and to avoid being critical or bragging.
- Appreciate what actually worked out and remember to use the positives in next year’s planning.
- Talk with your twin about potential problems of competition and comparison, and agree to avoid these triggers.
- Family holidays are not therapy sessions. Avoid issues that require a professional problem solver. Your sister-in-law is not a trained therapist. Relatives have their own biases.
Conclusion: Get Through the Celebration
Planning and organization are so important. Having rules for compliant and non-compliant twins is very necessary. For example, ask your mom and grandma to help guests keep the place cards in their right places as planned. Make sure that food preparation and presents are all ready to go, as letting any confusion cause problems is a surefire way to undermine yourself and the potential for harmony.
Have special games and food ready for the children. Have a special mantra for yourself such as, “I am proud of the time I spent getting the family together.”
Most importantly, do not grade yourself on how well everyone got along. Get through the celebration. You can learn to get along.