My experience with a sibling is as the oldest of two. My brother, however, is six years younger than me. So sibling issues weren’t much of a thing for us. We never overlapped at the same school. When I left for college, he was finishing sixth grade. The most annoyed I remember ever getting at him was when I was a sophomore in college and my friends invited my eighth grade brother to tag along with us to hang out on an occasional evening. My brother has always been cooler than me, even as a middle schooler.
My girls, however, are twins, which is quite different from my childhood experience. They not only have someone that is exactly their age, they have a sister, which is a relationship I never had and quite frankly, as a parent, one that I fear. In my experience with friends who have sisters, it can be a tricky relationship. I watched friends with sisters love their sisters hard and hate their sisters even harder. It was confusing for me, as an outsider. As a teacher, I’ve always been really good navigating boy drama. He hit me, I hit him back, we’re over it. Girl stuff, even for the second graders I taught, was below the surface, petty, and so nuanced. So when we found out we were having twins and girls to boot, I was nervous for a lot of different reasons.
The girls turn three this week, so I’m sure we have plenty of sister drama ahead of us, but watching their relationship develop thus far has been something I’ll treasure forever. I remember quite vividly when my brother came into our lives. But for Zoe and Olivia, life has always been about the two of them. The other night we had to take Olivia for a (false alarm) trip to urgent care around bedtime and Zoe couldn’t begin to fathom a bedtime that did not involve her sister in the bed beside her.
While it was never our plan to have kids this close in age, watching them grow up together, there are certainly some pluses to having a twin, and I think the same benefits are true for kids with an older sibling.
The word “mine” never existed for them. There are so few things in our house that are truly one or the other’s. Since they were a few months old and learning to reach for things, they were learning to share. Everyday, every hour they are practicing the dance that is sharing. They know about waiting their turn and finding something to do while they wait. And not because I’m a phenomenal mom, but because they had no other choice but to learn.
They take care of each other. Yesterday the girls went on an overnight adventure with their grandparents. They stayed in a hotel, went to the aquarium. It was all quite exciting. For one of them, at least. Olivia was psyched, while Zoe, not so much. In the few days leading up to it when we’d talk about it, Zoe would always ask, “Are you coming too, Mommy?” and she was never excited about the answer. So yesterday morning, when they were getting ready to go, I crouched down and looked at her little worried face and told her that if she missed us, she could call us anytime, but that she wouldn’t be alone, she’d have Olivia. At this, her face brightened, and she yelled to her sister in the next room, “O! If I’m sad, we can sit on the couch and you’ll snuggle me, okay?” To which her sister responded by running excitedly into the room and saying, “Of course, Zoe! I’ll take care of you.” We didn’t get any phone calls last night. A sister’s love was all she needed.
They feel proud of and excited for each other. Since before they could talk, they would clap for each other. And now when one does something great, or even just average, we frequently hear her sister congratulating her on what a great job she did.
They can entertain each other. This is the biggie. When the stars align -- they’re not hungry or tired -- they can go for over an hour playing with each other. Especially now that they’re heading into the dramatic play of 3-year-olds, all the work we’ve done around sharing and taking turns and social negotiation, they can run off into the room next door and entertain themselves for nice long stretches. Of course, there are plenty of times this peaceful play quickly escalates into hair pulling and screaming. But even that is pretty easy to talk down when we isolate the problem and they come to understand that pulling her sister’s hair didn’t in fact yield the result she was seeking.
So perhaps you’re considering whether you should have a second soon after the first or whether it’s better to wait. As someone with a much younger brother, I always thought I’d wait. But the universe made other plans for me and it’s working out alright. Seeing the way the girls already love each other with intensity and having felt as long as I can remember that same deep love for my brother, I’m coming to believe that it’s not necessarily how close in age you are that matters, it's being intentional as parents about teaching siblings to get along. After all, our siblings are our first experiment with social interaction, and learning how to treat them nicely only makes interacting with the rest of the world that much easier.
Ana Zamost is a full-time mom, part-time elementary teacher/supervisor who lives in San Francisco. She and her husband have twin girls who turn three this spring. She enjoys spending time with her family, spending time away from her family, reading, dancing, and sewing.