When I found out that I was pregnant with identical twins, I’ll admit that I was a little freaked out. Would I be able to tell them apart? Would it be like having the same kid, twice? Would people always be staring at them, as though they’re some kind of circus sideshow? Once I had my beautiful boys though, all of those weird fears just kind of dissipated because here were my babies, my two little sweet peas, who looked alike, but were totally, totally different. From day one, they were their own little people, with their own cries, expressions, and way of looking at me. They even ate differently, slept differently, and cuddled differently. And those differences have just become more pronounced as they’ve gotten older. They are truly individuals, so much so that I often forget that they’re identical.
To others though, I know that twins are fascinating, especially identical twins. I mean, the Olsens built an entire empire around their look-alike status and they’re not even identical! The reality is that identical twins are incredibly rare and unique, accounting for only 1 in every 285 births. Not only are they few and far between but, objectively, a matching set of toddlers is doubly adorbs. So, yes, when I’m out with my 3 year olds, they get a lot of attention. And, understandably, we get a lot of questions as well. There are the basic inquiries about whether they have similar personalities and if I ever get them mixed up, but there’s also some curiosity about the freaky paranormal stuff you always hear or read about twins. Don’t freak out, but yeah, some of that stuff is true!
With that in mind, I decided to break down the real deal about identical twins. Keep in mind, not all twins are alike, so while my kids might not exhibit certain behaviors, another set of identicals might. So, here goes…
Truth #1: They don’t look exactly alike.
Identical twins have the same DNA, but just because they were born with the same blueprint, doesn’t mean they are literally carbon copies. In fact, there’s a whole science called epigenetics, which explores how certain genes can turn on and off, changing our appearance, health, and interests. So, one twin can have allergies while the other does not. One twin can have learning disabilities that the other does not. One of my boys always weighs a couple of pounds more than his brother and has a wider head, giving his face and body a slightly different look. They also have different freckles and birthmarks, as well as different expressions. Yes, I can see these differences because I’m their mother, but if a stranger looked at pictures of each boy, side-by-side, they too would easily be able to tell them apart.
Truth #2: Their personalities aren’t alike.
Like I said, my boys were different right out of the gate. Over the years, as their little identities have developed, their differences are noticeable. No, they’re not opposites, all yin-yang and complementary. There’s not an evil twin and a good twin. We don’t deal in superlatives. They’re just their own people. They’re both sweet, playful, and smart. They’re both strong-willed, defiant, and wild. But one boy will go up and start playing with any kid he sees on the playground, while the other hangs back and approaches more cautiously. One boy will tell you all about his day, while the other makes up stories about the purple trolls with black hair who live in the green mountains and wear shorts. One gets mad when his feelings are hurt, while the other bursts into tears. And while, for the most part, they have similar temperaments and enjoy the same things, they have different strengths and interests. More on that later…
Truth #3: They can have a secret language.
My twins never had a secret language, but apparently about 40 percent do. They call it autonomous language, and it’s not just identical twins who can have it. When two children are acquiring language at the same time, they often wind up modeling each others’ bad habits, creating their own vocabulary, basically by accident.
Truth #4: They can have ESP.
So, yeah, there is some weird psychic connection stuff that goes on between some twins. Some twins. I don’t think mine are communicating telepathically, but when they were babies, one would cry when the other was getting a shot. One night recently, they both woke up screaming and when I ran in there, one of them said, “We had a bad dream.” The next day, when I inquired about the dream, they both told the same elaborate story about Pete from the Mickey Mouse cartoons, climbing out of their pillows. A friend of mine has identical twins who are even more telepathic than that — when apart, they seem to know what the other is doing, or when the other one is nearby. They also apparently “share” dreams.
Truth #5: They don’t have the same strengths and weaknesses.
Sure, you’ve heard stories of the identical twins who excel at doubles tennis, or are both into music (like the Madden brothers…or Nelson). While many twins might get involved in the same activities purely out of convenience, or come by certain skills genetically, it’s not a given. For example, one of my boys has always been really great at puzzles and building, draws really cool pictures, and is a pretty good soccer player. My other son has a crazy good memory, can write his letters like a champ, and has a strong batting swing. The truth is that one is better at some things, and the other is better in other areas. That’s life, not always fair or balanced, even for twins.
Truth #6: Their parents don’t mix them up.
Yes, my husband and I realize that our kids are identical, and sometimes, from the back, it’s hard to tell who is who. When we’re right in front of them though, it’s impossible to get them mixed up. We’re not checking for birthmarks or trying to remember what color they were wearing that morning. We’re not asking who is who, or just collectively thinking of them as a two-in-one unit. They’re our sons, separate people — the same age, but not interchangeable. And to me, they look so entirely different, I can’t believe anyone else ever gets confused.
Truth #7: They’re best friends.
I believe my sons love each other more than they love me. That’s not to say there isn’t your typical sibling rivalry, with fights and competition and smacking of each other. At school, they gravitate towards different things at different times. At the end of the day though, they are so bonded and connected, it’s truly wonderful to witness. They cuddle each other and impulsively hug. They invent games together and crack each other up. They check on the other and, if something cool happens, they have to run and tell their brother. So, yes, my identical twins are besties, at least for now, but I think it will be the case for life.