One of the challenges, and delights, of having twins is the way in which they are so different from each other. As a twin parent, you take care not to compare your children, and encourage and praise their individual gifts and abilities. One twin will always notice if the other has developed a skill before themselves, whether it's riding a bike or reading a book. As parents, you are quick to point out that they each have their aptitudes in different spheres. Any feelings of competitiveness or discouragement can be dealt with by reminding them of the beauty in their differences, and making sure you hand out praise fairly. But the picture becomes much more complicated in the school setting, where certain abilities and skills are more readily recognized than others, and one twin may find themselves doing less “well” than the other. This is how I deal with the situation when one twin gets better grades than the other.
The big issue is that my son's talents and aptitudes are far more in line with what schools measure. He is methodical, a fast and very confident reader and rational to a fault. He has an incredible memory for facts, and can be very organized when he puts his mind to it. He will remember how to spell words that he has read. He will willingly take a stab at reading a difficult text. He will set out his math work in a methodical way on the page, and recall every detail of any book he has read. These are all skills that teachers can measure and track pretty easily.
My daughter has talents that are far less easily measured and therefore it is harder for her to achieve the same sort of recognition at school. She is very creative and an out-of-the-box thinker, extremely imaginative and able to come up with thoughts or ideas unlike anyone else's. She has an emotional intelligence beyond, not just her years, but beyond most adults. She can put herself in someone else's shoes and understand their feelings, which also makes her extremely kind and compassionate. She is insightful and can read between the lines whether in real-life conversation or in a story, instinctively noticing morals or symbolism. However, she struggles with putting all these talents in a form that is measurable in an elementary school setting.
Anyone's talents can manifest themselves both positively and negatively depending on the context and how you look at them. My son is methodical and rational, but it can hold him back from trying new things and taking himself out of his comfort zone. He can, on occasion, be reluctant to veer off from the set ideas he has in his head about how he wants to play a game. His attention to detail can drive us all a little crazy when he talks at length on the minutiae of a superhero show he has watched. My daughter's dreaminess means she has wonderful imagination and can reflect deeply on questions she asks herself. But it does also mean she gets distracted from the task she is supposed to be completing, or will forget she was supposed to hold her glass of water upright. Her creativity brings us wonderful crafts and unexpected delights but she will struggle to follow a set of instructions. Her fluidity of thought means that she has difficulty working methodically down a list of items, or even sometimes across a page of words.
At school, it's easy to just pick out the fact she hasn't completed a task, or that her work is not neat or easy to read on the page. It takes a very talented and perceptive teacher to notice and encourage my daughter's abilities. Luckily, this year she has just that. Last year she did not and her teacher knocked her confidence immeasurably accusing her of being lazy when she is just the opposite. In fact, she is actually the more competitive, ambitious and hard-working of the two. If there is a goal to aim for at school, she will put in all her effort to try and achieve it. My son will sometimes get there before her with half the effort she has put in and it won't mean as much to him. This is very hard to deal with, as we see her being crestfallen that her effort has not paid off. We remind her of her many talents, but it's hard when the achievement she craves is eluding her.
At home, we perform a balancing act of making sure she keeps her confidence in the face of her brother's “achieving” more at school, while obviously making sure he knows we are proud of his own achievements. It can be easy to fall into the trap of playing down his successes in order to not make her feel bad, but that isn't fair on him. The fact that they have different interests does help us out here. My daughter plays the piano whereas my son doesn't. She is also good at gymnastics whereas my son won't do a forward roll. But what she really wants is success in the school setting, concrete grades and scores. She does succeed, but, as she is very ambitious (despite her airiness!), she wants to be the best. Again, this is a balancing act for us to encourage hard work and determination, but reminding her to compete with herself and not others. Luckily, she is so kind-hearted she doesn't disparage or in any way become difficult with those who do better.
In the end, the talents they both have will serve them extremely well. I am sure my daughter will flourish. Her talents are actually ones that are recognized much later in school when the less tangible skills start to be valued. And, of course, these talents are valuable in life beyond school – insight, compassion and creativity are invaluable in all stages of life. As twin parents, though, it is very hard when one twin receives better grades than the other. You see the outside world not taking the care you do to always be fair with your children. This in itself is a lesson that they have to learn and adapt to; there will always be ways in which one will be ahead of the other in whatever sphere they are looking at. They have to learn to take a broader view, and not always compare themselves to each other or to other people. I just hope that if we continue to rejoice in their differences and individual successes, they will internalize this and rejoice in it themselves as they grow up.
Isabelle Lee is a British mom to 9-year-old boy/girl twins. She lived in California with her husband and twins for four years and moved back to the UK in 2016, settling in the North of England. When she isn’t being a chauffeur/carer/cook/cleaner she writes for Twiniversity, Tamba (the UK’s multiple birth charity), Huffington Post, and on her blog perplexedparent.com. You can follow and on Twitter or on Facebook
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