Why Family Holidays Are Hard for Twins

Rules for decorum and strategies to enjoy yourself.

Posted Dec 01, 2019

Barbara Klein
Our girls.
Source: Barbara Klein

Family holidays are hard for everyone because of the extra work involved from planning to cooking, cleaning, and travel. Expectations for harmony and good feelings about family members is complicated and understated, but always a criterion for a good dinner or event. In my own experience, wanting to get along at this time of the year with family and extended family can often be an impossible goal.

Families with twins have even more problems just enjoying themselves. Favoritism can be played out in very difficult and hurtful ways. Who is the twin who will host the party? Who won’t come because of anger at parents and their twin? I hear or am bombarded with the same twin concerns over and over again: “My children can’t get along with your children because you are a bad mother or father. My husband or wife cannot bear to be with you again. We will not be joining you. Why can’t you and your sister get along? Why does my twin treat me as if I am invisible?”

I could go on about these endless and seriously intense conflicts that are unfortunately very common in twin extended families. Unhappiness is always a side effect. Resentment and anger between twins from earlier life experiences come alive again as if they happened yesterday, not 20 years ago. Adult coping strategies can be thrown out of the window and be replaced by 5-year-old behavior. Parents can be demanding that twins get along and help one another, which creates more pressure. Grandparents often say, “You are old enough to get along.” Or, “Just get along for us.”

In my own childhood experiences, the holiday season was always unhappy. No matter how much we tried to arrange the festivities there was always fighting and chaos. The food was awful. Mother was hysterical. Father was angry. And Marjorie refused to eat. Everyone left unhappy. After many years of anger and disappointment, I am relieved to spend my holiday with my own children and my married family. I am no longer sad that we couldn’t work out our differences. The ugly behavior that was manifested was unbearable and intolerable. And I am sure that I am not alone in my actions and reactions of trying to get along with my sister at a family party. Being center stage as a twin is harder as you get older, not easier. As an adult, you know what others are thinking and saying about you and that they can never understand your pain. You feel lonely and misunderstood. If improving the relationship you have with your twin doesn't help, then why do it? 

Here are some approaches to consider if you have not reached the end of your rope like I have.

Rules of Decorum

  1. Talk to your twin about problems that could arise before a family event.
  2. Send an email confirming that you have spoken and agreed to certain rules. For example, talking about the past or trying to prove your point is not acceptable.
  3. Do not bring up questions that provoke comparison and competition and uncomfortable feelings, such as, “Why did Genevieve's daughter drop out of school?" or, “Have you noticed how much weight your sister has gained?” or, "Where are you going on vacation? We are off to the Hawaiian Islands.”

Strategies for Getting Along

  1. Follow the rules of decorum.
  2. Bring something to share that you are grateful for.
  3. Bring a hostess gift.
  4. Memorize positive thoughts to share.
  5. Family parties are not therapy sessions.
  6. Be positive and affirm other guests’ feelings.