How Twins Can Make Family Holidays Fun and Peaceful
Strategies to develop realistic expectations
Posted Nov 09, 2020
Some people whom I call the “happiness seekers” look forward to holiday parties and seeing family and friends at the end of the year. But with great honesty and positivity, I can say that holiday togetherness creates expectations that are loaded with pressures to interact properly—with love and warmth, to select the right gifts, to dress stylishly, and to make the most of the delicious, low-fat foods. Pleasing happiness seekers is very difficult and frustrating.
Juxtaposed with the happiness seekers are the “lonely ones with no invitations.” Another category of people who react to the holiday spirit with disdain is the “scrooges,” who see holidays as a materialistic nightmare that supports retailers in their attempts to make their sales goals for the year.
Whatever your “take” on the holidays, there are expectations that will not be met. I hope that you will try and keep this idea in mind—holidays are hard even if they are fun.
This year, because of the coronavirus, family get-togethers will be configured differently, which will perhaps increase pressure and expectations and intensify disappointments. In good times, family holidays are hard for everyone because of the extra work involved from planning to cooking, cleaning, and travel. Still, no matter how bright life may be, expectations for harmony and good feelings about family members can be complicated, understated, or overstated. Whether or not family animosity is discussed openly, negative thoughts and previous bad experiences can make families afraid to get together.
No matter how relatives feel about one another, harmony is always a criterion for a good Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or Christmas dinner. In my own experiences growing up, wanting to get along at this time of the year with family and extended family could be life-sustaining or an impossible or improbable goal that left everyone involved feeling disappointed and very sad.
Special Problems for Families With Twins
Families with twins have even more problems just enjoying themselves. Favoritism can be played out in very difficult and hurtful ways. Which twin will host the party? Or why can’t twins co-host the celebrations? Which family members won’t come because of anger at their parents and their twin? Who will be invited or not be invited and why?
I hear or rather I 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 because of your political views or rudeness. We will not be joining you after that horrendous fight last year between my father and your mother. Why can’t you and your sister get along? Why does my twin brother 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 nuclear and extended families. Unhappiness is always a side effect when anger and resentment cannot be acknowledged and resolved. 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 go out the window and be replaced by 5-year-old (preschool) behavior. Parents can demand 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 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 new family through marriage. I am no longer sad that my family couldn’t work out our differences. The ugly behavior that was manifested was unbearable and intolerable. With my own non-twin children, there was less frustration when my twin sister and her family were not invited. And I am sure that I am not alone in my actions and reactions of trying to get along with my twin sister at a family party.
Adult Twin Problems
Being center stage as a twin is harder as you get older, not easier. Intrusive comparative questions of childhood do not seem at all funny or interesting or just a way to get attention. As an adult, you know what others are thinking and saying about you. Onlookers can never understand your pain when you are compared. You feel lonely and misunderstood by party attendees who see you as a diversion.
Outsider attention does not help to improve your relationship with your twin. So why do it? Well, sad but true, on the holidays, it is harder to avoid being together because of family pressure. But I have found that wishing that other guests and your twin would respect your individuality is naive, counterproductive, and sort of a waste of time. Respecting your own individuality is your best option.
Here are my two best suggestions for making your holidays more meaningful.
1. If possible, talk to your twin about problems that might arise at the family event, such as the past problems of the holiday or comparison and competitive issues.
2. Remember that family parties are not therapy sessions. Keep up a positive state of mind and affirm other guests’ feelings. Enjoy yourself the best you can.