Thursday, December 3, 2009

Insights from an Identical: An Interview with Best-Selling Author, Abigail Pogrebin

If you've visited a bookstore lately, you've likely already seen her book placed prominently on the "New Releases" shelves. You may have seen her on the Today show. You may have heard her interviewed on NPR. She's Abigail Pogrebin, the author of the brand-new and best-selling book, One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I’ve Learned About Everyone’s Struggle to be Singular (Doubleday, November 2009). Generously, she fielded some tough questions from Twinfatuation readers! Enjoy her insights, and be sure to enter to win a copy of her amazing book. (Details are at the end of this post.)

Let the twinterview begin!

From Donna:
“I've heard over and over again that twins want to be treated separately, seen as individuals. By their parents/family. And by others. I get that. Completely. But I want to know HOW. Specifically how to do that. How does a parent create a world where each child feels they are seen as individuals?? I may think I'm doing it. But how do I know? I'm parenting from a singleton perspective.”

From Abigail:
Dear Donna,
Your question is spot on – because I know how vague it can be to keep hearing over and over again that you have to treat your twins as separate people. I think what builds individuality – concretely-- are the following things:

-Make sure you give each twin separate time with you and your spouse, so that each twin has separate memories, experiences, conversations.

-Even if it’s more work, once your twins are age 6 or so, have separate birthday cakes, separate celebrations, different gifts.

-Even if other people relish the cuteness of twins, don’t feel you need to play into that. It isn't that you can’t enjoy the doubleness sometimes, but ultimately that’s not so much for the kids; it’s the adults who get a kick out of it. The twins don’t get much from the "twin focus" for its own sake, and when they become aware of the “gimmick” in other people’s minds, they may ultimately resent it more than enjoy it.

-You can instill a sense that you really know each twin simply because you listen to them. That may seem obvious, but sometimes parents seem to hear their twins as if they have one voice instead of making sure to really listen for where they are or what they’re feeling separately.

-Don’t always feel you need to balance the scales. Life isn’t always fair, friends don’t always invite both twins to the party, twins don’t always get the same grades or perform equally in theater or athletics. Let there be inequality, even if it’s hurtful at times. If the twins get used to the inequalities of life, they’ll be better for it as adults and stronger as individuals in the world, ready to handle life's disappointments.

From Sara:
“What is your first negative memory that had to do with your parents and your sister? (in other words) How can I not scar my two?”

From Abigail:

I think the only negative memory is that my sister and I have no separate memories with our parents. They never spent time with us separately. It just never occurred to them to separate us and take us on different outings. It took its toll in the end because we just didn’t develop a rhythm or routine that was separate and personalized, which meant we were even nervous to spend time with them alone once we were adults. For my sister, it was even more scarring, because even into her forties, she harbored a suspicion that our parents didn’t really know us apart. So spend separate time with each twin, even if they resist being separated. Those separate memories can be crucial to shore up a sense of self.

“I try my very hardest to keep in mind that these girls are 2 separate people with different tastes, feelings, and needs. But honestly, it is running me ragged because sometimes I do different nap times, different snacks, different meals just to accommodate them. Is this really necessary?”

I don’t think the separation has to be so rigorous that you’re run ragged – I can imagine how taxing that can get. I think focusing on the more memorable moments of separation will pay more dividends in the end. For instance, having separate birthday cakes, making sure you don’t get the exact same gift for every holiday or birthday, really considering the idea of putting them in different classes if you haven’t already, or even different schools once they’re older if you think it might serve them to have a different social universe….I think you can pick and choose the more significant moments for underscoring separation, and not worry so much about the everyday differences.

“How do you feel about the whole classroom question? Together or separate?”

I honestly think you have to really know your kids and take your cues off them. Do they seem to be stepping on each other’s toes? Do others make too much of their twinship or constantly confuse them or not take the time to really know them apart? My sister and I were in the same school – different classrooms – till we were in ninth grade. At that point, I really needed my own world and my own new friendships, so I switched schools; Robin and I remained as close as ever during our high school years, but it was a revelation to me to have my own territory for the first time. We ended up back in college together, but those four years apart were unquestionably decisive in terms of giving me confidence and a sense of who I was alone.

From Dianna:
“As a mother of identical twin boys, should I expect them to be close, or always competitive? Right now, they are fighting all the time!”

From Abigail:
I think identical twins do have that almost-mythological connection that will ultimately make them intensely close, even if they’re fighting now. That said, I think you have to let them have conflict (as long as it doesn’t drive you too crazy) because my research taught me that one of the pressures on twins – and I recognize this myself – is that the pressure to be perfect. Everyone expects twins to have this incredible, unshakable, often-uncomplicated relationship, and the fact is, that it can’t always be uncomplicated and it’s important to let twins have the room to be imperfect together.

From a Twin Auntie:

From Abigail:
The best thing people can do with twins is not to ask them the stock questions: Did you dress alike? Did you trick your teachers? Swap boyfriends? When your twin gets hurt, do you feel it? Do you have ESP? Those questions – I hate to disappoint those who ask them – are not interesting to twins themselves and they can wear you down!“What is the most annoying thing people say to you, or ask you? (as an identical twin)” The most annoying question: “How do you know you’re really you?”

The best support is to really pay attention to who each twin really is. They may be similar, they may be growing up simultaneously, but inside each twin is a different soul, spirit, strength and deficit. The best thing you can do is take the time to know them.

Anonymous asks:
“I have identical boys that couldn't be more ‘unlike.’ One twin easily succeeds in everything he does. He's a natural at anything - sports, singing, he's the ‘better’ listener, the one who wants to please folks. It seems in every aspect of life, we are inundated with ‘Wow, look at him - look at how wonderful/how talented/how independent/how everything he is - does his twin have/do anything?’ I always respond, ‘Um - yes, he is a wonderfully delightful and loving child.’ – but with no/less obvious ‘outstanding’ qualities. So - what's a Mom to do? (Question 1) How is this going to affect their twin to twin relationship growing up? Now to be clear, in my eyes the ‘less obviously gifted’ twin is adorable and loves life. He is funny and charming. I am sure he will find his way as well as his own personal set of skills (Question 2) but will it ever be enough under the constant comparison to his visibly gifted brother?”

From Abigail:
Dear Anonymous,
Your question is so crucial because it’s the conundrum, it seems, in raising twins: what to do when one so clearly excels in society’s sense of “excelling,” while the other pales by comparison? I think you have to both let the inequality be there – because there’s nothing you can do about it and because you can’t minimize the more successful twin’s gifts – and at the same time make sure you see what makes your other twin so lovable and winning. If you see it, other people will, too. I do think that as much as you can give the less gifted twin his own world, school, space, social life, the more it will shore up his confidence down the road. If it’s possible to give him his own universe, he’ll be less likely to be compared by others and be comparing himself. It’s that much harder for him to feel good if he’s right alongside his more stellar counterpart.

From Cheryl (of Twinfatuation):
“Know this may be in your book (which I am getting for my birthday!), but have you asked your own parents what they wish in retrospect they had done differently in raising their twin children? What do they feel they did well, and would not change?” “Any words of encouragement, advice, warning to twin parents?”

From Abigail:
Dear Cheryl,
Yes, this is in the book and I’m glad you asked. The one thing my parents regret is not spending separate time with us apart. I talk about this on page 137, in the chapter on “Twin Shock.” My parents were wonderful, but they never thought to do anything with us separately and they regret it to this day. It somehow left us somewhat uneasy – and unpracticed – at being with them individually once we were adults. It also had the effect of making [my identical twin sister] Robin feel lumped with me, even in their eyes.

Thank you all for such incisive questions. I appreciate the time you took and I hope you’ll dip into the book because so many of these crucial questions are discussed!

Thank YOU, Abigail for answering our questions so thoroughly and for writing such an incredible resource for those who are parenting twins!

Not only has Abigail shared her sought-after adult identical twin insight with us here, she's going to be giving a copy of her new best-seller, One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I've Learned About Everyone's Struggle to be Singular ! (Our B&N has had it bulked out with top-selling new releases for weeks now.)

So how do you win?

Simply mention in a comment below a facet from Abigail's interview responses that struck you---either as something you never thought of, or something she's validated for you, or something you plan to try to do while raising your twosome. will select a winner to be announced this Monday, December 7th. You may enter more than once (only once per day, please) so long as you do not recite the same aspect of her interview each time. Good news for the question submitters whose queries were answered here: you're already entered once! Feel free to comment for additional chances to win.

Good luck, Everyone---and to Abigail, thanks again!
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Octamom said...

Raising fraternal boy/girl twins who are so, so different in every way has made giving them separate time and space easier--they demand it! ;o) But I did have to smile at myself, while reading the interview and the importance of individual time with parents--I remember the first time when they were still babies I took 7 of 8 somewhere without 8 of 8--and I was a bit teary that this was the furthest apart they had ever been--even to the point of realizing it when I backing out of the driveway!


Missy (Two Little Monkeys) said...

What a great interview! There were a lot of parts of this interview that hit home with me but the part where Abigail said her parents wished that they had spent more time with them seperately. That is so important to P.J. and I and we are trying to do that more and more these days. What an insightful interview - Thank you Abigail!

Kelli @ writing the waves said...

Even as a mom who doesn't have multiples, I really try to spend some time with my kids individually. I think my five year old daughter especially appreciates that girl time away from her little brother every once in awhile. I can only imagine what it would be like for twins. Very interesting interview. I bet this book will be very helpful for parents of multiples.(You don't have to enter me in the drawing since I don't have multiples, but I still wanted to leave a comment.)

Dianna@KennedyAdventures said...

tip my guilt scale even more .... ARGH! I almost cried when I read that the only negative memory she and her sister have is not spending time with her parents separately. AACK! As a mother of 4, I can honestly say that I spend time with my girls one on one, but the boys are a 'package deal'. I'll strive to do better, once they hit 2.

Great interview!

Amy said...

This was a great interview and I loved all the questions, but the one that almost made me cry was the one about one twin who obviously excelled in everything and the other who was not as obvious in his achievements. My twins are 10 1/2 months younger than their older brother and I hope that they don't all get compared to each other. I also want to remember to spend time with all of them alone, both me and my husband. Since they are only 21 months and 10 1/2 months I want to remember this as they get older. We do this with my older son somewhat, but also need to start with the twins!

Safire said...

I liked the reminder to spend time alone with each twin. I too had the "oh this is the farthest they've been apart!" thought when I took my Pirate too the store.

ldmiller said...

I was struck by the encouragement to let them have conflict (to an extent). I do feel pressured to cultivate in them the "perfect" twin relationship (and they're still babies!).

I also really like that she mentioned to listen to them separately and not as one voice. I often find myself lumping them together, and this will be something to be mindful about as they get older.

A very helpful interview! Thank you! - Kim (

Donna said...

Wow - what a wealth of information! Thanks so much Cheryl and Abigail! We do individual time (but not enough) and the fact that they fight it (want to be with the other twin) shows us how much they need it... to develop a individuals.

I can't wait to get my hands on your book - either by winning or by purchasing!

BoufMom9 said...

Great interview. LOVED hearing about her childhood, esp because it made me reflect back on my older set of twin sister's childhood... they very rarely spent any time away from one another or very rarely had alone time with anyone. (my younger set of twin sisters were in separate classes and have different friends and activities)
My twins are so different it's easy to separate and honestly, I sometimes I feel like I miss out on the fun of "twin-dom"

Sara said...

Thank you So much for doing this interview. I actually have thought about doing things separately with my girls, but I didn't realize how crucial it is. We will be keeping this mind throughout their lives.

Thank you, Cheryl for hosting this interview. It has helped me so much. Bless you and your family.

Sharlene said...

Cheryl I really enjoyed this interview. I think the take home message for me was let the kids have more one on one time with their parents. Twins need their own identities as much as the next child...

Donna said...

eeeks - I meant to enter more times - the weekend got away from me. Hopefully, you haven't drawn yet!

Anonymous said...

I didn't realixe how important it was to have individual time with me. Now I am worried how to implement this given the established routine (and jealousy) in my twin girls. Sigh...


acm0101atyahoodotcom (that's a zero-one, zero-one in the email)

Shari said...

It's interesting for us with fraternal twins. While identical twins seek their own space, our girls spend all their time trying to convince people they are twins.