It was quarter finals last week and my boys were busy studying hard. Well, at least one of my twins was studying hard. The other? Not so much. So when the not-so-much twin appeared in the family room around nine o’clock the other evening checking Tivo for his favorite TV show, I had to ask. “Did you study for your Spanish test?” He assured me that he had but I wasn’t convinced. “How can you be ready for the exam?” I asked. “Your brother is still studying for it! Why aren’t you?” As soon as I said it, I regretted the words and their implication.
A big smile slowly spread across my son’s face. There were no need for words as we both knew that I blew it. I broke the first commandment to parenting multiples–I compared my twins to one another.

It’s bad enough when the relatives do it. (“Susan’s a bit more social than Allison, isn’t she?”) It’s worse when total strangers in the shopping mall feel compelled to stop you to do the same. (“He seems like the bigger trouble maker than his twin! Am I right?”) But for Mom and Dad to compare their twins and right in front of them? Sacrilege!

As parents, it’s pretty natural for us to compare our children to one another. When you have kids of varying ages, it’s inevitable that you’ll take that walk down memory lane comparing your youngest to oldest or vice versa. (“I remember when your brother was a baby. We had him potty-trained in two weeks! Unfortunately, you took five months!”) But even these seemingly harmless little comparisons can have unforseen negative consequences. Namely, it can set the wheels of sibling rivalry in motion. When parents, relatives or even strangers compare our kids, there’s always “a winner,” the better athlete, student, or all-around nice guy, and “a loser,” the one who didn’t quite measure up. The winner will always feel as though he has one up on his sibling and will use it to his advantage every chance he gets. If the comparisons continue throughout their childhood the result is often bickering, fighting, and all around malcontent among siblings. Interestingly, research has shown that the closer in age the siblings are the more intense the rivalry can become.

Twin siblings, on the other hand, are the same age so the comparisons between the two are more magnified, more intense, as they’re often at the same developmental level, and are frequently involved in the same activities or studying the same subjects in school. In our case, my fraternal twin sons have the exact same subjects–including Spanish–and are in three classes together. Talk about head-to-head comparisons! (On a side note–identical twins fare better in this match up and are less rivalrous on the whole.)

Having my sons scholastically so parallel wasn’t by design or choice and makes a perfect excuse for my comparing them, but I should know better. I shouldn’t do it. But in this situation, I couldn’t help myself, especially after his cotwin got a better grade on the Spanish exam for his extra effort. (See? There I go again! Somebody stop me!) Thankfully, my twins aren’t aware of my occasional comparisons as I keep my observations all to myself.

Well, with the exception of that darn Spanish test.

Christina Baglivi Tinglof is a parenting twins guru and the author of five books including Double Duty 2e (McGraw-Hill 2009) and Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples (McGraw-Hill 2007). Her parenting features have appeared in Parents, L.A. Parent, Central California Parent and Parents and Kids magazines, as well as online journals including She’s also the editor of Talk About Twins, a website devoted to twins and twin relationships, and is a regular contributor to Twins magazine. Before the birth of her fraternal twin sons (and subsequent singleton son), she wrote extensively on travel for the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Herald, the San Diego Union Tribune, and Westways magazine. Connect with her on her Facebook page.