I’ve been comparing my twin girls a lot lately. Blame it on teething. One of our girls, Maya, woke up one morning with a little white tooth sprouting from her bottom gums. No warning. In fact, I’m pretty sure that she’s happier and more content with teeth than she was without. A week later, Avi, “traditionally” our calmer and quieter baby, started waking up every hour during the night, taking shorter naps, and being generally fussy all afternoon long. Sure enough, after a few days of this and not to be outdone by her sister, Avi sprouted two teeth (and continued to fuss, albeit with more drool).
I know I’m breaking some cardinal parenting rule when I say that Maya’s suddenly the easier baby–I know I shouldn’t compare them for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s bad for their self-esteem. But it’s basically impossible not to compare. In fact, I think comparing them is how I understand and get to know them better.
The biblical model of twins, Jacob and Esau, are described as polar opposites and never evolve from their prescribed roles. In the bible, Esau is described as hairy and a hunter, while Jacob is smooth-skinned and spiritual. Esau becomes the “servant” of Jacob, who becomes the leader of a great people. Esau trades his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew.
But this is hardly instructive for a parent of twins in 5772. Our girls’ identities are constantly in flux and Jon and I obviously hope for much more for both of them. How about they both become great leaders and occasionally enjoy hearty soups?
When I first learned the story of Jacob and Esau back in elementary school, I shuddered to find that Isaac favored Esau because he was a better hunter, and Rebecca favored Jacob because he was more spiritual. How could a parent love one child more than the other? And just what is the lesson embedded here? Seems to me that one way to understand the story is that if your mom doesn’t love you as much as she loves your brother, you’ll start making bad decisions, like trading your birthright because you’re super hungry.
As twins, Avi and Maya are, by definition, a package unit. Therefore, they are ever more subject to comparison. So just six and a half months into this gig I’ve figured out that our special challenge is to find a way to not emulate the parenting styles of our biblical ancestors. Sure, I sometimes feel closer to the twin who is behaving better. I’m more inclined to play with the baby who’s particularly giggly, while the other twin who’s cranky gets my custodial care but perhaps fewer tickles that day. But this is constantly changing, and sometimes within minutes.
Growing up, in moments of gross adolescent defiance, my sisters or I would accuse my parents of loving one of us more than the other. I recall them repeating like a mantra, “we love you equally, and differently.” I didn’t get it then. Now I do. In fact, I’m surprised most days by my capacity to love Avi and Maya equally and yet find so many differences between them at the same time. I know that as they get older, the need to encourage and support their differences will become even more important. I want them to enjoy the special privilege of being part of a unit, but I want them to feel proud of what sets them apart, too.
It’s sad that Isaac and Rebecca couldn’t encourage the same for their sons. Luckily, most biblical accounts claim that Jacob and Esau did eventually reconcile on their own after many years of anger and living apart. But maybe things would have turned out differently if they had been encouraged to support one another from the start. Maybe Jacob and Esau could have worked together to become leaders of one awesome people who were good at outdoor sports AND bookish. Maybe together, they would have led a well-rounded and united people to even more greatness. Imagine that.