How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Twins: Dr. Joan Friedman Interview

November 8, 2016

Dr. Joan A. Friedman is renown psychotherapist and expert on twins. She’s a mother of five, including twin boys and most importantly, she’s an identical twin herself. She spoke with CareGuide about her book EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY TWINS: A New Philosophy for Parenting Two Unique Children and provided practical and important advice for parents of twins. If you have twins or are expecting to have them, you don’t want to miss this interview!

An Interview with Psychotherapist, Twin Expert and Author Dr. Joan A. Friedman

Dr. Joan A. Friedman Author of EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY TWINS

by Clarke Illmatical

What was the impetus for your book on emotionally healthy twins?

“I had three children, eight, six and four and I was forty years old and I decided to have another one and I ended up having fraternal twin boys.

It’s interesting, I’ve been a psychotherapist for many years, and I didn’t really imagine I’d be writing books about twins, and specializing in it. When I gave birth to my twins, it was this whole new kind of experience of being able to parent them in a way I wish my sister and I had been parented. You know how sometimes, parenting gives us a chance to reparent?

So, it was basically that experience in a lot of my own, person experience about growing up as a twin. And the difficulties I felt I had, and then deciding how best to parent my sons… So they wouldn’t experience some of the emotional turmoil my sister and I had been through.

It sort of joust happens organically or intrinsically that I got very involved in writing about the issue and also how different it was raising twins and raising singletons. I had already been an experienced parent.

I found the experience emotionally in terms of bonding, in terms of attachment. All of the very interesting and different nuances of attempting to parent two babies at once was really a revelation in contrast to what it had been with the other three children. That’s how that book got started.”

I’ve heard that parents and specifically mothers have a difficult time bonding with twins because it takes longer to develop that bond with the child.

“Logistically, it makes sense and also emotionally makes sense that it is much harder. When you have one baby you really have sort of a single focus and you feel much more a sense of mastery.

When there’s not someone else waiting in the wings for you to take care of. Even if you have other children or older children, it’s not the same as having another baby or another infant whose needs are so overwhelming.

With one, you feel like, you kind of feel a better sense of yourself and the bonding and a sense of mastery and a feeling that you just feel good enough about how you’re doing.

If you’re a first-time mom, with one child, there’s so much to get use to. It’s such an amazing adjustment.

With two babies and having no experience, it’s absolutely physically and logically overwhelming and emotionally the bonding issue happens that you have no time to bond with two babies at the same time. It’s not possible.

The minute you finished with one, you have the other one or one is sleeping and ones awake, ones crying, one is not, they’re both crying, a lot of moms of twins, they can’t even remember the first six months or even the first year of what the experience was like, they feel really upset about that.

All it was, was this unbelievably stressful, sleep depriving anxiety provoking time, of trying to take care of the needs of two babies and it’s really very hard.

The bonding that seems to organically happen with one baby, was definitely not happening with both of them. So what I did, without any kind of thinking was just starting to spend as much alone time with each of them as I could. Which meant that if I had a half an hour I just grabbed one and went to the market or took my single stroller and took one for a walk it was creating the alone time experiences that gave me the opportunity to bond with both of them.

I would say that my signature message in my first book is the importance of alone time because that is what helped you facilitate the bonding with each one and gives you a sense of their difference and their temperament.

What you’re kind of riding against is everyone going ‘The twins!’ They’re lumping them together, the outside world lumps twins together all the time for various reasons.

If the family isn’t focused on creating as much alone time or really thinking about each twins individuality as much as they can, it can create a lot of difficulty as time goes on in terms of the twins feeling like they’re just the twins and not feeling like they’re two separate and unique individuals.”

In the book, you have a chapter called MENTALLY PREPARING FOR TWO SEPARATE BABIES, how does a mother or how do parents, how do they prepare mentally? What is covered in that chapter?

“I think the main point was to try to not label, in the ultrasounds the tech will go ‘That’s baby A or that’s baby B’… already by virtue of where they’re located in utero, and how they’re being looked at in the ultrasound, outside people are already labeling who’s aggressive, who’s doing this and who’s doing that. So they already come out, in some way being labeled. Which is such a disservice to who they are and people getting to know them.

I always try to caution parents of twins not to label them but to really try and figure out who each of them is by virtue and distinct temperament.

Babies do come out with distinct temperaments. Even identical twins come out with distinct temperaments and so, really important to hone in on that.

Another thing to prepare is, parents thinking that they should love each baby in the same way and if they don’t love them both equally, they feel bad and they feel guilty and my message is ‘It’s impossible to love every child in the same way and actually it’s a disservice to do that.’

If you do that you really run the risk of not focussing on their separate differences and what makes them distinct from one another.

When I speak, I say ‘I have five children and I love them all, but I can’t tell you honestly that I love them all the same.’ and I wouldn’t want to tell you that I would because that would be something where I wasn’t doing my job in terms of helping them develop into their own personalities.

It’s not about loving them the same, it’s about loving all of them and helping them find their own self-esteem and their own identity.”

Another interesting chapter dealt with babyhood. People love the concepts of twins, what are some of the biggest difficulties that you provide solutions for in your book?

“I think the biggest difficulty is that it is very isolating, those first three to six months to have twins. It is so hard to get out of the house.

Moms of twins have often told me when I’ve spoken around the world, they have such jealousy of seeing a mom with one baby and going out, going out for coffee, meeting a friend, logistically getting out of the house with to is so very hard. I think that people don’t realize what’s that like.

In addition, to try and adjust to the eating situation and nursing, the sleeping, everything is so very difficult, and also you have to understand too, that a lot of these twin births are from IVS, from fertility treatments, these people have wanted and waited for babies a really long time.

That also really does sort of couch how willing they are to do riskier things with babies, when you have your first baby, you don’t do risky things, but by the time you have your second or third, you feel much more confident you take them out, you do things you normally wouldn’t do with two, or with first babies.

There’s a lot more anxiety and caution and vigilance I think about, what they’re doing and what’s right to do. A lot of these babies have been in MCU and they’re immature, so they come home with a whole host of issues that maybe you don’t have when you have one baby.

It’s incredibly stressful… you need help, to have someone come in and help you clean your house. You need someone help you prepare some meals for you.

If you talk to moms of twins, they spend the entire day feeding two babies. Feeding and putting them to sleep, diapering them and it all starts all over again, they really can’t do anything else.

They can’t take care of themselves. They can’t take care of the house. So they need a lot of support.

People often don’t offer and a lot of people don’t feel comfortable asking, to get the message out that any kind of help from family and friends that wouldn’t be intrusive. Coming in and leaving. Making a meal, doing some laundry asking in some ways without being intrusive.

It’s so incredibly overwhelming for the first 3 to 6 months. Until there is some sort of schedule or some sort of new normality in the house. That’s my main advice.”

When it comes to sleep, I’ve spoken to sleep experts and many believe that when one of the twins is awake, that you should wake the other to ensure that they’re on the same sleeping pattern.

“I don’t have a specific feeling one way or the other, waking another baby is a philosophy or having your baby on a schedule is going to help you survive then you do have to wake the other baby up in order to put them on the same schedule and if you’re going to do that and have a sleep schedule and you need that, I think it’s perfectly fine I think it’s a family decision, how you’re doing, how’s your health, based on your previous experience or not.

Some people absolutely believe in a schedule and specifically for twins and it is overwhelming and some people aren’t. Either way, it’s fine I think it’s really a matter of choice and what works for you.

You talk to a lot of people who do the sleep training and they can’t tolerate the baby crying and they’re not able to follow through. And other people are so desperate they end up following the sleep training even though it’s excruciating and they’re happy that they did it.

Everybody comes to that certain point, in a different time. I don’t think there is one right answer, I think it really depends on what you’re comfortable doing and what your needs are in terms of following a sleep training philosophy.”

What about feeding? Some mothers, they have said is that it’s extremely uncomfortable and difficult to manage. They might have one feeding and another drinking from the bottle. Could this develop into some kind of behavior problems or rivalry between the two as they get older?

“My feeling is, the mom has to be comfortable and calm and secure about the decision she’s made. If she breastfeeds simultaneously, if she doesn’t. It has to be something that she’s comfortable with.

The feeding time is when she has the capacity to be serene and comfortable with one baby or with both.

I think that’s what’s most important. Not sort of how you feed the baby, but coming to some sort of decision or conclusion about what makes a mom most comfortable.

That’s what she wants to be able to establish while she’s eating. I think they always say, that breastfeeding is better for a baby, there is so much pressure on moms, on moms with twins.

I always tell them if you can’t breastfeed, it’s totally fine. There’s a big red badge of courage if you’ve actually done it. Like people say I did, I breastfeed them… they feel really accomplished.

I wish other moms with twins who can’t wouldn’t necessarily have to feel bad about themselves. Because the most important thing is figuring out, what works for you and what makes you feel most masterful.”

When it comes to behaviors, the twins will develop their own special bonding with each other. Are there any behaviors need to watch out for?

“It’s very difficult having twin toddlers. That’s when they often start to fight more.

They’re running in two different directions. It’s a really stressful time for moms of twins.

I think what’s important, because twins have a close bond, some parents really misunderstand the power of the parental attachment. They often say ‘The twins want to be with each other they want to play.’ In a way, they start to believe that the twin bond is more important than their attachment to each twin.

The parents are starting to lose sight… is that parent-child bond. Children feel secure when they know the parents are in control. They look to parents for boundaries and guidelines and rules and ethics, what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. When parents unknowingly give up that position and the twins feel very much they’re in control.

I’ll often get calls from parents who are not understanding why they twins aren’t listening. Or why they seem to have lost control over their twins behavior.

I want to really emphasize to parents, it’s the parent-child attachment that overall throughout their lifespan of their children is what’s most important.

The twin bond is the twin bond and that’s going to be that way. The parents of twins almost have to work harder to establish that attachment to each one of them, so that they can make sure that they are the most important person to the twins.”

For more information on Dr. Joan A. Friedman visit:


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