Tuesday 11 October 2011


A few days ago at the park, a little boy came up to Pink and started hitting her. She hadn't done anything to him, but he obviously wanted to hurt her. I was horrified.  It happened again the next day - same park, same boy - this time he was pulling her hair, yanking it by the roots and making her scream with pain. I was so angry that I could barely see. She was howling with anguish and tears were running down her little face. She lifted her arms to me and shouted cuddle! in a voice of pure panic, meaning save me, mama! And I did, of course. Before she had the word out of her mouth I had already swooped in and lifted her in my arms, shaking with rage at the kid who dared to maul my child.  How dare he hurt my precious baby? What is wrong with this boy? What kind of mother brings up a son like that? How can she live with herself?  What kind of person must she be? 

A person like me, of course. A person who is me, in fact, because the boy attacking Pink was her twin.  And so I don't know what to do with my rage, with my fury. What am I supposed to do when the person hurting my precious child is also my precious child? 

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but it's not. At the moment, Blue has a terrible scratch down one side of his face. It was quite deep, and I worry it may scar. People ask me how he got it and I tell them it was Pink. They look shocked and start to feel sorry for him, but I shrug my shoulders and say 'no, he totally started it by biting her. It was just self defence'.  That shuts 'em up. 

One tends to be a little more aggressive than the other, but really they are pretty much equally to blame for these skirmishes. No matter what we - J and I - do, they are always at each other's throats. It's at its worst when they are a bit bored, and for this reason the supermarket has turned into a miniature warzone.  I have lost count of the number of times I have heard a blood-curdling scream from the stroller and looked down to see the screamer with a  bite mark on their plump little arm, the other sitting their nonchalantly as if butter wouldn't melt. Bad news - I'm beginning to worry that I'm raising vampires or werewolves. Good news - judging from the perfect half-moon indentations,  their teeth really are extraordinarily straight and I don't think we will need to budget for orthodontics. Heh. 

 Extreme irony alert - when we were deciding between a side-by-side twin stroller and a front-and-back, we ended up choosing the side-by-side because friends with twins told us that their children loved to ride along holding hands.  How could I deprive my little munchkins of that beautiful experience? I thought then. So we got the side-by-side and have spent the last two years barely fitting through doorways because I deliberately wanted them to be in close physical proximity. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! I think now, as I watch them hitting each other. Today I finally realised the real reason we are out of food - not just because I'm disorganised (although I am) - I just don't trust them not to get murderous during even a 15 minute shopping outing any more.   We are currently watching a few of these on ebay but until we find one at a good price, I'm so full of fear about what will happen, who will get badly injured this time that I have decided no more supermarket excursions! I just can't take it. I think we'll be spending the next little while living on dried pulses and frozen foods. 

I sound flippant about this, but I don't feel flippant. It's hard to know what to say about all this. Watching my children attack each other feels deeply, deeply not okay. People tell me 'oh, they fight now but they'll be such good friends when they are grown up!'  Honestly, right now I don't care . And anyway, who says that is necessarily true? I have one friend who barely speaks to her adult twin.  Right now I'm not even sure they are going to let each other live that long.   I know that most siblings experience some degree of rivalry but I am beginning to suspect that the animosity my children feel towards each other is on the extreme end of the spectrum.  

They seem to have been designed exactly to cause each other maximum irritation. Twins aren't supposed to start playing together when they are little, they are supposed to engage in what's called 'parallel play', where they basically ignore each other. Mine never, ever got to that stage. Instead, they only do what I call 'perpendicular play' - where they want to play independently but in a way that directly opposes what the other is doing. Poor Mr Potato Head, I should never have sent you into that mess, is all I can say about that. They do have moments of belly laughing with each other, of trying to high-five across their cots and giggling hysterically but that 1% does not even begin to touch the other 99. Blue loves rough and tumble, Pink hates it when he even touches her accidentally in passing (and no, I don't think it's opposite sensory processing disorders but thanks for asking).   They both love to sit on my lap, but they won't do it together. They have a strange, aggressive, abusive and co-dependent relationship that seems to have a life of its own; I know with absolute certainty that it's bigger than our parenting choices, that it's about them together rather than them in our family. They cause each other untold grief but they can't bear to be apart. In some ways they are two halves of the same whole but the whole seems to be chemically unstable, like a nuclear compound that has reached critical mass and is always about to explode in all of our faces. Their mutual antipathy feels almost pathological. 

Is there a conspiracy of silence about the realities of adopting siblings, or is our situation really unusual? I have no idea. I have no idea. I have nothing to judge it against. I don't really know how other siblings, other twins, relate to each other (apart from the deeply misleading stroller handholders, of course) because they don't live in my house. I do know that one of our two can't bear to have any part of the other's body touching them. I do know that I can't leave them alone together unless they are watching a DVD. I do know that Blue loves to hug Pink but it makes Pink wail as if she is a banshee, as if she is being flayed alive. J and I were discussing how that noise makes us feel and we agreed - it's like being attacked with a cattle prod, being electrocuted. It's absolutely unbearable, it's absolutely impossible to ignore. It happens about fifty times a day. I. Am. Losing. My. Mind. 

It's odd, how hard I find this. I won't lie - at the moment, having siblings feels like the hardest thing in my life.  There were so many things about adoption that I was unsure of, afraid of, and this was not one of them. This was something that I was sure would be hard but good. Instead, it feels impossible and poisonous. I find myself unhelpfully generalising from my own situation when I'm talking to people expecting their second child. I'm always consciously biting my lip, reining myself in, saying to myself do not make dire predictions of horror about having two children, Claudia! Because lots of people love having two children. In theory, I love it too. Individually, I'm extremely glad that I have the chance to mother both of them. It's just the two of them at once that I can't handle. 

Of course, as well as them pretty much hating each other, there's all of the normal difficulties that come from having two kids in the house - it really affects how much of myself I can give to each of them. I can't do long slow mornings reading Blue stories, because Pink won't join in (since that would mean touching him) and she still needs looking after too. I can't spend time drawing with Pink because Blue can't yet be trusted with crayons but wants to be part of the action if there is any going on. They both want to be picked up and carried, but I can't carry them both at once. Boo Hoo. I know this stuff is normal - anybody with more than one child finds out that they can't give 100% to two different people at once. And yet I feel so awful about not giving them 100% - I feel like they need and deserve all of me, at all times. I wonder if this is a sign of really messed-up thinking - who says that children should get 100%? Honestly, where does that idea come from? I really don't want my kids to grow up thinking that they are the centre of the universe; not even my universe. They are utterly loved, but they are not the axis around which the world spins. They need to grow up knowing that other people matter too; that they are not the only people who exist; that they have feelings and needs and they are important, but the rest of the world has feelings and needs too and sometimes those other needs are going to win out.  Theoretically, I think that having a sibling is really good for kids because they learn that they will not always come first, they will not always get what they want and yet the sun continues to rise. I also think that being annoyed by someone who mostly loves you takes some of the edge off learning to accommodate other people later. I think it knocks some of the rough edges off a person, and overall I'm pretty sure that's a good thing. I know all the theory about why siblings are so good. It's the practice I can't take. 

I'm also aware of just how much some of my friends would love to have my problems. One close friend in particular, at the moment, is filled with sadness about how long she has been waiting to become a mother for the second time. (No, it's not YOU, if this applies to you - she doesn't read my blog. I hope). Her first child  was long awaited and much loved, and number two is so far failing to make an appearance. She really wants another baby. Of course she does, and I sympathise deeply. But it feels odd how the very thing she is crying to have is the thing that most often makes me cry, too, because I have to work out how to deal with having it. It reminds me, yet again, of how it felt to be on the childless side of the fence while listening to my mother-friends complaining about how hard their perfect lives were. I button my lip and try not to complain to her about how hard I find the two-ness of my two because it probably just sounds like whining to her. 

And yet I am not imagining how hard this is, how much it grieves me that my children want to hurt each other and find so many ways to do it.  I want to justify to my friends who are parents of only children that two really is a whole different ball game. All that turning-up-late that I do? All that mess in my house? Not my fault. It's just that my life is really, really hard. MUCH HARDER THAN YOURS. The funny thing is, I felt the same way when I didn't have any kids. I'm pretty sure I'll feel the same way if I one day have three. I'm beginning to suspect that the impulse to assume that my life has to be much harder than everybody else's just springs from fear. If my life is more difficult than yours, then it's okay that I'm not really coping. It's reasonable to be crying during naptime (and bedtime, and mealtimes) because my life is unusually, unreasonably hard and any sane person would be going crazy.  What I fear is this - if my life is really just averagely hard, then why am I coping so poorly? Why does my family have to live on lentils and frozen corn*? If my life is only averagely hard, and I'm coping really badly, then... what? I guess that would mean that the problem isn't my life, but me. I don't want to think about that. 

So I'm off to order some groceries online. Who cares if I never get to go to the supermarket again, huh? That's what the internet is for. Who cares if we can never again go to the park, never use the swings? That's why we have a DVD player. Who cares if cuddling one causes the other to break down and howl? That's why I have earplugs. I think I'm just going to give up on trying to lead a normal life until these two are in high school, at least. We'll hunker down. I'll pad the walls and turn this into a bunker.  It'll be fine. 

It'll be fine. Because apparently - they'll be really good friends when they are grown up.  So the horror now doesn't matter. I'll let you know how that works out. Stay tuned for the next update. 

In twenty years' time. 

*I'm kidding. We ran out of frozen corn WEEKS ago. 


  1. Ah Claudia. You're talking to the mother of two boys - one bio and one adopted, just under seventeen months apart, and living together for four months now. They slug and pummel each other so much that my threshold for acceptable behaviour has changed radically in recent months. They also have some great moments together, but wow do I wish the percentages were the opposite!
    Like your two, my two boys cannot bear to be apart, despite seeming to be enemies the majority of the time. Within minutes of being separated, one or the other (or both, most commonly) start to cry and say how they miss their brother.
    Like, what is up with that??!

    Thanks for posting about this. I, too, hope that this will get better, and in the meantime I'm glad you're blogging about it.

    On another note, I don't know how I missed your last few posts (I'm supposed to be getting notification every time you post, but I clearly haven't) but I haven't read them...I'll be checking in there shortly, because I don't want to miss a word!

    Oh, on other thing - internet groceries???? I need to be looking into whether I can access such a miraculous thing, too. Thanks for the idea!



  2. My 2 are terrible together. They instigate with each other, but now it's worse because then they argue about it. You poured too much milk in my cereal! No I didn't! (forget, thanks for helping me) Yes it's too much! No, Mama, look I poured it to here. No you didn't. ON-AND-ON ARGHHHHHHHHHH! Separately, they are 2 totally different children. Together they are a grenade with the pin pulled.
    Do yours still take naps? Maybe you could convince them to take naps at different times. Just a thought, probably unlikely!
    Honestly, I am discovering so much in children is based in nature as opposed to nurture, I wonder if I have any say at all. That's both of them, bio and adopted. Maybe you should try reading a book (LOL! JK! previous post reference!).

  3. I had a good laugh at the frozen corn thing!!! Well, I am certainly in no position to offer advice since half the time, there are blood curdling screams heard in the background at my house from all the sibling love around here, but I can offer my experience. Our first set of twins were artificial twins (in that they are not biological twins) and are two months apart. They loved each other immediately, rarely fought, and are still the best of friends to this day. They are boy-girl and we had them as fairly young babies and they look out for each other and cried when they were apart and they really did hold hands in their stroller (though I had a front-back one)! It was all a lovely experience and so when we adopted siblings two years ago from Ethiopia, I was not nervous in the least that we were going to be artificially tripletting those two and artificially twinning our youngest daughter. I actually looked forward to it! Oh boy, was I ever wrong!

    Our youngest two (the new artificial twins) fight all the time. They actually fist fight, which I've never experienced with any of my other kids. They scratch and scream and compete for everything.

    And then there are the two who are actual biological siblings...they rarely spoke to each other for the first year after we brought them home. When they did interact, it was only to fight! I think one thing that made it worse in the beginning was doing attachment therapy with our son and not our daughter. We had been told (correctly) that you could only be successful if you did the attachment therapy one at a time. That is what we did and though I'm glad we listened to that wise advice, it did create more jealousy and competition for our attention.

    I am hopeful though that they will not actually kill each other and therefore live to adulthood when they may or may not be best friends, but either way, will no longer live here and I won't have to referee!

  4. I think the only way for any parent not to worry about some behaviour or another is to not care. Trust your gut. You're on the front lines. Not to frighten you, but I did have a friend who had a relationship quite like that (minus the physical violence) as an adult with her twin. They did loads of stuff together.... and fought the whole time with an intensity that made others profoundly uncomfortable. But they also advocated for each other and looked after each other. When one was down, the other stepped up. I think they were so alike in their passionate temperaments that less profound differences, such as political disagreements, were intolerable. I have no idea what their relationship was like when they were children, but they came from a large family and had much more mellow relationships with their other siblings.

  5. I am sorry. This doesn't sound fun at all. PJ has been sinking her nails into Little Dude's cheeks. It sucks. And the fact that the marks stay they for months and months - not helpful. But this "only" happens about once a week around here.
    I have gone back to using the Ergo when I shop. One kid in the Ergo, one kid walking or in the basket. I switch which kid gets to be where.
    Two kids close in age is so much harder than a person with no kids can imagine. Maybe there are rare exceptions, but the bottom line is that it is hard, and strangly disappointing, and guilt inducing, and frustrating. I am counting on the fact that it is also survivable.

  6. Oh Claudia,
    I personally am not dealing with THIS particular problem. I can only imagine how hard it is for you to watch and live with. I would have always thought that twins (adopted, or not) would be incredibly close, but I guess you never really know. I hope for your sake (and obviously theirs!!!) that this is something they are able to grow out of. And I hope you are able to maintain your sanity in the meantime!!

  7. Ugh. So sorry, Claudia. No advice just cyber hugs. I'll be sending prayers your way!

  8. OH C-baby. You know I am in the trenches with you on this one. We have so much hurting and screaming and battling. Every day constant hitting, pinching, blood, screaming. It is so hard. -- on the carriage front, do they have Phil and Ted strollers in the UK? I have many friends who swear by them. On a separate note, I have begun praying with the children at night. Making them say "Father in Heaven, help me to be loving and kind to So and So. I love So and So and want us to be friends." Helping them say words that I hope will some day be true...we ask in the prayers to have peace and love in our home. Sometimes I feel like it helps. Sometimes not, but I dunno, but what good is faith if you cannot ask God to help relationships within the family, right?

  9. I back scooping it up in the prayer area as a good foundation. I don't have kids so I don't know what to say as other things to do. I did however have a set of 2nd grade twins on the playground at work that I watch and they would drag their friends into being mean to each other. So far they are better this year. I really hope that you find relief in your family soon. I will say a prayer right now for you.

  10. I have a twin brother...we battled as kids...I am not sure what my Mom did...once we reached elem. school and we were put in separate classes we became besties...we still are : )
    No advice on my own...#2 joins the family any day now, and the boys will be 18 months apart...preparing myself for battle...

  11. Oh siblings. I am highly sensitive to how horribly my kids treat each other. For months after our daughter came home, I could not let 2 of the 3 play together without supervision. It's as if I had to teach them how to be siblings. I suspect that adopted kids are far more prone to sibling issues than bio siblings, due to all the factors that come along with adoption. I'm starting to realize that this is an issue I will be helping them with for quite some time.

    All that said, my sister was pretty nasty to me - perhaps I was to her too - but I still wince at some memories of her scowling and whispering some nasty shit to me under her breath. We're close, but sometimes that stuff is too close to the surface. Maybe I just hope my kids don't have that pain to deal with as well. Maybe I should just grow up and get over it, too:)

  12. I have a bio and three adopted who are bio sisters. The oldest two girls (now 8 and 7- 3 and 20mos at placement) hate each other's guts. HATE each other's guts. We are obliged to separate them whenever they do not separate themselves by choice. The never play together without hateful, violent fighting for more than five minutes on an unusually good day. They both adore their adoptive brother and their bio youngest sister. Go figure. I've never been able to decided if it's a sibling thing or an adoptive thing. But yes. It's painful to watch.

  13. As the mother of 3 (adoptive and bio)that were all born within 12 months, my life if filled with so much of this. The boys are best friends and worst enemies. They hate to be apart at times, but love to make each other miserable. It's maddening. Plus now my sweet little girl who I found my sanity in is disapearing and being replaced by someone who also likes to torture her siblings. I'm sure one day they'll outgrow it, but I'm also sure that day can't come soon enough.

  14. I can't speak from experience as a mother on this one since I only have one kid so far, but I can speak from my experience as a nanny and say that young childhood is the hardest time to care for siblings. With my charges that were 15 months apart, I spent the better part of each day disciplining one or the other for physical violence. It got easier as they got older and understood both consequence and reward better, so long as I would offer/threaten both and stick to it. It would be nice if children would just be good and kind without incentive, but I think it's unrealistic. You'll figure out what works for your kids, at least enough to keep yourself moderately sane. Hang in there.

  15. This sounds incredibly hard. We've had sibling rivalry issues and still do, though now that my boys are 2.5 & almost 5, things have gotten a lot easier. They have finally learned how to play. I still have to referee a lot, but not constantly. You are so in the middle of a tough age - two at a tough age! It can be hard to imagine a different reality. My hope for you is that a new reality will dawn soon!

  16. Just wait until they're 3. Seriously. So far, in my world, 3 is much much much much much much more emotional and intense than 2 ever was. Just sayin. :)

  17. My girls are 15 months apart in age. E came home at 10 months old; R was just 25 months. We went through a very bad stage like what you're describing with them. Now, at almost 4 and 2.5, they are doing a lot better together. It was so hard during the time when E would claw the heck out of R's face or arms and R would knock her down or hit her as hard as she could.

  18. I think I need to write a post to cheer you up. I just have an unusually high tolerance for screaming. As in, I don't give a jot if they kill each other in public and I say things like "i don't care if you scream until everyone in the shop is looking (by this time half are looking) I STILL won't buy it for you" WAAAAAHHHH

    (that's Connor, by the way)

    I actually need to get D some earplugs as he is more like you are.

    It kills him.

    I love your post and I love your heart. (I nearly wrote you're heart just to make you smile :))

    I laughed and laughed at the first couple of paragraphs and then it turned to real tears (the drugs?) because I feel your pain.

    I have no advice but I am praying for you because our Father knows what you need!


  19. C- I can't identify because our girls were 4 years apart and we're adopting a singleton. But I can send you hugs and a cocktail from the other side of the pond. You are correct. Your life I'd harder than most of us can imagine. I'd suggest that you have a really good specialist assess their behavior. I think your kids are just pissy toddlers. But you will have peace of mind having a clinician tell you that, and he or she might have some strategies to offer.

    All that aside, on to your stroller choice. I don't think that front back will separate them enough. Look at Phil and teds, uppa vista, or britax b ready. These all put them in front to back, but also at different heights so aside from being on the same chassis they're not at all touchable. Of course they'll fight over who's top and bottom but at least they can't reach!
    I'm feeling for you dear!

  20. Oh Claudia. I'm so sorry you are dealing with this. I wish I had any advice at all, but all I can offer is some hugs. And to tell you thank you once again for your honesty, and of course your hilarity too!

  21. From someone who has (kinda) been there, both as a child and as the momma, I'd say just ride it out, keep them close, praise the love between them when you see it and say upbeat and happy. Yeah, yeah, I know, it is hard, but now my littlest love each other and even show it often -- clearly, not twins, though. When I was a kid, my mom told me to "ignore" my brother -- worst advice, ever. Keep them interacting, touching, playing together. Also... maybe a little one-on-one time with each? Yeah, THAT would be a dream, likely not happening, doesn't happen much around our place either. Anyway, you can do it!!! :) It really, really gets better (maybe at age 5 or so, ha!, but it'll be worth it). Let us know.

  22. I really enjoy your blog and I gave you a blog award today. http://thechaosandtheclutter.com/archives/1259

  23. Hi Claudia, thank you for your lovely comments on my sister Molly's blog! I don't have any advice about your twins, except to say that it might just be their age. I have videos of my daughter Lizzie having some epic tantrums when she was just two, and now that she's three and a half I can't believe she ever acted like that. She was like a wild animal, seriously. I shudder to think how she would have treated a sibling the same size as her. She is so horrid to her brother even now, but luckily for him he's two years older.
    I do feel for you, I think you are in one of the very hardest stages right now. It will get better once you can reason with them.
    Your kids are so beautiful by the way.
    Amy x

  24. We are dealing with this with our two bio boys, now 15 and 19. It started to get bad when they were 15 and 11. Now it's really bad. Because they are able to hurt each other so much worse than they could when they were little. They got along pretty well until teen years.

    It wears me out. Totally. Today I am dealing with my husband (retired, so he's here almost.all.the.time.arrrrggh!) as he recuperates from knee surgery and is not able to pay attention to the kids (the boys plus 6 yo DD from China) because his pain meds make him loopy and he's still in a lot of pain. So, joy. Homeschooling, I'm with the urchins all the time, the 19 yo has a part time job (not in college yet) and today I nearly ran away. That's where I am today.

    Praying that tomorrow is better for you and for me. But I'm not praying for patience, because that's when God decides to test me on the patience part.

  25. My mother and aunt are identical twins. They no longer speak to each other. They had a disagreement and waited too long to settle it. Wounds festered and now the damage is too great to be forgotten. It is heartbreaking to watch, especially since my mother has gone and tried to make peace over and over again, but my aunt refuses to let it go.

    My mother was always the favored child out of the two. Despite the fact that they were identical, my mother was much prettier than my aunt and she was polite and sweet whereas my aunt was often disrespectful and rebellious. My grandmother would joke about how obvious it was to her that my aunt was jealous of my mother. Sibling relationships are complicated things especially when children feel like they are in competition with one another.

    If at all possible, try to instill within your children the principle of "not letting the sun set with you in a provoked state". I really believe that it is the course of wisdom. If they can learn to work out their problems and forgive one another, then i think you have given them a solid foundation for a lasting adult friendship.

    Obviously 2 is a little young for them to comprehend the idea, but if you parent with those principles in mind it may help.

  26. Awesome post. Well, not awesome for you... and actually, not awesome for me either, when it comes down to it, because everything I seem to read these days about adopting - and adopting siblings -- further sends me into panic about what the heck we're doing waiting for siblings! I can already see the misery lying ahead of me and realize we must be crazy for not taking another path.

    I've now made this comment all about me and not you... sorry about that. This must be terribly painful and hard and all I can say is that I hope in time they will relate in a gentler, more harmonious way for all of your sakes.

  27. I tell you, at a stage I thought my twins would kill each other. Somehow the biggest fights are between the twins, and not their bigger sister. In that department there are fights too, but somehow the viciousness is slightly less. A few months ago I complained to my BFF who has twin boys, now 10, that they boys are fighting so much. She Asked: "Is their blood involved". I said "No". She said, wait until their is... then we can talk again. That makes me very scared.

  28. Oh and do look at this post of mine for when they are older - works like magic: http://juggelingactoflife.blogspot.com/2011/10/i-had-it.html

  29. Just a new reader reaching out to say I feel for you and am sending you strength and calm. We are potentially adopting siblings who are currently our foster sons, but they are 8 years apart (2 and 10, both boys) and are wonderful together. We are technically open for a third foster placement and I am nervous about what will happen if an infant or toddler is added to the mix. I can imagine a scenario like you mention, even though our 2 y/o is quite a chill little fellow. Only time will tell. In the meantime, having an older child with behavioral issues, I really do get that feeling of "no really, my life IS harder than yours." People so often don't get that the things I'm complaining about are NOT normal kid stuff, normal stressors - They're really a lot worse and so stressful that there are times we can't leave the house and have to eat canned beans (you're not the only one!)

  30. My bother and I both had to get stitches on the same day once. He walked over to me, looked at me, BIT ME, and would not let go. So apparently I punched him, and he fell into a table. I got four stitches in my arm, he got three in his head. We both got in trouble.

    And that's just one of the many, many incidents I could tell you about. :P

    Yet, he's my friend now that we're adults. Not my best-friend-omg-we-are-so-totally-happy-family-24/7/365, but we get along well enough to exchange many phone calls and Facebook pokes and visits as possible since I got all married and moved way far away to a weird place called "The Deep South".

    I think it's possible that two children with such differing personalities can be just that. Children with very differing personalities. As one of 8 kids, I have that sort of relationship with some of my siblings. Some I'm very close to due to personality and similar likes/dislikes. Others, not so much. One of my sisters flat out makes me want to give her a wedgie most of the time! The unbreakable, unshakable part is that we are always family.

    Prayers up! :)


Over to you!