To Match or Not to Match?
July 19, 2004
by Amy Carey, iParenting Media
Considerations to help you decide whether to dress your multiples alike or whether matching encumbers individuality. Decide what is right for you.
Parents of multiples face a number of unique challenges not presented to parents of singletons. Beyond the physical stress of meeting the simultaneous needs of two or more young children, Mom and Dad must decide how best to encourage the emotional growth of their twins as individuals.
Parents might worry they'll fall into the trap of treating their multiples as a unit, especially considering the novelty of dressing the siblings in identical outfits. But will sending twins to preschool in matching T-shirts and jackets hinder their sense of individuality?
First, consider why parents might dress their multiples in matching outfits. "There may be times when parents feel they want recognition and the 'star' status of being a parent of multiples," says Eileen Pearlman, Ph.D., director of Twinsight and a licensed marriage, family and child therapist. "Dressing multiples alike when children are very young will surely bring added attention and can lift the spirits of a mother who has worked hard raising her multiples."
Most parents feel flattered by the compliments of strangers and don't mind showing off their baby bundles from time to time. Imagine the flow of attention directed at mothers of multiples, who are often stopped by passersby who want to "ooh" and "ah" over matching siblings.
Then there is the appeal of loading a shopping bag with scads of tiny outfits, which can boost anyone's morale. Most moms and dads enjoy dressing their young children in adorable styles before the kids are old enough to voice an opinion about which outfit to don each morning. So it's understandable that some parents of multiples feel the urge to buy two pink jumpers, two tiny hair bows and two pairs of patent leather shoes, especially for special occasions or taking family pictures.
Lisa Smith*, a mother of 18-year-old fraternal twins, avoided regularly dressing her son and daughter in identical outfits, but occasionally indulged in the habit. "Usually it was when we were going to an event, and I was using the nicer outfits that friends and family had given them as presents," she says.
The Convenience Factor
Another reason parents of multiples dress their children alike: convenience. Grabbing two of everything when racing through the mall can be easier than hunting for twice as many pairs of pants in the same size. On the way out the door in the morning, parents who dress their twins in identical outfits can save time by choosing just one set of outfits rather than trying to dig out two different tops and appropriate bottoms for each of their children. "I know that when I was a mom of 'twinfants,' the last thing I had mental energy for was worrying about how to dress my babies," says Pamela Fierro, who is a mother of identical twin girls and guide to parenting multiples at About.com. "It was hard enough getting myself dressed appropriately after a sleepless night."
Beyond the infant stage, though, children can be more vocal about what to wear, and wearing the same outfit as a brother or sister, even though it's convenient for Mom, might not be acceptable. What to do?
Smith recalls that when her children were young, she bought separates in the same color scheme so she could mix and match their clothing. For instance, she chose four pairs of dark blue pants and a few tops that matched these pants. "I found this easier on the budget also," she says. But by the time they were 4, her children opted out of the practice altogether. "There was no longer matching of anything of any kind," she says.
Like Smith's children, most multiples are happy to express their individuality by selecting outfits that set them apart from their siblings. For example, now that they are old enough to choose their own clothing, Fierro's daughters only dress alike for an annual Twins Day at their elementary school. Once your children reach this stage, engage them in selecting their own outfits the night before to take some of the early-morning pressure off Mom and Dad.
Matching Pros And Cons
When deciding whether or not to dress twins in identical styles, most parents would agree you should take cues from your multiples. For example, both Smith's and Fierro's children let their parents know when they were ready to chose their own outfits.
But when considering much younger children, is there harm in dressing them alike as long as they'll allow the practice? "When multiples are dressed alike, there is a tendency for people to see them as a unit, not as separate individuals," Pearlman says. "Dressing differently and distinctly also helps others, such as friends, teachers and grandparents, distinguish who they are."
Trish Adams, a mother of identical twin boys in Pawcatuck, Conn., agrees. She dresses her twins differently to help others avoid viewing them "as one kid with the same likes and dislikes." Multiples have their own personalities, their own interests and their own talents. The more people see them as identical on the outside, the more they may treat them as identical on the inside. "Dressing [my twins] the same prevents them from expressing themselves in individual ways," Adams says.
On the other hand, Fierro feels that fostering individuality in children goes much deeper than clothing style. "Personally, I don't believe that 'clothes make the man' – or the twins," says Fierro. She says that parents must spend time and energy getting to know their twins on a one-to-one basis, recognizing and drawing out their unique strengths and characteristics.
A Little Goes a Long Way
No matter what your opinion on clothing and individuality, an occasional matching outfit is inevitable. Maybe Grandma gave a set of sweaters to wear in Christmas photos or you couldn't resist the sale on baby overalls for your twins' first birthday party.
A few instances of identical dressing surely won't leave a permanent mark on your child's sense of himself. Continue to foster each child's unique interests and tendencies, continue to get to know him on an individual level, and he'll feel good about himself no matter what he wears.
*Names changed to protect privacy.
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