Creating artificial twins, also known as virtual twins, through adoption is a bit of a sticky wicket in adoption circles. Artificial twinning means having two children in the family that are closer than could occur through birth where at least one child is adopted. This can happen through the adoption of two unrelated kids at the same time or through the adoption of one child that is close in age to a child already in the family through either birth or adoption. Melissa Fay Greene writes about her family’s experience with artificial twinning in her wonderful new book No Bike Riding in the House Without a Helmet when they adopted a preteen boy the same age as a son they had adopted a few years earlier. We talked about her experience on this week’s Creating a Family show. Creating a Family provides plenty or resources for those thinking about artificial twinning or those who are raising virtual twins.
- Creating a Family radio show where we interviewed experts on creating virtual twins and how to minimize the risks to the children and provide resources for families considering this option.
- Artificial Twinning/Virtual Twins page
- Chart on the Pros and Cons of Adopting More Than One at a Time
- Top Ten Tips for Parenting Artificial Twins (Virtual Twins) Through Adoption
A Virtual Twin’s Experience
Up until now, however, we haven’t heard from an adult who was raised as an artificial twin. As you probably know, I am a huge believer in listening to adult adoptees; however, I caution that no one adoptee speaks for the diverse whole. Below is one woman’s experience. Please share your experience as an adoptive parent or an adoptee with virtual twinning in the comments.
All my brother and I had as young children was each other. At six years old, our adoptive parents divorced over dad’s alcoholism, which had resulted in domestic violence. My adoptive mother was raised in a strong religious family where children played such an important role in their beliefs. By all appearances only being able to conceive one much older bio son and then to adopt two babies so close in age was a desperate attempt to fix an already broken marriage. However, we shared a tight connection as brother and sister up until dad walked out of our lives.
Not that most adoptions start out like ours did or continue to get much worse, but it’s what I experienced from having a non-bio brother so close in age that might in some way help other adoptive parents.
1. My adoptive brother and I were as different as night and day in every way possible. Being forced to tell anyone who asked that we were twins but had different birth dates caused a lot of unnecessary gossip and confusion as we got older. I still have friends from Junior High who ask me on Facebook if we were really twins. There is no simple explanation as to why I wouldn’t have been telling the truth.
2. Until my 13th birthday, I remember only celebrating our birthdays together. There was nothing in our lives that represented each of us being unique and special. Mom would probably say it was done to not cause jealousy and was less work. My suggestion would be that if you are going to have one birthday party, to have a significant day set aside for each child that represents for example—the day you adopted your son or daughter. I remember with fondness my grandfather that lived out of state being able to randomly recite the date of my birthday and I wondered how that was possible when he had so many other grandchildren. He is the only relative or father figure that ever took me somewhere without my brother.
3. Looking back, I see where there were many times that my brother and I fed off of each other’s feelings/emotions, especially during the first six years of our lives. If he cried non-stop on the first day of kindergarten, I felt I must as well or vice versa. Although my brother was academically smarter than me if he had applied himself in school, I was more social and made friends easily. Our parents never focused on our strengths separately. Our identities were so closely meshed together that our individuality often got lost.
4. I don’t believe it was healthy for the adults in our lives not to see that as young children we couldn’t always be each other’s counselor and to try and process the difficult issues that face all families at some point. I am just starting to be able to, as an adult, put what I felt deep inside into words.
5. Tragically, after our parents divorced, my brother has struggled over the years with some serious mental health issues. Even as youngsters, I could see that he wasn’t and couldn’t totally bond to anyone in our family. The brother I had once thought I was close to has caused me a lot of shame and embarrassment with his repetitive bizarre behavior. I still remember back in elementary school grabbing him out from underneath a fight with a group of boys and pleading with them to just stop, even though I knew that he had probably provoked it from constantly antagonizing others. But still deep inside me there is this unspoken loyalty because I have felt those forbidden feelings of abandonment from a not so perfectly ideal adoption, as well as not being able to grieve over an absent adoptive father. My adoptive mother would always just say that I was jealous because my brother would get so much negative attention. What I needed from my parents is for them to have realized that not only did my brother desperately need psychological help, but that I also felt alone and confused. Regardless, if a child is adopted or not, a sibling, especially one so close in age, can feel at fault somehow for not being able to fix a family member that they are trying to love and not hate.
6. As if it was our fault, my adoptive mother would often say, “I raised all three of you the same, but you all turned out so differently.” The truth is none of us shared the same bio mother or bio father. My birth siblings say I am so much like my late birth mother in her mannerisms right down to her laugh. My adoptive family could have certainly been a textbook case where nurture verses nature proved to not just be a fantasy.
From my perspective, you have only failed as adoptive parents if you try to mold us into that child you couldn’t have or somebody we are not.
Image credit: pauldevoto
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Sounds like they did a lot of things that are described as huge mistakes for bio twins, too.
I have a set of virtual triplets all born with in a month of each other. Two of the children I’ve had since birth and were together since my first little guy was just 2 months old. The two who were raised from birth together are much more like “twins” but they also share a bio father. Even as infants they would want to be near each other and often hold hands. Our “triplet” was added to our family right as the kiddos were turning 2, she was very reluctant to form bonds with anyone. Now as they are turning 3 the kids have formed close bonds and are much like triplets. We celebrate each child’s birthday individually at home and their adoption dates as well. As for now we do have the actual birthday party together. As they get older I’m sure that will change and I’m all ears to listen to what they want when they become more independent. We also have a set of virtual twins just 1 year younger than the “triplets” two boys. One child was 15months when he came to us and the other 18months, the children came to us around 6months apart. The virtual twinning in this case is still very new and I’m interested to see how they will bond with each other. I’m often confused on what to tell stranger when they see us out, we can be show stoppers with all the tiny ones, and we often get asked if they are triplets/twins as people just assume. I mostly say yes in those situations as a no opens up more questions in the middle of a store for most people. People we are close to or there teacher etc do know they are not actually “triplets/twins”
Thanks for reading and reaching out. We get some variations of this question — “what do I say to this question?” a lot. And really it boils down to how you choose to protect and guard your children’s stories. Each of them — though they may feel and function like triplets – has his or her own story and the right to keep it private as they grow and process. They are very young now and likely not sure how or why some things deserve to be private, so for the time being, you get to decide that. As they grow, they may have different feelings on what has been shared or what they wish to share. And once something is “out there” it can never be brought back in. So until they choose what to put out there — of their own story — how do you guard that for them? Only you can answer that based on your experiences and your understanding of their stories.
Here’s something that might help you think through the related issues: Advice to My Pre-Adoptive Parent Self — experiences and lessons from parents who’ve already tackled issues just like this one.
I am a 44 year old woman who is an adoptee with a 44 year old adopted brother. I was adopted first as an infant, and my parents adopted my brother through foster care when we were 3. My parents weren’t equipped to deal with all the psychological issues my brother had and the neglect he went through. My mom got involved in a very fundamental Christian church that discouraged her from getting psychological support for my brother.
My brother and I also looked identical as little kids. We don’t have a close relationship because of all the stresses we went through and how much we were compared to each other growing up. (More so that my parents wanted my brother to act more like me—I’d grown up with my parents so I had strong bonds and had learned complete obedience way before my brother.) I became the punching bag for my brother’s frustrations. I felt horrible for him and could see that he needed professional help he never got.
Listen to professionals and get your children the help they need. Being adopted has enough psychological problems without putting the child in a situation to always be compared to another child. I finally got counseling as an adult and could have used it as a child as well.
It’s always confused me that people are encouraged to get educated and seek professional advice in all situations of life yet parenting is supposed to be instinctive and only unsuccessful parents need guidance and professional support. Seek out help from everyone you can, and actually listen to them.
Thanks for sharing your experiences, M. Your story points out so many reasons that we regularly advise parents to very carefully consider if and how to disrupt birth order, or adopt virtual twins. It’s not impossible to do well, with the best interests of the child in mind, but it does require extra preparations and care. You also point out another issue about which we are passionate — that of parenting the child that you have in front of you, meeting the needs that this child has and celebrating his uniqueness without comparing between kids. We are thankful that you stopped by to read and share your thoughts.
I have virtual triplets and virtual quadruplets. it isnt something we planned it just turned out that way. we met these kids, fell in love with them and they happened to be close in age to children already in our home. none were adopted as infants. we call them triplets and quadruplets. but really they are just kids the same age number. so we have 3 seven year olds and 4 9 year olds.
It is great to read an adult adoptee’s story. I am an adoptive mom who twinned my oldest bio daughter with an adopted daughter 5 months younger. It was never our intent to virtual twin, it just happened through the referral process in Ethiopia.
They are in different grades which has helped them tremendously in having their own lives at school with their own friends and social circles. I think it still bugs my oldest, but three years into it, we are doing okay.
I will keep your words to heart though and work on not lumping them together as one. In truth they are both so different, this hasn’t been a problem but the teen years loom ahead so we will see!
What a great perspective. When we adopted our son from S. Korea, we twinned our boys–our only children. They are 6 months apart. They don’t look alike or act alike (although we have been asked twice if they are twins, which made me have to stifle a laugh). Almost the only thing they have in common is their age. We have to parent them very differently–especially with discipline. I imagine when they are older and looking back on their childhoods, they will both have very different opinions of how well we did as parents. But we are doing the best we can and I hope the one thing they BOTH remember is that they are loved. The last sentence of the post really resonated with me. Thanks for talking about this topic.
That was a very interesting read. Thank you for sharing.
Wow! This is really powerful. Thank you for sharing it Dawn. We adopted two children close in age (6 weeks apart) boy and girl. They came to us seperately 3 months apart at 5 months old and 6.5 months old. At the time, it was difficult waiting for our son while having our daughter home, but looking back it was the beginning of a very good situation. We were able to spend 3 good months getting to know our daughter before our son came home, giving her individual attention. And then when he came home, he had some physical issues that required one of us to bring him to pt and do lots of daily exercises which resulted in lots of one on one time for him with us.
Early on, we decided not to treat them as twins. Simply because they are not. Our daughter has always known that she is the “big” sister and our son knows he is the “little” brother, though their physical size is otherwise! We have had many questions over the years about if they are twins and we’ve always been honest. Many have said it must be like having twins, but I’m not even convinced of that.
They are now 7 years old and enjoying first grade. They share many of the same interests and are in the same classroom. But they very much have their own friends and other interests. We are even sure that they do their homework separately though doing it together would be so much easier. They share the same birth country which I think is a source of pride for them in our family of 6 children. But they couldn’t be more different in their approach/interest in their adoptions. Our daughter is very outspoken and interested at this point in her life, while our son rarely speaks of his adoption.
Thank you for sharing the experience of this adult adoptee. I am definitely taking it to heart and want to be sure each of my children feels as unique and wonderful as they truthfully are.
I don’t know how I feel about this story… sounds like she is very jadded anyway and a lot of the things she complains about, “normal” twins deal with as well. I knew from the moment she referred to her mom as her “adoptive mother” that she didn’t have a good childhood. I would be very interested to read a story about a Virtual Twin that was raised in a happy adoptive home because I bet their stories would be completely different. I do agree that it must be, at the very least, strange for them to answer questions about their age and to feel “normal” because of speculation, but I think a lot of her issues as a child were simply a bad family life and not the fact that she was adopted so close in age to her brother. Obviously each child should be treated as a unique individual, but I don’t think this is a problem unique to virtual twins. JMO.
Every effort should be made to not differentiate a child through adoption versus natural means.
Agreed! A child is ONCE adopted. That is how they enter the family. After that, they are simply a child in the family.
Perfect info! I have already been searching for something similar to this for quite a while now. Appreciation!
I have to agree with Denise. It seems most of her issues have to do more with being in a generally disfunctional family, not that she is close in age to her brother. In fact, if she didn’t have him, would she have been posting about how alone she was growing up?
We were blessed with triplets from IVF after we sent in our paperwork to adopt internationally. All are girls and the triplets are slightly younger, but they are all in the same grade. Our “singleton” actually gets the better deal since she doesn’t have to share her birthday with anyone and she also gets “gotcha day” with we celebrate as “family day” by going out to an ethnic restaurant each year. She knows and relishes being the “big sister” even though in height/weight she is actually the smallest. But, since she is a few months older, she tends to learn things first and then like to teach her sisters.
If anything, we have to deal more with the typical multiples issues with our other daughters who don’t like not having 3 separated birthday parties…but that is just too much for me to do…3 parties in one week. Eek! They do each have their own cake in their preferred theme.
Despite being the same age, since they are of obviously different ethnicities, I am pretty sure that no one thinks they are bio-quadruplets. 🙂