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[Weekender] The ins and outs of twinhood

Wherever they go, they naturally draw attention. One day they may fight like there’s no tomorrow, but in the end they are each other’s best friend.

Twins, whether identical or fraternal, are becoming more common in Korea, partly because more women are getting married at an older age, increasing the likelihood of having children via medically assisted reproduction, which raises the chances of multiple births.

The latest data from Statistics Korea shows that 16,166 twins were born in 2015, accounting for around 3.7 percent of all newborns in the country that year. It marked a threefold jump from 1995, when only 9,422 twins were born.

The phenomenon might become more common in the years ahead, sparking interest in understanding twins and how to raise them.

The Korea Herald interviewed twins as well as their parents to examine the ins and outs of twins and how to raise them, while debunking some common misconceptions.

Twins sometimes hate being twins

Growing up, 36-year-old Song Shin-ho hated appearing in public with his identical twin brother. Stares and curious looks from strangers were common, not to mention friends and family frequently mistaking one twin for the other.

The confusion followed them throughout childhood and adolescence, as teachers would often mistake Song, an introvert, with his more outgoing and mischievous brother who attended the same school.

“Some teachers at my high school thought that I was bipolar, or punished me for something my brother did. It was really annoying, especially when I was a teenager, to always have to deal with a chronic identity crisis of sorts,” Song recalled.

“Looking back, I think I disliked the fact that ‘another me’ literally existed, taking away my exclusive identity as an individual. It’s a reason why many twins consciously strive to be different and naturally develop differing personalities and interests,” he said.

After going to universities in different cities, Song and his brother took off on entirely different paths. Song became a journalist while his twin brother joined the military.

Now in his mid-30s, Song says he is thankful to have a twin who he considers an irreplaceable friend with many shared interests and memories. “It’s a special and valuable friendship that is exclusive to twins.” he said.

Highly similar but unique individuals

As they share the same genes, identical twins are biologically inclined to have similar temperaments, develop similar interests as well as relate to each other on a deeper level than typical siblings.

While that may not be the case for all twins, it’s mostly true for 24-year-old Michael Li who definitely sees himself as more similar than different to his identical twin, Kevin.

“We are both introverts, fairly collected and patient, overanalytical and sometimes self-critical. We often share many of the same shortcomings as well,” Li said.

Academically, the two have pursued similar paths. Though they attended different universities, both majored in computer science. They now work at the same tech company as engineers.

Despite their close relationship, both Michael and Kevin have always prioritized independence, perhaps more so than others.

“Kevin is probably closer to me than anyone, but there is also definitely a push to go out and do things independently. Throughout high school and even now, we tend to avoid being in same social groups. It was also a deliberate decision to go to different colleges,” Michael said.

A big downside of being a twin is that it takes much more effort to define your own identity, as people around you will tend to automatically label you as “the twins” or two versions of one person, he added.

Still, having a twin also has its benefits.

“An upside I often take for granted is having someone going through the same stages of life as you are, and who you can talk to and relate to,” Michael said.

Nonetheless, the struggles of having an identical brother continue to this day. By this point, however, Michael says he is used to the confusion.

“I’ll often be called Kevin, while people I don’t know at all will often greet me or look at me as if they know me,” he said. “By now, I’ve been conditioned to respond to both Kevin and Michael.”

A twin brother and sister play on a beach. (Lee Dong-hoon)
A twin brother and sister play on a beach. (Lee Dong-hoon)

A special bond

One of the most common questions identical twins receive is “do you have twin telepathy?”

While mind-reading may be a myth, twins do share a special bond that is fundamentally different from those of regular siblings, says 29-year-old Yang Shin-ah, who has an identical twin sister.

“I would say my twin sister and I are more than just close to each other,” said Yang, who considers her sister her “other half.” Though they currently do not live together, the sisters do just about everything together whenever they get the chance.

“People around us even joke that my sister and I need to be separated from one another in order for us to properly date and get married later,” Yang said.

A similar bond exists for 29-year-old Shin Sang-won, who also considers his identical twin brother to be his best friend and lifelong companion.

“My twin brother and I are really close to each other. We generally like similar things and share similar hobbies, though we’ve developed differing personalities and career paths,” said Shin, who covers global trading at an energy firm. His brother works in the finance sector.

“Because we are the same age and have always had each other to hang out with growing up, there was no need to for us to, say, ‘outsource’ friends in comparison to those with different-aged siblings or no siblings,” he said.

“In my case, I just really enjoyed having a bestie by my side who I can openly share my worries and secrets with. Sharing mutual friends was also an upside.”

Half of everything

Born at the same time and growing up side-by-side, twins are naturally placed in a competitive environment in which they are constantly compared to each other.

On the other hand, parents have to be extra careful to provide everything equally and fairly to their twin children.

“From grades and test scores to personal achievements, my twin sister and I were always being compared, which in hindsight led us to naturally become competitive,” Yang said.

Hyun Jin-ho, a father of identical male twins who are 11 years old, said it makes him feel a little uneasy watching his competitive sons who have both chosen to pursue the field of art and design.

“As a parent, I’m concerned that one child may feel like he is behind the other, as they both chase after similar dreams and career ambitions,” Hyun said. “I don’t want one to ever feel incapable in comparison to his twin brother.”

Equality is the golden rule for families with twins, whether it be parental attention and love, giving out snacks, buying clothes or choosing toys.

“Whenever I am hugging or kissing one child, I can always sense the other child staring at me. At that moment, I always make sure that I provide sufficient affection and love to the other child,” said Lee Jin-hee, the mother of 3-year-old fraternal twins.

According to Yi Soon-hyung, a professor at Seoul National University’s department of child development and family studies, parents of twins must always be careful to provide them with equal opportunities and care.

“By nature, twins are extra sensitive about how their parents treat them,” Yi said. “Parents must take extra caution to provide equal opportunities, whether it is psychological or materialistic, and not compare or favor one child over the other.”

Double trouble, quadruple joy

Twinhood has its upsides, though raising twins can be a challenge -- from the difficulties of carrying two babies through pregnancy to caring for two infants simultaneously in their early years.

“The weight of having to care for two infant children at once can indeed be daunting, both physically and mentally,” said Lee. “However, after infancy come the real benefits of raising twins. They can be left to play on their own and naturally learn from one another all the time.”

From a developmental perspective, twins will always have a friend to play with as well as be able to learn crucial social skills from each other, lightening the burden of parents, according to professor Yi.

“Raising twins can in many ways be more liberating for exhausted parents, as the children can bond and play with each other,” Yi said.

“Twins often display cooperative traits and develop a sense of camaraderie with each other, which will last a lifetime. For them, it can be reassuring to know that they will always have a twin friend to depend on as they get through life’s struggles.”

By Sohn Ji-young (