Over the past week, I’ve seen these twins separated at birth on several talk shows. (They co-wrote a book about their experience called Identical Strangers.) Despite being raised apart, they share much in common from mannerisms to their educational choices. (And almost everything in between.) I find their story relevant to me because I am raising adopted twins, albeit fraternal twins.
Fourteen years ago, we waited with great anxiety for the birth-mother to choose us. I believed wholeheartedly that Nurture would triumph over Nature in an arm-wrestling contest. Motherhood would be all about providing an appropriate, loving environment. I would mold my children into my image and they would become straight-A students with an affinity for the piano and a love of literature. They would be polite and gentle and funny. My only worry was that they might be ugly.
I discounted the idea that nature and their genetics would dictate the course of their lives.
I was so wrong.
My biological son is 9 years old. He shares not only physical traits with his father, but also personality traits. He is the sort of child who sets his own alarm, gets up early to do his homework, then takes a shower (without being asked) and plays with gusto until it’s time to go to school. At school, he listens, follows directions and excels in every subject. (I like to think he got that from me.) He has an optimism and a persistence that will serve him well. And he’s hilarious.
If he’d been my only child, I would have dislocated my elbow patting myself on the back. I would have been an insufferable, smug parent, one who believed that my careful choice of educational toys resulted in my boy’s brilliance. I would have thought that his success was due to my excellent mothering skills. I would have peered down my nose at other mothers with their difficult children and reluctant students. I would have blamed them for their children’s behavior and destiny.
On the other hand, if I didn’t have my 9-year old, I would consider myself an utter failure as a parent. Over these past fourteen years, I have repeated myself like an insistent parrot. I have hovered over my boys, insisting that they do all the math problems. I have pointed out that laundry goes into the laundry room. I have lectured and pointed my finger and on occasion, stomped my feet in frustration. My boys shrug off my parenting like a coat that does not fit. They refuse to bend to my will, to fit into the mold I expected.
Living with them is a lot like living with strangers. They do not act, think or behave like anyone I know. When I make jokes, they look at me in confusion. (The other day, one of them demanded, “WHY CAN’T BRANDON SPEND THE NIGHT?” They wanted a sleepover on a Saturday night, which is against family rules because sleepovers on Saturdays make Sundays too hard. After offering a bunch of reasons only to be met with arguments, I said, “It’s against my religion,” and the son in question said, “That’s not in the Bible!” I laughed at his indignance. “It’s a joke!” I said. These boys do not “get” sarcasm, which is my primary love-language.)
So, stories like the twins separated at birth give me hope. I can stop fretting and loosen my grip just a little. I cannot control these kids. They are who they are. I’m merely along for the ride, hoping that they’ll believe me when I tell them we should turn left at the corner. If they don’t, we might get lost for a while, but I’m sure (relatively sure) that we’ll all end up at our destination sooner or later.
I’m just the mother, not the Grand Ruler of the Universe. I need to remember that. I must not take their rejection of my mothering skills personally.