Someone recently asked me how parents of identical twin babies can tell them apart. My first reaction was that even identical twins have tiny differences that a parent would notice. And I'm sure parents of twins have a labeling system. How hard could it be?

Then I reflected on how many times - in other walks of life - the average person screws up incredibly simple tasks with no provocation whatsoever.  In all likelihood, lots of twin babies have been accidentally switched at home, thanks to tired mothers, careless fathers, forgetful grandparents, and disgruntled babysitters.

I can imagine being in that situation myself. I'd strip down both babies to give them an efficient and simultaneous diaper change, and say to myself Remember the one on the right is Ryan. Right is Ryan. Right is Ryan. I'd be all proud of my memory trick right up until it was time to dress them in their identifiable outfits. Then I'd be wondering if the memory trick was right is Ryan or Bob is Nearest the Bed. I'd be too embarrassed to tell my wife I mixed up the babies and I'd settle it with a coin toss.

I know, I know. You're going to say twin babies usually have ankle bracelets or some sort of identifier that can't be screwed up. But no system is perfect. Sooner or later, my wife would hand me a new set of baby bracelets and ask me to change out the old ones. My incompetence is like rain on a flat roof. If there's a hole, I'll find it.

Anyway, back to the original question: Does it really matter if you mix up the twin babies after you bring them home? I gave the question some brief but intense thought, and I concluded that it didn't matter at all. Arguably, all you're doing is switching the names of the babies, and not the babies themselves. It's the ultimate victimless crime. And yet it still seems very wrong.

If you're the father of adult identical twins, here's a good prank to play on your spouse. One day, out of nowhere, casually confess that decades ago you switched the babies' bracelets when they were three weeks old just to see if your wife would notice. Explain that when she didn't notice the switch, you didn't bother to fix it, figuring it didn't matter. You might want to record your wife's reaction on a hidden camera. That could be gold.

This seems like a good time to remind you not to get marriage advice from cartoonists.

On a related note, I'm wondering why there has never been a movie about identical twin criminals. One twin might commit crimes in front of witnesses, and on security video, and yet no jury could ever get past reasonable doubt. The trick is to make sure the other twin has no alibi at the time of the crime.

This is also a good time to remind you that you shouldn't embark on a crime spree based on the advice of cartoonists, no matter how awesome it might be.

And yes, I'm still running for president of the United States. There's a good chance I'll forget the nuclear codes and accidentally disarm the country. But consider who I might be running against. Ron Paul would stop guarding the nukes. Newt would scare North Korea into a preemptive attack. Obama has been bitch-slapping Pakistan for months, probably because he stopped smoking. There's no clear choice here.
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Dec 20, 2011
there was a movie called dead ringers starring jeremy irons about creepy twin gynecologists. kind of from the twins perspective.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 20, 2011
My wife did a PhD studying twins, and we are the parents of identical twins (bizarrely, the events happened in that order). She says that about 10% of parents of identical twins are not 100% sure that the twins did not get switched at some point - and I'd imagine the real value might be higher. Because we knew that, we were very careful (it didn't matter to me, but it did to her) and used black nail polish to identify one of them.
Dec 20, 2011
I've wondered that same thing about twins. I believe that it's not just wives who would be upset by this. It's also the kids themselves. All of the lore that accompanies the birth- "Joe came out first smiling, John came out next screaming- and your personalities have stayed the same!" would be proven to be sheer myth and suggestion and expectations. Might be very disturbing if you have always accepted the family mythology completely, only to find it wasn't true at all. A fascinating aspect of this is when things diverge and how that divergence gets accentuated in personalities of twins. One boy breaks his arm on the jungle gym, and how does that impact the rest of the life? One misses an opportunity...Phil and Steve Mahre the fact that one won the gold and one won the silver has greatly impacted their lives.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 20, 2011
Already been done, at least on Law & Order, which is where I get all my information on the latest headline news. http://tinyurl.com/6r97vf9
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 20, 2011
Don't they take the hand and foot prints of the twins (at birth or very early on). You could always periodically check the records and switch them back, in case a mix-up did result.
-9 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 20, 2011
Questions like this are extremely effective at revealing sex differences. Women don't care about whether there's a coherent reason for them to care about identical twins being switched. They operate purely by perceived obligation and perceived social acceptability. (That is why almost everything new is almost infallibly created by men, not women.)
Dec 20, 2011
As the father of identical twin girls, I can tell you without a doubt that for a while, neither me nor my wife could tell them apart just looking at them.
Luckily, one had a birthmark that we both used to know which was which.
I agree that in general, it wouldn't really matter if we did accidentally switch them. The only concern would be their medical histories, which are different and are important as they both take different doses of the same daily medication.

One interesting thing is that our son who is 3 years older than the girls could guess the right twin about 90% of the time when they were 6 months old (so at 3 1/2), and 100% by the time they were 1. We tried to get him to explain it to us, but couldn't get a real answer out of him.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 20, 2011
I have identical twin boys. Yes, we had a system. We kept the ankle bands from the hospital on as long as we could, mainly for fear of getting confused. Once they out grew those (which didn't take long) we resorted to other methods. (Sharpie'd initials, I think we even did the nail polish thing, etc) Eventually, we picked a color for each boy, one in blue, the other in green. This did not prevent the 'why aren't you eating, you should be hungr....oh wait, wrong kid" or the "why do you have crap in your pants I just changed you....oops, that was your brother" problems. Fortunately, now that they are a bit older, they both have their own personalities that would make them hard to confuse.

However, they are three now, so they are starting to be able to make their own choices, which is going to be our doom. Even though as parents, we can tell them apart, we still look for the color shirt each is wearing as the easy route and if one picks the other twin's shirt color for the day, we're screwed.

+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 20, 2011
On a micro level it could matter a little if the kids are on different feeding schedules. If Twin A just ate, and Twin B is scheduled to eat before the switch takes place, Twin A would get a double feeding and everyone would be wondering why Twin B was so cranky. But it probably wouldn't matter in the long run.

On a macro level, if one twin needs some regular medicine, it would certainly matter if they got mixed up, and then the twin that didn't need the medicine got it and the one that needed it went without.

But those are probably exceptions.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 20, 2011
We were at the toy store, buying a new bike for our kid. The friendly young salesman was helping us pick out the bike, giving us lots of advice, and we discussed it with him to pick out what we wanted. "OK" he said, "I'll get the bike from the stockroom and meet you at the checkout counter".

We get to the counter and see the clerk; "Oh, do you have the bike for us?"
"What bike?"
"The bike for our daughter, you know we just picked it out..."
Blank stare...

The confusion was escalating until the clerk's identically dressed, identical twin brother walks up with the new bike.

Looking back I almost wonder if the store manager hired them just to prank the customers...
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 20, 2011
I'm a twin. My mother claims that she could always tell my twin sister and I apart, but my father admits that he sometimes couldn't tell us apart.

I also have twin daughters. While I was pregnant with them, I worried a lot that I, as the mother, would be expected to be able to tell my babies apart and that I wouldn't be able to. Until my twin sister was visiting and said that she thinks that it is very possible that my mother switched us unknowingly, and if she did, it hasn't impacted our lives at all. Thankfully one of my daughters was born with a full head of hair and the other was bald, so I was saved from my concern. But I think my sister was right and it wouldn't really have mattered if we had been switched.
Dec 20, 2011
There have been several TV shows with twins as criminals. I think it is too obvious to make a movie out of it.

[The movie version would be from the twins' perspective. I'll bet that hasn't been done. I'm guessing the TV shows were all from the crime fighter perspective. -- Scott]
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