Carolyn Hax: Thinking ahead about having one heirloom, but two heirs

Carolyn Hax
Columnist February 14

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hey there, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I have identical twin girls, age 2. My husband and I really try to encourage them to become their own people (no matching outfits, although sometimes we do variations on the same theme) and are planning to make sure they’re always in different classes at school, etc.

On my wedding day, my mother-in-law gave me a family heirloom — a piece of jewelry worth thousands of dollars, given to her by her mother. She has no daughters of her own and I’m the wife of her eldest son. I wore it in my wedding. I will wear it to whatever other fancy events I attend throughout my life, but otherwise it will remain in a safe-deposit box till it’s time to pass it along.

For the first time the other day, I thought about the fact that I have two “firstborn” girls and only one special necklace to give. This totally freaked me out. Right now, they are both girly girls who like dress-up and things that glitter. Who knows whether that will be true 50 years from now, but if it is, I dread the idea of having to choose between them.


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

You wrote something the other day that reminded me of this dilemma. When I have only one of something important to give — whether it’s a necklace, the last cookie, my lap on a train ride — how on earth do moms of twins, or just two kids, make those decisions?

Tough Choices

You split the cookie, do shifts on your lap, and hope the cosmos burps out another, comparable heirloom so you have two of them to give.

When that doesn’t work out, you take the long view. It’s not as if this train ride is the only train ride, or lap space is the only measure of affection, or family jewelry is the only gift of value, or giving it to a daughter is the only proper use for a gem. Think of it all as going into one big pot, from which you feed each daughter carefully and fairly.

Also keep in mind that “fairly” doesn’t always mean all 50-50, all the time. There are going to be times when one of your children needs you so much more than the other does, and you will rightly pay the needier child the extra attention — and it will break your heart for the other child regardless, but less so for your knowing that when it’s her turn to need more, you will provide it. And the other child will know this is true, both by witnessing it and by hearing your decisions explained as needed.

Apply that attitude consistently and you’ll get a more workable answer to these individual who-gets-what questions than “split it down the middle.”

By the way, the whole firstborn-gets-the-heirloom thing reeks of unfairness anyway — though I suppose the firstborn also gets the rookie parents, so maybe there’s fairness to be found here, too.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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