- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 30, 2006

What are your feelings about separating twins in school? With my girls, one appears to be the leader and one the follower, but they are good friends.

Will separating them lead to problems in their relationship, or is it vital to each child’s individual development? I’ve heard both sides argued eloquently and don’t know what to do.

A: Yes, the constant cacophony of competing opinions has caused child rearing in America to become every bit as confusing as American politics. Once upon a time, everyone agreed on how to raise children, and no sweat was poured out over details such as whether or not to separate twins in school.

This consensus was shattered when parents stopped listening to the calming common sense of their elders and began instead to hang on the every word of parenting “experts” like yours truly.

To create a market for ourselves, we had to make child rearing and children seem complex — so complex that the average bear became convinced that only the experts — people with capital letters after their names — knew how to navigate parenting’s labyrinth (which is littered with numerous psychological land mines, as everyone knows) and come up with the right answers.

This mythology has created a state of co-dependency between professional experts and lay parents within which the experts depend upon the dependency of their parent audience — a convenient arrangement.

Fifty years ago, a mother would have asked this question of her mother, her children’s grandmother, and her mother’s answer would have been informed by nothing more than experience and common sense.

Regardless of her answer, Grandma would have assured Mom that this was no big deal in the larger scope of things, that it didn’t warrant agonizing. Parents agonize over such things today because we experts have manufactured the notion that every child-rearing issue, no matter how small, is fraught with apocalyptic psychological ramifications.

So parents — mothers especially — spend disproportionate amounts of time carefully arranging the apples on parenting’s apple cart, all the while worrying that one bad decision could upset the cart, scattering the apples everywhere and requiring that they start all over again.

Until recently, if separation was possible, twins usually were separated in school. This was thought to be practical. For one thing, it was less confusing for teachers, who did not have to concern themselves with who was who. For another, it lessened the possibility that the “follower” twin would feel herself to be in the “leader” twin’s shadow.

If separation was not possible, then twins were not separated. I’m sure there are adult twins out there who feel they were better off being separated and others who feel blessed that they were never separated, others who wish they had been, and still others who wish they had not been.

In short, the outcomes of such decisions are difficult, if not impossible, to predict, which is why agony is fruitless.

As for me, I am for separation, if it’s possible. I cannot imagine that separating your daughters would damage their relationship. It will provide them the opportunity to lessen their dependence on each other and enlarge their social spheres.

If, however, separation is not possible, I don’t think it’s going to matter that much in the long run. Most important, I think you would be doing yourself a great disservice by losing sleep over it.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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