It’s a seminal transition moment in anyone’s life, but perhaps far more so in the lives of twins: heading off to college.
Yet too few parents start the process for this sometimes wrenching life change early enough, or take control of the situation, one expert says.
“Parents really aren’t aware how the adjustment to college is going to affect their children – even [twins themselves] don’t understand how difficult the adjustment is going to be,” said Dr. Joan Friedman, a psychotherapist and the author of “The Same But Different: How Twins Can Live, Love and Learn to Be Individuals” and “Emotionally Healthy Twins: A New Philosophy for Parenting Two Unique Children.”
Friedman, an identical twin herself and parent of fraternal-twin sons in addition to three other children, will travel from her home base in California to speak at the Sept. 15 meeting of the Northern Virginia Parents of Multiples.
Acknowledging that the transition from home to higher education is not difficult for everyone – “I’m sure a lot of twins get to college and they’re fine” – Friedman said challenges are many.
“If twins are not treated as individuals and are rarely separated, they will not develop the emotional tools and skills to behave as well-integrated and self-reliant individuals,” she said.
Friedman is a proponent of – though not adamant about – sending twins to separate institutions of higher education, but says parents must lay the groundwork first. Separate day camps, separate overnight camps, separate sports teams all help to give twins individual identities, particularly identical twins and twins of the same gender. “A lot of preparation” is needed, Friedman said in an interview.
Otherwise, when a twin gets to college, he or she can be “a fish out of water.”
After a separation at college, or at any other stage of life, there’s no one-size-fits-all result.
“For many twin pairs, a physical separation can help each one learn how to be more independent and self-reliant,” Friedman says. “For others, physical separateness does not alter some of the psychological dilemmas that have been created as a result of complicated twin dynamics.”
The situation is complicated if one twin takes to the college life while another finds the transition particularly difficult.
But if the twins can deal with all the challenges, the benefits may last a lifetime. “After four years of separation, they come back in their young adulthood in a more connected, healthy way,” Friedman said.
While groups such as Northern Virginia Parents of Multiples are comprised largely of those with younger twins, Friedman said getting an early start on planning for the ultimate separation is helpful and healthy. Educators, too, must do their part, and the twins have to keep the door open to communicate with each other – something that isn’t always easy.
Siblings are “often afraid to tell their twins they want to go to different schools,” Friedman said.
Northern Virginia Parents of Multiples, founded in the 1970s, now has more than 400 members, offering everything from educational and social events to mentoring and large sales of children’s clothing and equipment.