In Quillette, twin researcher Nancy L. Segal writes about the controversy over the 1960s researchers who deliberately split up four pairs of identical twin adoptees and one set of triplets (I reviewed the documentary, Three Identical Strangers). I was struck by the last sentence of this paragraph:
Deliberately Divided is about twins adopted apart, but the story is scarred by secrets, coverups, and fractured lives. The controversy comes from Louise Wise Services’ (LWS) 1960s practice of intentionally separating newborn twins relinquished by single mothers. This policy was spearheaded by Columbia University psychiatrist, Dr. Viola W. Bernard, who served as a consultant to LWS (New York City’s preeminent adoption agency for Jewish families). Bernard’s belief was that (1) twins develop a better sense of identity if reared apart from their co-twin,
In the Freudian Era, it seemed common for Herr Professors of Psychiatry to authoritatively state as science whatever personal prejudices they had about anything.
and (2) raising one child at a time alleviates parental overburdening.
Which is true.
On the other hand, Margaret Thatcher told my wife that she was lucky she had twins because then she could get over raising her kids in one fell swoop. But, she had help.
According to archival materials I examined, her justification was based on the “child development literature of the time”—but as I note in my book, she never cited specific studies. That is because there were none.
Segal ends by mentioning a more broadly shared view of the time that you don’t hear much about anymore:
In an ironic twist, individual twins were placed with parents who had successfully adopted a child several years earlier, to prevent individual twins from growing up as only children.
My friends told me that it was unfair that only children got more toys on Christmas.
And adults would tell me that being an only child was bad for one’s proper socialization and other quasi-Freudian psychological jargon of the times.
In an era obsessed with recalling the undying deleterious effects of some kinds of prejudice, it’s interesting that the old prejudice against only children is perhaps even more forgotten than the old prejudice against left-handers. Why am I not being constantly interviewed about how my feelings were hurt by people saying bad things about only children, and then touching my hair?
On the other hand, perhaps because I’m not very self-obsessed, I can’t actually recall my feelings being hurt by the anti–only child bigotry of the times. My recollection is mostly that I thought other people’s assertions about the effects of being an only child were interesting, but hard to test. (Granted, that sounds extremely implausible for a child, but, then again, my personality hasn’t changed all that much over the last 50 years.)
And I did get a lot of presents on Christmas.