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How can I protect my twins from "gawkers"?

QUESTION: I am a mother of twin girls, 18 months old. I am upset with the way strangers gawk, ask questions and in general, intrude on my children as if they are "freaks". What is so fascinating about twins? What can I do to stop the intrusion?

ANSWER: We all need, at some point in our development, to feel that there is someone out there who is just like us! Feeling this sense of camaraderie and likeness with someone is as critical to healthy human development as feeling unique and "special". To be "just like" someone reminds us that we are not alone in the world. Feelings of "likeness" make us feel that we truly belong.

The fascination with twins is rooted in our psychological fantasy of having more than one of ourselves in the world. The experience of seeing a real set of twins may even stimulate a supernatural wish for our own imaginary clone. Naturally, this is not what real twins are about. And so reality and fantasy collide!

Multiple children pose their own unique challenges to parents. Everything from financial to emotional resources are tapped at a compounded rate. The early years of parenting multiples are particularly stressful. But as with all things, the years have a way of teaching lessons of cooperation, and balance is achieved over time. Parents of multiples quickly learn to recognize the differences in their children and are well aware that looks are only skin deep. No wonder they tire of repeated commentary by strangers, which becomes intrusive rather than friendly.

But parents of multips are not alone in their frustration. Anyone who falls a bit out of the "norm" in our culture is fair game. Families with adopted children of different races, for example, go through the same recurrent commentary when out in public. Or children who are bi-racial. Are these your children? Are they adopted or biological? One Caucasian mother of two adopted Nicaraguan children explained to me that she had to have a discussion with her son and daughter about how to protect their privacy in public when such questions were asked.

Talk with your children about how to maintain their privacy, as they grow. But do not stop there! Stop intrusive touching when it occurs. Ask strangers to maintain appropriate distance, even if you have to say, ""please do not touch my child". Let others know when you feel uncomfortable, and do not hesitate to set limits. Remember, it is they who are being rude in the first place!

Families come in all shapes and sizes. But we sometimes forget to respect children's boundaries in the same way we would an adult. Children are people, too. They deserve respect and consideration equal, not less, than any adult. We could all use greater consciousness about our affect on children, when taking license to comment, gawk, touch or in any other way force our interaction upon them.

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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