Separation not severance
I feel compelled to write because I am outraged, saddened, but not surprised about society’s disingenuous beliefs about the “twin mystique”. A recent experience recounted by an acquaintance of mine has riled my discontent . A conscientious and psychologically sophisticated mom of four-year-old twins decided to separate her fraternal twin daughters into their own classrooms. They had been together the first year of preschool, and both mother and the teachers agreed that the girls would thrive in separate classes. One child has an independent, outgoing, and free spirited personality; her sister has a propensity to be dependent, clinging, and easily frustrated. Mother consulted with friends, family and professionals to discuss her concerns and ideas. Mom’s fraternal twin sisters validated her decision; they were understanding and steadfastly supportive about their nieces needing opportunities and permission to be on their own. Understandably mom was upset and worried when the class roster arrived. She realized that one twin would be in class with all of her friends while her sister would be in a classroom without any former classmates.
Mother attended a school event prior to the preschool’s opening day. Unsuspectingly, she found herself barraged and assailed by other families about her decision to put her girls in separate classrooms. They treated her as if she were committing a despicable crime. Her sole allies were the teachers, who encouraged her to follow through with her plans.
The transition has been a bit difficult –however, not impossible, not tragic, and not traumatizing. Many developmental milestones involve a brief period of disregulation. The twin in the classroom without her own friends does feel lonesome, upset and envious that her sister is comfortable and happy. She cried about this with her mom and dad and told them how she felt. However, when her dad asked her if she wanted to be in the classroom with her sister, she resolutely answered no. Her parents empathically support her desire to be on her own and recognize that she has emotional hurdles to overcome. Nonetheless, the family feels confident that this is the right move for their free spirited daughter. With their love and support, I am quite convinced that this child will manage the challenges and emerge from the experience feeling masterful, confident, and self-assured.
For those of you who might feel that it is wrong, unnecessary, or even unconscionable to “put a child through this” and believe that twin separation/individuation issues at this age are exaggerated or unimportant – please reflect upon the following. Many of our children’s expectations about their burgeoning individuation are inextricably linked to parental consideration of separateness. Do not delude yourselves into believing that the older the twins get, the easier it becomes to individuate. While in some instances this is true, in other cases it is not. Just yesterday I received the following email from a distraught parent:
My twins just started kindergarten and are having an extremely difficult time making friends. For all the reasons you lay out, we have been the beneficiaries of having children whose best friend is each other. However, now we see the harm that may have been done, as each girl has no interest in making friends and moreover does not know how to make a friend.
I can assure you that if you have faith in your child’s capacity to handle age appropriate challenges, rationally assessing whether or not your twins will benefit from separate classrooms is not inhumane, insane, or insignificant. Stereotypic as well as mythic beliefs that relationships between twins will be harmed rather than strengthened by thoughtful opportunities for alone time deserve an educated, calm, and thoughtful reappraisal by families, school administrators, and society at large. Generally speaking, it is an uninformed public that perpetuates narrow-minded thinking about twins and their needs for togetherness. What is not appreciated is that twins need advocates and parents who understand that most of us need to experience our singular shining moments undiluted by the presence of another.
Joan Friedman, Ph.D., is an identical twin, the mother of five including fraternal
twins sons, and a psychotherapist specializing in twins and parenting issues of
twins. She is much in demand to speak on developmental and parenting issues of
twins and has addressed parents and professionals nationally and internationally. Dr. Friedman has earned doctorates from two prestigious psychoanalytic training programs in southern California. In addition to her private practice, she conducts ongoing groups for mothers of twins of all ages.
Dr. Friedman’s social work background and training with children and their families in community outreach settings, outpatient mental health facilities, and medical multidisciplinary teams have contributed to her unique perspectives about children and their emotional needs. Dr. Friedman is currently working on her new and exciting book about the relationship intricacies of adult twins, which will be titled “My Self, Your Self: Creating a Healthy Adult Twin Relationship”. For more information check her website www.JoanAFriedmanPhD.com
Thank you very much for a wonderful post! I have 3 yr old b/g twins and we have already been considering what to do when kindergarten rolls around. I'm not sure if it is different with b/g twins but we are already trying to make sure they have their own individual opportunities and friends. Hopefully we are doing the right thing but we will always love them no matter what!
I have four year old identical twins and I feel like this is a bit dramatic and exaggerated. Why would parents of singletons care what parents of twins do? I seriously doubt there are really people out there that think its "unconscionable" to put twins in separate classes. I would hope that most moms of multiples can figure out on their own what is best for their children without having to consult a professional – puleeze!
Oh me me me. My twins are now 9 years old. Due to small classes they went to 3 & 4 year old preschools in the same class. They started at a primary school aged 5, still only had one class so they remained together. First grade (which was technically their 4th different school, 3rd different state as we move frequently with the Army) & finally, a school with 2 classes, so we seperated them. This was the big opportunity for the less independent & softer twin to make her own friends & path. She excelled!!
They are resiliant, they are in the middle of 4 children & pair up with different siblings at home, but guess what, I ASKED THEM if they wanted to be seperated, the independent strong one said yes immediately, the quieter one agreed, quietly. They have been in different classes for 3 whole years now, about to start their 4th apart, they love it, they even get invited to different parties too. They are twins yes, they are also individuals.
I didn't ask any advice, i just asked my twins, it's their life!! Love Posie
Great post. Ours are only 10 months at the moment, but it's something that we'll face in the future as they get older.
Thanks: great advice
I dont believe this is too dramatic. Here in PA we had to fight to even get separate classes as an option for multiples. Society tends to treat multiples as one unit as opposed to two(or three, four, etc) people.
Most of the advice I receive about raising my twin daughters comes from the parents of singletons.
Thank you! I fought with my guilty conscience for a long time, but I know in my heart it would be best for my girls to be seperated. And I no longer feel guilty. My girls LOVE other children, and yet I know that my free spirited daughter would excel in no matter what situation she is is, I know my shy one will as well.
There are more problems to be considered with twins sharing a class. Not only would they feel the need to not make friends, because they have each other, but, even now in therapy (they are autistic) if they are near each other, they will help each other. Often, if one child is strong in one subject, while the other is not, they will "fill in the gaps" and "help" by just giving the answer.
In the end, I want my children to grow up independant and be able to think for themselves. Not being with each other in a classroom won't ruin their relashinship. It will strenthen it.
It's such a hard topic, my identical twin 11 year olds have been in the same class starting in 1st grade. We have been fighting to keep them together since they started 1st grade. Every year it's a challenge trying to convince teachers that they are doing great together. It's up to the boys if they want to be together or apart. When the time comes and they say to us we want our own class then that will be the time! Very tough! Thank you for your post!
Thank you so much for posting this. Personally, I prefer keeping my g/b twins together, but that may simply be because I can't (they're both autistic and require different programs to meet their individual needs). I enjoy watching them in the evenings when they "reacquaint" themselves to each other and, for children who don't express themselves in ways that would match the expectations of a parent of 4-year-old twins, it's still amazing to see the closeness they share. Like most other parenting decisions, there are rarely universally WRONG choices or RIGHT choices — just the decisions that work best for each family's situation. Thanks for the reminder that we need to decide the best thing for our own kids, and not worry about what everyone else thinks.
This is kind of absurd, is it real? It seems a bit far fetched to me that other parents would actually assail someone for such a benign parenting choice. I don't think I've ever run into anyone that would actually care that much about what choices I made for my kids to actually assail me for them.
As for splitting the kids up I've never understood why people seem to think siblings being very attached to each other is a bad thing. I don't know about the rest of y'all but I personally don't hang out with any of my friends from first grade or even my friends from tenth grade. I hang out with my family. Outside of my spouse and children, my siblings and the rest of my extended family are my best friends and the people that I do most things with. My parents stressed the familial relationships greatly and as a result we developed a strong bond that grew from shared experiences. I hope I can pass along the same bond to my own kids. And I don't think that doing so does a thing to hamper their individuality. They came to me as 5 individual little human beings with very different little personalities and I really don't think there is anything I could do to make them LESS unique and independent even if I wanted to. If anything, having them close brings out each child's strengths and weaknesses even more and allows them to lift each other up and help one another shine in each of their own ways.
But to each his own.
From what I read in the first paragraph of this post, the teacher and Mother felt it would be best to separate the girls. At preschool age, it would be very difficult for a twin to know for sure what they desire. My identical girls are 4.5 years old, and each time we go get a hair cut it varies as to whether they want to "look alike" or not.
It really saddened me to read this:
The twin in the classroom without her own friends does feel lonesome, upset and envious that her sister is comfortable and happy. She cried about this with her mom and dad and told them how she felt. However, when her dad asked her if she wanted to be in the classroom with her sister, she resolutely answered no.
Our children try their hardest to please us, and it sounds like this may be a case of that at work.
My girls are in their 3rd year of school, and I have no desire to separate them. They will be lifelong companions, so my job is to teach them how to establish their differences and branch out from one another. They never dress alike, they have different friends and they work alone as well as together.
I just have to question taking one girl away from all her little pals and upsetting her, when there are many other ways to encourage individuality.
I read this 3 times before I decided to comment. I have to say, I don't know what to think of it. My twins are only 8 months old, but they each have their own individual personality. And, so far, one of my twins seems to cling to the other a little more. Ky is perfectly fine being by herself, but if Cadee is really worked up, the only thing that can calm her down is being near Ky.
I can't imagine putting my girls in seperate rooms, one with all of her friends and one with none. I know this was not the parents intention, but it would break my heart.
And I can see why the other parents would be mad, because one of their child's friends was taken out of the classroom. It might feel like their children will no longer be friends with one twin.
All parents are trying to do what's right by their children. I am not looking forward to these kind of decisions.
First off, I love your book, Joan! I have recommended "Emotionally Healthy Twins" on my blog and at my multiples club, when I was facilitating a discussion of attachment parenting.
Though I have never encountered or really even heard of the drama mentioned in the story above (the strong opinions of the other parents), don't doubt it exists in some places. I do find other parents and teachers are surprised — though also supportive — when I tell them I will be putting my girls in separate classrooms. They just seem to have no idea why I would do that!
I have seen first hand how identical twins in particular (which mine are) are treated in the classroom — at least a preschool classroom my daughter was in — and want to avoid it . Basically, nobody could tell them apart, even the teachers, and they were called "the twins" because of that. That is not okay with me. I want my girls to be called by their names. I totally understand it is a challenge to tell them apart, though, and I would rather have them in separate classrooms from the start to eliminate this issue (and to avoid having to separate them at a later time, when it may be more challenging).
I also am fairly sure my girls would play & interact with each other to the exclusion of others, and since they are together soooo much as it is I think a few hours of learning how to interact with kids & adults outside our family is a good thing. My girls are happy to be apart from each other, too (thanks to doing one-on-one outings or activities with them, and because they often play in various arrangements with their singleton sister) and know next year when they start school what the arrangement will be. I think talking about it and setting the expectations early helps a lot.
I know this is a tricky thing and really hits some folks emotionally buttons — I am not opposed to keeping twins together depending on the circumstances, but I do think there are a lot of good reasons to separate as well!