Last spring at the end of the school year, my twins’ preschool teachers approached me tentatively and asked for a meeting. Thoughts swirled through my head. Are my children sprouting horns after I drop them off? Are the teachers going to suggest that I hold them back next school year? Do preschools even hold back 3-year-olds? The anxiety was gnawing at me as I awaited this conference. When the day arrived, I was relieved to learn that everything was copacetic. The reason for the meeting? The teachers recommended that my husband and I separate our twins the following school year.
Ms. Rachel and Ms. Andrea explained to me that my daughter Caroline and her bestie Hannah sometimes would want to pair up and do their own thing. “Of course!” I agreed, thinking, “What’s the problem?” The teachers forlornly went on to tell me that sometimes, the girls would go down the side-by-side slide together. Instead of venturing off to find another playmate, my son’s face would crumble with hurt. I learned that Will rarely if ever initiated play with a child other than Caroline. My dominant daughter ruled the show, confidently cruising from activity to activity while Will trailed behind.
I knew that my opinion on the topic of separating twins differed from my husband’s at that time. Jed’s feelings were completely valid: children have a hard enough time journeying through childhood. Why separate them when they can watch after each other? However, Jed had not been able to attend the teacher conference and did not hear directly from the source about the heart-wrenching scenes taking place. In the end, we chose to separate our twins into different 4-year-old classes.
How did we arrive at this decision?
To encourage separate friendships. While both of our children are happy and overall well-adjusted, my husband and I wanted to start seeing our children develop their own friendships. Will had been showing signs of needing an outlet that only a rough and tumble little boy could provide. Our dainty emerging ballerina Caroline wanted to busy herself with arabesques and pirouettes. And there’s only so much patience that my little guy can have with the incessant princess play going on in Casa Peterson.
Of course, hearing about the beginnings of social isolation at school was the “aha moment.” Both children need to feel a sense of belonging at school, and in the case of our family, this had to start by not permitting dependence on one another.
To allow them time apart. I recall meeting a mother of young twins at a park years ago when our twins were infants. As is the case with so many mothers of multiples, we end up striking up a conversation, comparing “notes” on parenting. She made a simple observation that day – one that I knew I should store away in (what was left of) my gray matter. “The greatest thing about being a twin is that there’s always someone else with you. The worst thing about being a twin is that there is always someone else with you.” Be honest: how many of us want to be with our spouses ALL the time? Why would you expect anything different from your children?
To encourage individualism and independent thinking. This morning (as with many mornings), I spied on my children through their individual classrooms’ one way mirror. Since I have been more anxious about my son’s adjustment to this new arrangement, I spent a bit more time watching him.
Will had the morning routine down pat. He sauntered right over to the sink to wash his hands, put away his bags in his cubby, then sat down to practice writing his name. Thus ends each child’s morning ritual. At this point, kids begin bopping around to whichever activity they choose before circle time commences. I watched with bated breath. Will glanced around before his gaze settled and remained on the multitude of Matchbox cars and the sole boy playing with them. He eyed these cars longingly, nervously chewing on a finger. I coaxed him out of earshot, “You can do it, Will! Go on over there!” Will simply stood watching, seemingly relieved when he no longer had to pick an activity and was guided to circle time.
This has proven one fact to me: Will isn’t making choices because he has never had to make choices before. I walked away feeling still a bit uneasy but confident that we as parents are creating an environment for our children that will encourage them to make their OWN decisions.
There is another essential piece that our family has not experienced yet, but could possibly be in our future. Pamela Prindle Fierro in “10 Reasons to Separate Twins in Different Classrooms,” reminds her readers that many twins may learn differently but can often be compared to one another. One solution to help kids learn at their own pace and avoid discouragement is to separate twins https://www.verywell.com/reasons-separate-twins-different-classrooms-2447501.
This truly resonates with me. Fairly regularly, I witness firsthand the competitive nature of twins. They want to be the favorite child, the best reader, the fastest runner. While I want to believe that teachers would never compare our twins (at least publicly), I have seen small incidents of withdrawal when one child realizes a shortcoming that is not shared by the other twin.
My husband and I don’t think that separating our twins will guarantee future academic success. We don’t believe that splitting them up will ensure that they will easily build new friendships with others. We also don’t believe that this is the right decision for every family. The dynamic between twins can vary vastly from one family to the next. Our job as parents is to look at our own family situation individually. We should listen to the professionals we have carefully selected to educate our children, but also trust our gut.
Tell me about your own family situation. Did you decide to split up your kids in school or keep them together? Were you happy with the decision you made?