My twins have recently started a new, much bigger, school and as I went through the enrolment process I was faced for the first time with having to actively choose to keep them in the same class. In the UK, while parents of primary-aged twins are given a choice (school-size permitting), I think the general expectation is that twins will be kept together unless parents say otherwise. I learnt that where we are in the US it is the other way around: after Kindergarten (Reception year) the expectation is that twins will be split up, unless the parents request to the contrary. I did exactly that, but I have to admit that my heart was in my mouth until I had confirmation that they would be kept together.
Having to actively request for them not to be split up felt very strange to me, as I had thought keeping them together would be the default position. I started to feel that somehow I was going against a general consensus that separating twins at six years old is for the best. I had never examined my reasons for keeping them together before, beyond the visceral feeling that my twins have always been together and would be so upset to be separated. I was, however, aware of the arguments for separation: the promotion of independence and self-reliance; the prevention of co-dependence, with each twin only developing half a set of skills; the reduction of competitiveness; the forging of independent friendship groups; and, sometimes, improved behaviour. I know all of these advantages, and understand parents making the choice to split their twins because of them, and yet in my gut I could not bear the thought of splitting them up so young. Was I just being sentimental? Could I not face the reality that eventually my twin babies were going to start leading separate lives from each other? Was I in fact hindering the development of their independence and individuality?
I realised I had to come up with more reasons than “it doesn’t feel right”. (Although, I don’t think that in itself is a bad one!) So after some serious thinking and soul-searching, here are my six advantages for keeping twins together:
- Keep it natural
Yes, twins will eventually go their separate ways, and go to different classes, different universities, and, eventually, lead entirely independent lives, albeit with a hopefully close relationship. This is the natural progression, and so it will happen in its own time without the need for its imposition before the twins themselves are ready for it. I don’t believe that keeping twins together makes the separation later all the harder. I think when they reach a certain stage in their development they will choose to do things separately, in the same way as children stop sucking their thumbs and give up their baby blanket; it’s heart-breaking to see them grow up, but reassuring that they are adjusting comfortably to their new stage. Separating twins when they really don’t want it will certainly have an immediate negative effect on their confidence and emotional wellbeing. A gradual transition is gentler, more natural and less traumatic.
- Independence starts at home
Starting school is not the first time I have considered the issue of twins’ independence. When you are a twin parent you learn from the start that promoting self-identity for each twin is very important. You make sure that they have toys that belong to each individually, you make sure they have a bit of individual “mummy” or “daddy” time on occasion, you let them choose activities independently, the list goes on. I am always on the look-out to make sure that just because one twin can do something, it doesn’t mean the other isn’t bothering to learn it. Working the different TV remotes is a good example – my daughter always lets my son do it because it comes naturally to him. I have to remind her to do it herself sometimes, even if she finds it frustrating that it takes her longer. These are things that become so second-nature to twin parents, that I think perhaps those without twins don’t always realise that these are issues we are addressing on a daily basis. The classroom is not the only way they are learning independence.
- It needn’t be extreme
Having been a teacher, I know there are many opportunities to allow children to be independent from each other while still in the same class. In time they can be in different groups within the class for certain activities, or sit at different tables, or be assigned different tasks. And they can also attend different afterschool clubs and activities. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
- Being a twin is a fact of life
Twins are going to be twins for life, long after they are finished with school. Their experience of life is always going to be a twin one, ie; they will always have shared experiences that go beyond that of just a ‘normal’ sibling. They share the same age, the same birthday, the same parents, the same childhood experiences, and often the same friends. And this will carry on to a lesser extent throughout their lives. Twins have to forge out their own independence in the face of such similarities and shared experience, and it is something that can be done whether or not they are also sharing a class. There is an important value in learning to be individuals while they are together, and not just when they are apart from each other.
Aside from the psychological and emotional aspects to this issue, there is also a logistical one. Schools are not set up for you to have two children in the same year but different classes, therefore every school event, parents’ evening, and school trip is going to involve clashes and difficulties, where you are supposed to be in two different places at once. There is also an advantage to the teacher knowing and understanding the dynamic between both children, as it leads to a greater understanding of them. There is continuity for the children, and the parents, where they have the same set of rules and expectations from the teacher. And, if you are lucky with your teacher, any ‘twin’ issues or co-dependence or competitiveness can be dealt with sensitively and effectively within the classroom.
- Enjoy the advantages
I think sometimes there is a feeling that twins should be separated at school because that is the experience that other children have. Singletons must face going to school alone, whereas twins are at an advantage because they have a ready-made friend and ally in their class. And this is absolutely true, it is an advantage, and there’s nothing wrong with that! That is an absolute perk of being a twin parent – you know that your children are not going to be lonely, that they will have someone looking out for them. Yes, they may stick together a lot at the beginning, but my two have always made friends with others, and played independently from each other once they feel settled in to a new place. The experience is just less traumatic for them, and I am deeply grateful for that. Lord knows there have been a lot of times when having twins has made life harder in the past (like no sleep for two years!), so I’m going to take the pros where I can get them!
Being a twin is a unique experience, both at school and far beyond that. To try to make their experience in line with everybody else is futile, as it never will nor should it be. Eventually they will grow up and lead separate lives, but in the meantime they are creating precious shared memories that will last a lifetime.