On the separation issue

When I entered the girls’ MDO to drop off some books for their Christmas book exchange later that day, the director caught me in the hallway.

“Can I run something by you real quick?”

“Sure,” I answered, feeling much less apprehensive than the last time she asked to talk to me. The girls have been doing well in school, they love their teacher, and no one’s come home with any notes pinned to their shirts informing me that they gave little Billy their best left hook. I mean, I don’t even think either of them is left handed, much to my dismay.

“The other day…when you brought them to school separately,” she started, referencing one day in which Claire stayed home sick and another in which Rachel was throwing the tantrum of the century and I had no choice but to leave her home with her father while I took Claire to school, “…they’re really different when they’re not together!”

I nodded in agreement and told her that yes, I do notice the difference when I have one without the other, and honestly, I was thrilled that the school noticed. It doesn’t happen often, but taking them on separate errands is one of my favorite things to do. Each one of them flourishes as her own person, talking to me, and paying attention to her surroundings instead of her sister. She has me all to herself and lets me further into that vibrant personality that I know is there, but is so often masked by the “unit” that is a set of identical twins.

As a twin parent, I love seeing that their teacher can distinguish between the two of them, not just by what they’re wearing, but by the small nuances in their looks and the vast differences in their personalities.

And I knew what she was going to say next.

“What would you think about putting them in separate classes?”

I fumbled for an answer to bury the “Whatchoo talking ’bout, Willis!” that immediately tried to escape my lips. I knew she must have valid reasons, and I prayed that those reasons didn’t involve fist fulls of hair my girls were pulling out of each other.

The issue with my girls is that they do just about everything together. They sleep in the same room. They wake up together, eat meals together, play together, bathe together, and now they go to school together. Even when they’re not getting along, I can’t get them to give each other some space and engage in separate activities. They always want to do what the other is doing, and they’re so comfortable with one another that they have absolutely no qualms about fighting, taking toys, or stabbing each other in the eye with a crayon.

But that wasn’t the issue here. Although she told me that they do fight occasionally, the problem is that they often have trouble transitioning from play time to learning time, which isn’t that hard to deal with when it’s just one kid. But in their case, Rachel might stall sitting in the circle by pulling out toys or abandon an art project in favor of riffling through the cabinets, and then Claire is often tempted to do the same. So instead of having to coax one child back into the activity, the teacher and her aide are wrangling both of them.

Welcome to my world. Here let me thrown in a 23 month old so you can really get a feel for it. Ahem.

The director explained that she felt each girl would really flourish individually not having her sister to distract her. Instead of modeling each other’s behavior, they would start to model that of the other kids. (The ones who actually do what they’re told, I presume.) “Just a thought,” she said, and encouraged me to talk it over with Christian.

Man, few things will make you feel like a bad mom more than a suggestion from your kid’s teacher, director, or principal. Over the (agonizingly long) Christmas break I emailed some questions to their teacher. She told me that yes, they fight, but not every day. Sometimes they get physical with each other, but never the other children (whew!). They play together in class, but don’t shut out other kids, and on the playground they usually go off and do their own separate thing. She explained that Rachel started out as more boisterous than Claire, but recently Claire has been doing her share of swiping toys, hitting, or pulling hair, again just between the two of them, thankfully. But the main issue seems to be that they are a distraction to each other. And this is where she and the director feel that they would benefit being apart, so they can model the other children as opposed to each other.

And I know she’s right. I know that Rachel and Claire can seem like completely different kids, in a good way, when without their other half. I know that their behavior, good and bad, is often led by one of them. I know they would benefit from time apart. I actually complain that they need time apart, and school is the only chance for them to really get it on a regular basis.

And yet still I hesitate. My first instinct is to say, “No. Keep them together.” But why? Why, when I know this will be a good thing for them, do I resist it?

There’s just this thing with twins that makes us think that they need to be together. They’re a set, a unit, both in our minds and in front of our eyes, we often fear that we’re taking something away from them by splitting them up, even for a few hours a day, when in reality, we could be doing them a disservice by insisting that they stay together.

I know several twin moms who have separated their kids in school, and many who have chosen to keep them together. Here in Texas, the parent gets the final word on whether or not to separate. Maybe one twin willingly takes a backseat to the other, so separation will help him come out of his shell and build his confidence. Maybe the twins fight constantly, and separate classes give them a much needed break from each other, along with the satisfaction of having their own friends and teachers. Or maybe one twin relies heavily on the other, and separating them at this point would be truly traumatic for him. We fall in none of these categories, meaning I needed to rely on my mom instincts, which I often admit I am mostly without.

When they were babies, Claire was the leader, the front runner, the spunky, outgoing one, while Rachel was the quiet, shy, sensitive one. In the past year that’s changed. Rachel talks to every single person she sees, asking them what they’re doing, where they’re going, and whether or not they have to go potty. She’s gained a bit of confidence and no longer relents to what Claire wants to do all the time. She doesn’t give in as willingly anymore. On the other hand, Claire’s turned inwards a bit. She’s still a feisty, fun loving kid, but she no longer dominates play time like she used to. Her mood and emotions are determined largely in part by whether or not she’s getting along with Rachel. Now she’s the one who hides her face in my leg when among strangers, and she’s the one that often misses her sister more when they’re apart.

In separating them, I worried that they would miss each other, that one of them would have to leave her comfortable surroundings and acclimate to a new class, new teacher, new room. In keeping them together, I worried about the strain it would place on the teacher and the class aide. I was afraid that they would be burdened by having to focus on my girls so much. My good friend Vanessa, twin mom to boys 4 days older than my girls, assured me that I was raising strong willed and confident girls who would each do well in their own environment if I chose to separate them. My good friend Reba, an elementary school assistant principal, spoke from an administrative standpoint. She reminded me, “This is their job. This is what they are paid to do. Don’t worry about them. If you want your girls together, keep them together, that’s all there is to it.”

I had three long weeks to weigh my options, but from the get go I knew what I was going to do. I knew separating them would have its benefits, that they would still have plenty of togetherness at home, and that a separation could even encourage them to appreciate that togetherness. Yet a part of me was still sad. They’ve already changed classes once this year. They both absolutely adore their teacher. But mainly…well, I’m just not ready. Again, just like last time, it’s me, not them.

I’m not ready to separate them. I want them together. They’re little, only three. They’re each other’s best friend (and worst enemy, but we’ll stick with friend for now). They have plenty of years to follow their own distinct paths, and that may very well begin next fall if I grow some balls. But this year, their first year at school, they’re together. And I need to know that they’re there for each other. Even if it’s just for confidence’s sake. Even if it’s just to have someone to play cars with. Even if it is just to take each other’s toys.

The comforts of home, right?

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25 Comments

  1. Best friend and worst enemy, indeed! hahaha.
    Sometimes, I think they wouldn’t even notice if they were in different classes.
    Luckily, there’s only 1 class, so we won’t have to make that decision for a while 🙂

    1. It’s a blessing and a curse. 🙂 I feel weird sometimes thinking that they need to stay together, but they’re more than just sisters.

  2. ohhh my girls just turned 3 and they go to pre-school 2 days a week. I won’t seperate them now but the teacher does a great job at having them sit away from each other. I just don’t know if I’m ready and they tell me they aren’t so I’m letting them stay together. Besides L is the bully at home and H gets to have her day at school where L is super shy. Funny! great post

    1. Funny how they can switch, right? Sometimes I think the more boisterous one at home is actually a little more insecure, resulting in shyness in public. I read a great book called One and the Same, and the author, who was the more outgoing twin growing up, was the one who as an adult needed the twinship more. They were close, but her sister was all, “I don’t nee this like you do.” So interesting, definitely a great read for twin parents.

  3. Well, I don’t have twins so I can only imagine what a difficult decision that would be. I have friends with twins that are going into kindergarten next year and they are keeping them together but after a lot of thought, worry, and stress. You’re their mom, you will know when it is right to split them. But I know it is not easy.

    🙂
    Traci

  4. For my two cents, you are doing the right thing in letting them stay together. You are right, they are little and only three. They have time to take on the world (ok, pre-school) on their own. You’re doing a great job!

  5. “But mainly…well, I’m just not ready. Again, just like last time, it’s me, not them.”

    I only have one child, but I, too, struggle with not being ready myself for the next step. I’ve run up against this a couple of times now, even when I really knew that my daughter was likely ready for the next step and would indeed probably flourish in a new class or school. It’s hard, as the mom, even when you know it’s likely the right thing to do, to take your own feelings about the situation into account. But, we have to remember that we need to be happy in the deal, too.

    Which is why my kiddo starts a new school in the fall, not this month. I’m not ready to give up the extra time together it will cost us. I won’t be ready in August, either, but at least I know I have 7 more months to get used to it.

  6. What a hard decision! I’d say you made the right one, although, what do I know? I only have one kid. I definitely wouldn’t do it just for the teachers. But yeah, they’re still young. They need each other. I bet you’ll get the feeling that it’s right, just when the timing is right.

    1. I hope so too. But that’s my stupid way of thinking — that the teachers are going to hate me because my girls end up commanding so much of the class. It’s not my fault all of the other kids are so quiet!

  7. I don’t have twins, but some friends of mine do, and the whole separation thing was never brought up til elementary school…
    and they’re so little…would they really be ready to be separated now? I just wonder

    1. It’s such a hard decision. My girls are very strong willed and not shy (well one if them gets a little shy in public, but she recovers quickly), so essentially I think they’d be fine, but I have to remember that there’s no hurry, as long as there are no actual issues with them being together. I think the school really just thought it would be interesting to see how they acted in separate classes. Luckily it wasn’t a “we can’t handle them together” situation.

  8. Being a former Pre-K teacher I can totally understand why they would want to separate them. I can also understand why it is hard for you. Go with your gut, always.

  9. I can’t say that I would do it any differently. I think it would always be so comforting to know that they are there to look out for each other. Plus, I would think that would be very confusing to them at such a young age. You can revisit the issue again later on if need be.

  10. I am sure that was a tough decision, and I think your logic is spot-on. They are still so little, and one classroom change per year is enough. As long as they aren’t teaming up to take out the other kids, I see no reason to separate them yet.

  11. I don’t know how I missed this post!
    What a hard decision that must have been.. omg! Separate or keep them together? Oh man.
    I’m so glad that you thought it over and discussed it with other moms and professionals.
    Good for you for going with your gut.
    I don’t know what I would have done in the same situation.

    1. It gave me a lot to think about, but I knew in my gut what I wanted to do from the start. But someday I’ll have to take what’s better for them into more consideration than what’s better for me.

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