Saturday, May 8, 2010

Separation Anxiety

The funny thing about separation anxiety is that before the kids were born, I didn't realize how many different types there were. There's the usual anxiety your babies have when Mommy (or Daddy) leaves them - gut wrenching screams, hands clawing at you, and so on. There's the anxiety I feel, as Mommy, in leaving my children with a nanny for the first time or, frankly, just leaving them at all (Oh, the guilt!). And, as parent to twins, we eventually become aware of the anxiety our children feel when separated from one another.

I've written about the importance of one on one time, and how much I think it benefits your children to make the extra effort to know them as individuals. This is especially important if you have same sex twins and even more so if they are identical twins.  It can be hard, as parents, to want to break up this adorably matched set of babies. Sometimes the parents feed off the attention they get going out with twins (I remember being mobbed by people every time I went to a mall with the kids when they were infants; everyone asking questions and wanting to see them. In the beginning I felt like a rock star! After a bit, I was overwhelmed and, frankly, over it). There's guilt that kicks in when you split the kids up; How do I choose which baby is going to be with Mommy this time? What will the other child experience that I will miss being a part of? Talk about anxiety! As your children get older they actually seem to miss the other and may cry when you try to separate them. I have to remind my clients (and myself) that children don't always know what is best for them. Enrolling your children in different activities or even the same activities but on different days is so good for their growth. Both my children took swim lessons when they were little, but each had theirs on a different day; and swim day was their special day to spend with Mommy. 

One area that causes a great deal of worry for parents is what to do about school. Do we separate our twins in preschool? In Kindergarten? Parents bristle at school directors who talk about the school's policy on twin separation. I know I did. One school director told me a story about boy/boy twins who were separated and were apparently so unhappy about it that every morning their mother would find them cuddled together sleeping in one bed just so they could be with each other; that's how much their separation anxiety affected these boys! At the time, I thought "See! That shows that twins need to be together!". My eyes actually welled up when she told that story (she must have thought I was a nut case).

Now that I'm a bit removed from those first tours of schools and after I have had the chance to experience how my children are as they've gotten older, I have a different perspective on that story. What I think now is that those boys had probably never been given the the benefit of being separated when they were younger. They may never have gotten the chance to really see how they could survive (and thrive) without their twin. What seemed at first to simply be two boys who loved each other so much was actually, on some level, also a very co-dependent relationship. There was so much anxiety about being separated during the day that they almost re-created their womb experience! 

There is so much fantasy, folklore and mystique about the "twin bond" that it can be quite hard to wrap our heads around the idea of separating our babies and especially hard to think that it might actually be best for them to have time apart! It's so easy to gush over how close little Joshua and Sophia are; even though she's "the shy one" he always wants her to play with him and his friends. But imagine how she would gain more confidence if occasionally separated from her brother. She could realize that she, too, can be outgoing and make friends; she didn't need her twin to do the socializing for her after all! And for him, he could be relieved from the burden of having to worry about how she's doing and be able to just focus on himself!

I've seen how my kids have blossomed when they've gotten undivided attention. I've seen their bond with their father deepen when one gets to be alone with him, without the distraction of Mommy and a sibling. I know that allowing them to be Beckett and Johanna and not just "the twins" is actually going to help them end up closer to each other as brother and sister.

So back to school for a moment. Assuming you haven't separated your kids the majority of the time, if you are sending them to preschool you will most likely be sending them somewhere where they will share a classroom. If they haven't been in daycare for the years prior, there will probably be some major separation anxiety (on your part and theirs). I was actually quite surprised by the amount of it! I did feel somewhat relieved that my kids had each other as comfort. However, now that they are a bit older I see how hard it is for them to always be together. The teachers work really hard to separate them so that they get alone time with different groups of friends, to create without being copied (oy vey...."he copied me!") and so forth. Now that they're past that initial shock of the introduction to preschool, I wish the school was big enough to accommodate separating them next year. I think it would actually make the time they have together even better. Since we do love our preschool, I am not changing schools, but I am going to be making sure that I create more opportunities for each of them to do things without their twin so that they get time to grow on their own. In addition, I'm working with the teachers to see how things can be set up so as to allow our children to create their space as individuals. 

The last thing I want to mention about separation and schools has to do with when your children have completely different learning styles or needs.  I subscribe to this really good blog called Beyond The Brochure which is about all things concerning the private schools admissions process here in Los Angeles. Recently, there was a very interesting post answering a question posed by a reader who wondered if schools ever accept one twin but not the other. The point was made that occasionally you may have one twin who, perhaps, is extremely artistic and another who really needs structure to thrive in school. In such a case it is important to look for a school that can serve both children's needs or you will find that you, as a family, do not "fit" at any one school. Sometimes you will have a family where one twin is autistic or physically challenged so the best school for that child may not be the best school for his or her twin. Read the whole post here. It's quite insightful. 

It can come as a shock to your children and to you, as well, if suddenly at age 5 or 6 when they are ready to enter Kindergarten you are told that they must be apart from each other and this is not something you have prepared for. Give them the gift of confidence in their own ability to navigate the world. A little anxiety over separating your twins is natural. Twins who grow up and cannot separate without great distress haven't really learned who they are without the other.  And that really is where true separation anxiety begins.

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