Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Twins In School: Separation Not Severance

Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis know that I am a huge fan of Dr. Joan Friedman, author of "Emotionally Healthy Twins", therapist, identical twin and mother of 5 (including fraternal twin boys). Dr. Friedman's admittedly enmeshed relationship with her sister has made her a passionate advocate for the individuation of twins. Because of society's perpetuation of what she refers to as "the twin mystique" many parents are confused about how to give their multiples separate and individualized lives, especially when it comes to school. Today I received a blog post from Dr. Friedman on the topic of separating your twins in school; it was so good that I had to re-post it here: 


by Dr. Joan A. Friedman, PhD
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.

I have written previously about my efforts to allow my children to have time alone with both myself and my husband, to attend play dates without their co-twin, to have after school classes that are just theirs and not shared with their sibling; none of that is simple, but the benefits of it so far outweigh the difficulties that I encourage every parent of twins to do it as often as they can.

A good friend of mine who has triplets told me yesterday that two of her children, who share a classroom, were invited to a birthday party while the third triplet, who is in another classroom, was not. She was struggling with what to tell the one who wasn't invited and wondered if she should try to get him invited. My advice to her was that she should let the two go and the son who wasn't invited should have a special day to himself (with dad, in this case). He will surely be disappointed, but it's important on so many levels to allow him those feelings and not try to fix it for him. It's equally important to give the other two the sense that they can do something as special as go to a party, without the third person in their group. 

The funny thing is, I don't think anyone would hesitate to say their singleton son or daughter needs their own friends, own soccer class, own birthday party that doesn't have to be shared with their younger or older siblings. Why do we assume that because our children are the same age they want to do everything together and share every moment with each other? The last line in Dr. Freidman's article was really powerful for me: "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". 

What are your thoughts on this? Are your twins in separate classes at school? Were you supported in your decision or made to feel that you were hurting your children? I'd love to know your experiences and struggles with individuating your multiples.

If you liked this post, you may also like:

One On One

Dr. Joan Friedman's website is where you can find her bio, contact info, previous newsletters and more.  Her blog can be found at

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach
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