Should You Separate Twins in School
Every year, at the end of the school year, I take each child aside to give them my prepared speech and question: “Daddy and I have not heard of any reason to keep you apart next year and we have no feelings about it — there are benefits and drawbacks of being in the same classroom or different classrooms. So we turn the decision over to you: do you want to be in the same classroom as your sister/brother or two separate rooms next year in school?”
Once we get their initial answer, we go through some of those benefits and drawbacks just because they may not have thought through the decision fully, and then we ask them one more time. Once we have each of their individual answers, we make them sit down with one another and have a conversation about what they want collectively. The reason we do it this way is that we want to be as close as we can to certain they are giving their own, personal answer and not saying what they think the other one wants to hear. If they emerged out of the room with a different answer from the one they give me individually, I would know that some coercion has taken place and we’d need another conversation with a moderator (who is… um… me). So far, we’ve never had an individual answer differ from the collective answer.
And then once we have that single, collective answer, we go to the school and advocate on their behalf.
My answer to the “should you separate twins* in school” question that all parents of multiples grapple with at some point is that unless it falls within the four reasons for forced separation outlined by the Department of Education, the children themselves should be allowed to decide. They can decide they want to go into two separate rooms or they can decide they want to remain together, but ultimately, that decision needs to be left to them because they are the only ones truly affected by the decision.
What are the four reasons for why the adults (the teacher, parents, principal) should be overriding the wishes of the multiples?
- Classmates cannot distinguish between the children and treat the individuals as a single, interchangeable unit.
- Disruptive behaviour inside the classroom with each other.
- One twin speaks for the other twin.
- They are not able to maintain friendships outside the twinship.
If they don’t fall into any of those categories but they want to be apart, you should separate them. And if they don’t fall into any of those categories and want to be together, you should keep them together. And twins who are not in agreement should have adults counsel them through the decision so they come to a place of agreement.
I don’t have strong feelings about separating twins in school mostly because I am personally not a twin and therefore, I will never personally have to be separated. I do have strong feelings about placing low-stakes decisions in the childrens’ hands so they’ll learn how to make high-stakes decisions down the road. By two, they could tell me which toy they wanted. By three, they could pick an activity for us to do. By four, they could choose what to eat when given a menu of possibilities. And certainly, by kindergarten, they knew whether or not they wanted to be in each other’s presence.
When it isn’t life or death, when it isn’t financially untenable, we let them have their say. What they eat, what they wear, where they go, and if they’re in the same classroom — tiny decisions which make them feel like they have control over their lives. (Which makes me feel like I should do an evil dictator laugh right now and say, “‘feel’ is the operative word. You have no control, fools!”).
I have to admit that even before becoming a twin parent, I never really understood this desire for adults to separate twins. I don’t know about you, but I love going somewhere with a friend or my husband, and I become anxious when I’m seated apart from my friend or husband at an event. I once went to a wedding where the bride and groom placed everyone at a random table in order to “generate conversation.” Not only did they not get their wish, but most of us agreed that it was the worst wedding we had ever attended. I didn’t get a chance to catch up with friends I actually knew at the wedding. Instead I spent time with the groom’s 80-year-old great-uncle. We had nothing in common, exhausted the conversation in five minutes, and I spent the rest of the evening thinking more about how I wasn’t talking to my friends rather than getting to know this stranger next to me. It’s the difference between choosing for myself to leave the person I came with for the moment and flit across the room to talk to someone vs. having someone else tell me that I can’t sit with my friends/husband.
I think there are benefits and detriments to any separation. I separate out from Josh during the day. I don’t live in my parent’s house anymore. I spend time apart from the twins when they’re at school or sleeping. There are obviously benefits to separation. But just because there are benefits doesn’t mean we should ignore the fact that there are also detriments.
Our twins are strongly individuals with individual preferences, and they naturally separate out based on that fact, mostly in the form of friends or activities. They are also fiercely connected to one another, and name each other as their best friend. They genuinely like to play with one another and support one another. I hope they never lose that; it’s an incredible thing to go through life with someone who has your back no matter what.
I really wish this wasn’t a question every single year, and I’m still not sure why it’s such a hot button topic within the multiples community. I would actually love to hear the other side and understand the desire to separate twins.
On my mind as school wraps up and the decision needs to be made.
* I use the term “twins” throughout this post because those are the multiples I have. The same thoughts apply to triplets and beyond.