A Controversial Parenting Decision: Separating Twins in School

Twins Aug 2008We have all met a “Fleegermonster,” a well-meaning person who imposes his or her views on others. I have borrowed the term from the first story of Adele Griffin’s Witch Twins series for young readers. In this book about a pair of ten-year-old twins with magical abilities (but no twin ESP), the “Fleegermonster” is Ms. Fleegerman, a long-term substitute teacher with very decided views on what’s best for her students. In the name of encouraging individuality, she separates Luna and Claire Bundkin into different classrooms against the twins’ wishes and without consulting the twins’ parents.

What happens to Luna and Claire in the story is a common experience for multiples in the United States, where many school districts offer parents little say in whether their identical or fraternal twins share a classroom. However, it seems a growing number of states and localities have started to give parents the flexibility to decide what’s best for their own children. The school district my twins will attend encourages separation, but allows parents to make the decision with input from educators.

As much as I favor parental choice and flexibility on this issue, part of me feels like it would be easier if the decision weren’t mine to make. There is no definitively “right” answer; each course of action has its pluses and minuses. The research is mixed, from studies criticizing “forced” separations to ones finding no difference in educational achievement in separated twins versus twins who remain together. The twin research is interesting, but there are potentially significant confounding variables and no study will shed much light on the particular needs of my children.

Based on each of our daughters’ current needs, we have separated them in preschool and plan to continue the separation in Kindergarten next year to encourage their independence rather than their individuality (which sounds counter-intuitive). While we always encourage them to recognize their unique attributes, it seems their togetherness, not their separation, forces them to differentiate themselves from each other. Together, they strike a balance by exhibiting complementary, but different, personality traits: one is comical while the other is serious; one is risk-taking while the other is risk-averse. Separated, though their personalities are more similar (somewhere between comical and serious), they get to practice navigating the world independently, without their other half, and thus learn one of the most important skills in life.

Having made this decision, we have found there is no shortage of “Fleegermonster” types ready to give their unsolicited advice. We’ve had strangers tell us that our decision to separate our twins in school breaks their heart, while others applaud us for treating our twins differently.

Our most ardent critic, however, is someone whose opinion matters: one of our twins. Yes, only one. While both continue to excel academically in separate classrooms, one of them misses her sister acutely, despite developing new friendships. The other one feels relieved that her sister, whom she loves very much, cannot stifle her ability to make new friends. So, the separation works better for one twin than for the other.

Witch TwinsAdele Griffin’s Luna and Claire from the Witch Twins series also adjust differently to their separation, and I wonder what my own twins will think of these fictional twins when they become skilled enough readers to pick up these books. The first book is cute and set in Philadelphia, my family’s hometown and my favorite location for a book. The name of the series is almost a pun, as Witch Twins may as well be Which Twin because the stars look so much alike that the “only way to tell them apart was by the tiny chicken pox scar just beneath Luna’s chin.” Strangers might not recognize the variations in size, hair color, or face shape that differentiate so-called “identical” twins, but I suspect that my own twins will have a hard time identifying with fictional friends who are unrealistically similar. As one of my twins has said before, failing to recognize these differences is “silly.”

The separation ends up helping Claire and Luna explore their individual interests, and I hope that putting my daughters into different classes will have a similar benefit. If it doesn’t, and if my girls grow up to resent their separation, my husband and I can’t blame a “Fleegermonster.” The school may encourage separation, but it doesn’t require it, and to say so to our twins would be stretching the truth. As another fictional friend, Fancy Nancy, reminds us, stretching the truth is lying, and our daughters would probably resent that, too.

May 2009

23 thoughts on “A Controversial Parenting Decision: Separating Twins in School

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  3. Sonia

    Hi there….I have twin daughters, now 9. They were together in same class at Nursery school since they were 3. They enjoyed it, but were never actually together….one would sit one side with her friends and the other on the other side with her friends. The big thing was that when they looked for each other …they could see each other and then continue with their work. When we got to primary school, the school insisted on separating them and they both battled terribly. They were both recommended for the bridging class as they had concentration problems. So the next year they were both put into the same bridging class and did well. Now they have moved on again to Grade 4 …school insisted on separating them and they are both battling again.

    Don’t think it is a good thing for mine to be separated…

    waiting to see if school will put them together for a trial period. School has also recommended putting both girls on Concerta for a trial period. Would prefer trying the same class first before drugs.

    1. Hi Sonia, thanks for sharing your family’s experience. I hope your school will give you the flexibility to keep your daughters in the same class. Our district encourages separation, but allows parents to make the decision. My daughters were separated in nursery school, and it had been a bit of a struggle (particularly because one of my daughters actually preferred to be separated and the other did not!). They seem to have adjusted to being in different classrooms in kindergarten, and we have seen some benefits from it (new friendships, exploring individual interests, and really appreciating the time they have together at home). However, every set of twins and individual twin is different, and what works for one child might not work for the next. I hope you and your school find the best solution for your family. Good luck!

  4. I have identical twin girls who are 5. They are in their second year at school and I made the decision to put them in separate classes. I was a bit worried at first about how they would cope without each other, but it turns out to have been the best decision I could have made! Even though they are identical, they do have very different personalities and develop at different rates. They are thriving at school and really enjoy going. It also gives them some ‘breathing space’ from each other because they do argue a bit. They have also made their own circles of friends too.

    1. That’s nice to hear! We separated our girls at age 3 in daycare/preschool, and they’ve been advocating for us to put them back together in Kindergarten (one wants this more than the other). They’re thriving in separate classrooms, though, and so we’re going to keep them in separate classes this fall.

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  6. Ugh, I dislike the fleegermonsters very much. Congratulations fleegermonster, you’re opinionated just like everyone else. I knew a couple who were having trouble getting pregnant, and this went on for several years. That didn’t stop the fleegermonsters from fulfilling their self-righteous duty of telling this couple it was time they started having kids. That’s why I very much embrace a live-and-let-live philosophy. Let people live their lives as they choose. Besides, there’s usually a reason for choices people make. How arrogant of a fleegermonster to believe they know all the facts.

    I say go with your gut. You’re their mom. Who knows them better than you do?

  7. That is really interesting that one of your twins wants to be in the same classroom and the other is content that they aren’t. I would have guessed they would miss each other too much. Before reading further into your post, my opinion would have been to keep them together, but I see the reasoning not to. Plus the kids do make new and individual friendships and that is a plus.

  8. I have a friend who had this same dilemma recently. She has twin girls who are now in 2nd grade, and one of them was really struggling to assert herself in the classroom because she was so used to relying on the other one who was more outgoing and had an easier time at school. Although they had always been together up to that point, my friend decided after talking it over with the teacher and principle that it would be best to separate them, and it worked wonders for the one who had been having trouble. But I know they missed having each other around–so it’s definitely not an easy decision. Best of luck to you and good on you for doing what you think is best for your girls, no matter anyone else’s outside opinion.

    1. Thank you! I hope our decision to separate our girls in school will be beneficial for both of them. It’s so hard to stick with this decision when I see how upset it makes one of my twins, but we have to do what’s best for both of them in the long-run. I’m glad to hear it worked out for your friend’s twin daughters.

  9. I think ( and I really do not know) I would put my twins together for the sake of making things easier all around for mommy, but the negative of that is you are limiting the learning experience as one can come home with her lessons of what she is up and the other can come home with her unique experiences…Hum..Tough decision…In the long run—breaking them up is probably the wiser choice….hum…I think…..

    1. You’re right–trying to juggle two separate classes has been tough! With the little one in the mix, that’s three separate parent-teacher conferences and now even separate playdates and birthday parties (which are tough to handle without someone’s feelings getting hurt). For now, I think we’ve made the right choice, and I’ll just have to put up with the inconvenience.

    1. Thanks. Deciding whether to separate my girls in school has been one of the harder parenting decisions I’ve had to make so far. It’s been very stressful.

  10. Lynette

    I love how you differentiate independence and individuality. The same is so true in our house. My boys would benefit greatly from being separated, but alas the school they are in only has 1 class per grade. The academics are there, and they are learning a lot. But, I constantly wonder if I put them in a bigger school would they learn more because they wouldn’t always be picking on each other.

    1. It’s so tough, isn’t it? It seems like parents will feel guilt no matter what decision they make. It’s good to hear that your boys are doing well academically in the same classroom.

      1. Lynette

        They are doing alright, but two report cards have come home with the words ‘work on keeping hands to themselves’ on them. >.<

    1. Yeah, it’s none of their business! I don’t mind hearing stories about the way other people were raised, but those stories shouldn’t be told in a judgmental way. Thanks for your comment!

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