Some time ago I wrote about the advantages to having twins in the same class at school. I mentioned how you shouldn’t force the issue of independence – it should be a natural process. One day, I explained, they will naturally choose to go their separate ways, into a separate class from one another, but until then let them enjoy togetherness. Well, that time recently came, and of course, as with all things to do with twins, the time came at different points for each twin.
My twins had always been in the same class, but still very independent from each other – different friends, different interests, and they actually rarely played together in the playground at school. However, they liked the knowledge and reassurance that the other was there for them, especially when it came to new schools or new experiences. My son, Ernest, is the more cautious of the two, my daughter, Joy, being more gregarious and, sometimes worryingly, adventurous. So it should not have come as any surprise that it was she who decided it was time to be in a separate class before he showed any interest in this.
It all happened a little by accident. Up until this summer we had been living in California for four years, being originally from the UK. We decided last year that we would make the move back home, and therefore began the process of choosing a school for when they would start 3rd Grade. We set up a trial day at our chosen school and when the information about the day came up, the school had put them in separate classes for the day. I hadn’t thought to specify at the outset that they should be together (elementary-aged twins are usually kept together in the UK). I was immediately in emotional turmoil – do I try and change the arrangements? Will the school be expecting twins to be separated? Will I have a fight on my hands to keep them together, and have to justify once again my reasons? And of course, I was so worried at having to break the news to my twins – how were they going to feel about going to an unknown school in a different country and not have each other for support (during class-time at least)?
After wringing my hands for a few days, trying to work out how to handle it, my husband and I decided we could let them have the day apart and just see how they felt about it. I told them that the teachers wanted to spend special alone time with each of them, and that they had especially chosen two classes with different activities that would interest each of them. Rather anticlimactically, they were both fine with the idea of a day in separate classes, and I felt that maybe I had over-reacted. However, the problem came when my son said, “But, we’ll be in the same class when we start school, right?” I answered that I hadn’t discussed that with the school yet, and that we would see how the day went – maybe they would enjoy it. My daughter immediately piped up that she wanted to be in a separate class from my son, but Ernest was not happy about that in the least, and wanted to stay with Joy. Yet another example of how twins may be the same age but they develop and grow and completely different rates, with such different personalities.
I don’t know who was more nervous when the day came around. Well actually, I do know: it was me! I tried to hide it as much as possible, and Joy was genuinely excited about the day. Ernest was more worried, but not overly so, and he went in without a fuss. When we came to pick them up at the end of the day, the outcome was rather different from what we expected; it turns out that Joy had asked to visit Ernest in his classroom two or three times during the day. The teachers had been lovely and let her go. Joy told me afterwards that one of the times was just so she could tell Ernest that it was snowing! It was both so sweet and heartbreaking at the same time. Ernest, it turns out, was absolutely fine with his day – he made two friends and loved the teacher he was with.
On the day, we also discussed with the head teacher about the school’s policy with twins, and she said that it was entirely up to us. We therefore told the children they could take some time to think it over, and that it could be their choice. We were really worried that they would choose differently, and wondered how we would handle that, but Ernest said, “I’m fine either way, so if Joy wants to be in separate classes that’s ok. It’s up to her.” Joy, despite having asked to be with her brother a few times on the day, still stuck to her original idea of wanting to be independent from him. She is the more competitive of the two, and I think she preferred the idea of not being able to be compared to her brother.
They joined the school in separate classes four months ago now, and it has gone extremely well. The first day was emotional for me, seeing my little ones separated from the first time, especially when Ernest turned to give his sister a goodbye kiss at the classroom, only to have her breeze off into her own classroom in excitement! However, like the trial day, it is Joy who has found the transition a little harder than Ernest at times, but the difficulty is more about making new friends than feeling upset about being separated from her brother. She has flourished under her new class teacher who appreciates and notices her talents but also succeeds in encouraging her in the areas she finds difficult. Ernest immediately hooked up with one of the boys he had met on the trial day and they have been inseparable ever since.
A good test of success is that they very rarely seek each other out at times when they could be together – at recess or over lunch. When I asked them about a month into starting whether they missed each other during class time they both replied, “No.” And these are two twins who have a very good relationship and, while they may get irritated with each other from time to time and argue over what to play, really do love each other’s company. So much of parenting is guesswork and making decisions with the best intentions, but having no real idea if it will pay off or not. It’s reassuring that, on this point at least, leaving the time to be in separate classes to come naturally has worked out brilliantly for them both.
It’s hard to know what we would have done had they chosen differently after the trial day. I think you can’t deny independence to a child who is requesting it, when it is something that is perfectly reasonable. On the other hand, given all the changes that they were facing at the time – new home, new country, new school, I may not have forced another “new” on either one of them if they had been really upset at the idea. Perhaps I would have delayed it another year. In the end I didn’t have to, which just demonstrates children’s incredible capacity for adapting to new situations. As for me, I’m just left feeling that my little ones are growing up too fast!
Isabelle Lee is a British mom to 9-year-old boy/girl twins. She lived in California with her husband and twins for four years and moved back to the UK in 2016, settling in the North of England. When she isn’t being a chauffeur/carer/cook/cleaner she writes for Twiniversity, Tamba (the UK’s multiple birth charity), Huffington Post, and on her blog perplexedparent.com. You can follow and on Twitter or on Facebook
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