When an Identical Twin Doesn’t Want to Share a Classroom

Question of the Week:
First, let me say how much I respect your books and your opinion. I am a fraternal twin and a mum of identical twin girls and your book, Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples, is one of the few twin books which I think really captures the essence and dilemmas of being a twin and parenting twins. However, I have a tricky situation. My girls are about to go into the second year of school. They have been in separate classes for the last year and one of them (who used to be the most confident) has suffered for it. She really wants to be with her twin next year. Her sister, however, is not at all keen as she feels she would end up sharing her friends and spending all her time with her sister. They do have separate out-of-school activities and the school is very understanding and accommodating but I do not know what to do and would very much appreciate any advice you have. Many thanks. —A.M.

two identical twins holding school books.Answer: Thank you for the kind words about my book, Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples. It’s so nice to hear feedback, and I’m truly glad you find it helpful.

Now, to answer your question….

I believe you need to respect the wishes of the daughter who prefers to be in separate classes and work closely with your daughter who wants to be together to understand the source of her anxiety of being in a class away from her cotwin. If you relent and place them together again next year, it’s my fear that the daughter who preferred to be alone may harbor resentment, damaging the relationship with her cotwin in the future.

It’s been so ingrained in our culture to believe that all twins, especially identical twins, must be deeply connected, spending the bulk of their time together. So much so that if one or both twins wish to live individual lives (instead a shared quasi union), it’s looked upon as odd, unhealthy, even sad. Nothing could be further from the truth. (Just take a look at any two closely bonded single-born sisters—they’re free to live independent lives without the pressure of constant companionship.) It’s been my experience that the more freedom you give each twin to be herself, the healthier their relationship becomes.

Your daughter has simply expressed a need to have her own friends, her own experiences. Watching my own twins share so much in their day-to-day lives, I can completely understand why a twin would wish for some separation, even if it’s just a few hours a day. To me, it’s a healthy sign of growth as an individual. And good for her to be able to open up to you and share her feelings! It says a lot about you, too, as her parent. You obviously have created a nurturing environment, one where your daughter feels safe to confide in you as I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her. But she’s looking to you to take control of the situation—she wants you to be the “heavy” as I’m sure she would never want to hurt her cotwin’s feelings. Therefore, it’s up to you to make sure they are in separate classes next year.

But you also need to find out the source of your other daughter’s apprehension. You need to understand her fear of being without her sister in order to help her overcome her anxiety. Try talking with her privately and without pressure. Perhaps when just the two of you are driving in the car, you can casually bring up the topic and see what she says. Ask her gentle follow-up questions, “How does that make you feel?”

Next, I would suggest setting up a meeting with your daughter’s teacher to get her perspective. What are her observations of your daughter in class? Ask her if your daughter has an easy time making friends on her own or if she relies on her sister to be the pair’s “social secretary.” Perhaps there’s something else at play altogether. Is she struggling academically, for instance? Is she being teased or bullied? Does she feel overshadowed by her twin?

Once you understand the source of her apprehension you can then begin to slowly help her overcome it by building her self-esteem (or perhaps even having her talk to a therapist). You mentioned that she once was very confident; I’m sure with a little motherly love, she feel that way again.

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