Monday, 16 November 2015

Why It's Impossible to Parent Your Kids the Same Way

I remember when my oldest child was 10 months old, and my husband and I started talking about baby No. 2. We knew we wanted two kids, and we wanted them to be reasonably close in age. But we did wonder how we'd be able to share our time and attention with two kids instead of focusing on just one.

My husband is a younger sibling, so naturally, he was worried about that. (Ask any parent with more than one kid what the baby book looks like for their subsequent children, and their response will either be, "What baby book?", or they'll have one but they'll be so far behind in updating it that they won't want you to see it.)

As an older sibling, it used to drive me crazy when my parents would try to resolve arguments between me and my sister with, "Well, she's just a baby" or "You're the older one, so you should know better." So I wanted to make sure our older child wouldn't be overly burdened with that responsibility. We discussed these viewpoints and vowed to be consistent in parenting both children the same.

Which is all well and good...except it didn't really turn out that way. And I'm not talking about giving them both the same pink plastic cups at dinner time, or cutting the chocolate bar carefully down the middle so the two halves are precisely equal, or making sure they take turns playing with a favourite toy. That's the easy stuff. What's harder is to be the same parent to both (all) of your kids.

There are a few reasons this is an impossible goal. For one, your kids are going to have different needs at different times. When you have a toddler and a baby, for example, the toddler may get short shrift sometimes when the baby's needs are more urgent, and vice versa.

The kids are different, too, with their own unique personalities. From a reward and discipline standpoint, what works (or doesn't work) for one doesn't necessarily work (or not work) for the other. It takes a fair amount of trial and error to figure out what each child responds to and why.

Not only that, you are a different person with your first child than with subsequent kids. With your first, you find yourself doing things like checking every five minutes to make sure the baby is still breathing. Why? Because you have no frame of reference for your day-to-day experience and no real evidence you're doing the right things. With subsequent children...well, you got this far and the first kid survived, so you must be doing something right. Right?

And finally, no matter how much we try not to let emotions rule our decision-making, we're all human. You love your kids equally, but, as with adult friendships, you may find yourself gravitating toward one more than the other for different reasons, at different times in your life. For example, when I find myself getting really frustrated with one of my girls, it's usually because I'm reacting to a behaviour or a personality trait that I don't like in myself (e.g., stubbornness). Seeing something you've always struggled with reflected back in your kid's eyes...well, that's hard to deal with.

So I've come to the conclusion that I can't really parent my kids exactly the same. But what I can do is love them and respect them separately for the unique and wonderful human beings they are—and hope that, one day, they'll understand.

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