To my quiet, even-tempered middle son: I’m so sorry.
You, sweet boy, are the kind of child that makes parenting easy, the kind that all parents dream of having. That’s a fabulous thing for us, but – as wrong as it is – not so much for you. Because instead of earning you well-deserved praise, as it should, your low-maintenance, easygoing temperament has made you the most frequently overlooked member of our family. And it’s time we gave you a long overdue apology.
Let me be perfectly clear: It’s not because we don’t love you as much, or care about your needs any less than those of your more vocal siblings. It’s just that you don’t need as much, or so it would seem. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so the old saying goes – and, well, you just aren’t very squeaky. You don’t require extra help with your homework, or extra parent-teacher conferences to figure out problems at school – because there are none. Your teachers gush about how helpful and respectful you are. There are no special needs to speak of: no allergies, no behavioral problems, no sensory issues or learning disabilities or strange quirks we need to investigate or work around or advocate for. No, your life is blessedly uneventful, at least where major issues are concerned. We, and you, are so fortunate in this regard.
But unfortunately, you happen to be sandwiched between siblings that naturally require more of our energy than you do. You are the calm waters; they are the quickly rising tides, the sprung leaks. You are the whisper among the shouts. Your flame holds steady while theirs either roar or sputter. I’m always rushing to put out the proverbial fires, coming to their aid or their defense – but you? You don’t need either one very often. You’re like a pot that doesn’t boil over, yielding the same delicious results, but without the constant stirring and temperature adjustments and ingredient additions that the other dishes need. So we tend to those other pots instead, leaving you to bubble contentedly on your own, knowing we can count on you to be the one thing that won’t throw us for a loop.
Sometimes, after a particularly exhausting day or stretch of days, when mothering has wholly depleted me for the moment, I look at you and feel a profound sense of relief that at least one of my children is undemanding. My heart overflows with love and gratitude for you, always, but especially at times like that. You present us with much less challenge than anyone else in the family, and we’re more thankful than you could ever understand until you’re a parent. You ask so little, just going with the flow, no backtalk or arguing like your siblings sometimes indulge in. Your endless patience and blissfully obliging nature often lead us to let you lead yourself.
But just because you don’t need special help doesn’t mean you don’t need an equal amount of recognition and attention, and this is where we fail you. Because we’re sometimes so busy with the complications of life that we don’t stop to fully appreciate (and celebrate!) the fact that you’re uncomplicated. And, oh, how much we appreciate it. It’s time we started letting you know.
It’s not okay that we let you skate by with the occasional pat on the back. It’s not okay that we give the lion’s share of our efforts to your siblings just because you’re easier. And most of all, son, it’s not okay that we have expected you to be okay with all this. By our actions — or lack thereof — we are essentially sending you the message that you deserve to be overlooked, that you’re not as important, that your needs matter less. And nothing could be further from the truth. But how could you ever know that when we don’t show you, every single day, how vitally … critically … irreplaceable and important you actually are?
We are wrong, my love, and our “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality when it comes to you is at an end.
I promise to stop overlooking you, to stop parenting you on autopilot and start paying more attention. I promise to notice and openly recognize everything that’s beautiful about you, instead of waiting for a problem to address. I promise to notice when you need my help even if you don’t ask for it. I promise to spend the time on you; if not to solve an issue, then to just soak up your sweetness and sunshine and give you an extra dose of love in return. Because you are loved, and you are valued, and your compliance should be a virtue – not a detriment, a reason for us to skim over you because you’re “doing all right.” From now on, I swear to you, it will be.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. It’s true. But we’re going to give you the grease anyway, because you don’t need it any less whether you’re squeaking or silent.