I remember the first night our second child was home. My husband and I were in bed, holding her, smiling at her, and loving her, when our 13-month-old walked down the hallway into our room and gave us a death stare. The look on that sweet baby’s face said, “What the hell is she doing in my spot, hanging out with you?”
My heart broke in an instant, and I wanted to prove to my toddler that there would always be enough love in my heart for him and his sister and certainly enough room in our bed for him to snuggle with us. Now let’s start with the fact that I felt I needed to prove something to my 13-month-old … how is it possible to prove anything to a 13-month-old? I wanted him to know that it was possible to treat them equally and fairly, and it was my job to do that. I did not want my children thinking that I favored one over the other.
I desperately needed him to understand — so those sweet eyes looking at me would reflect back the love and understanding I had in my heart.
That was the beginning of a futile parenting journey I embarked on, and looking back, I wish I would have done things differently.
We had three children in 2.5 years. The early days consisted of management. It felt like a military operation to leave the house for anything. I felt like I had a mental score card. At snack time I divided up the goldfish equally: 10 for each, and I gave them the exact same amount of juice. If one of my kids asked for more, I did not give in. It was not fair.
At bedtime, I tried my best to spend equal amount of time reading books and snuggling with each child. I soon realized that some books were longer than others, therefore, I needed to spend more time with the child that wanted the longer book. Oh no … now my scorecard was off. I would stay wide awake at night wondering how I could give an equal piece of me, and my attention to each of my amazing children throughout the next day.
It’s been a long hard road, with many lessons learned (mainly by me). This parenting method has not served me or my children. How I wish some fairy godmother would have appeared on that night when our 13-month-old walked in. I wish I would have parented differently — not for the sake of my children’s happiness, but for the sake of my own sanity.
People are different, kids are different and require different approaches. Some need more hugs at bed time, some need more goldfish at snack time, more quiet time, more exercise, more clothes, more friends, more sleep. Some children are really just content regardless of what their siblings have or do. The list is as diverse as the individuals standing in front of me. The challenge is that their needs and wants change as fast as they do. It is impossible to keep updating the score card. It serves no one. Not me and not my children.
I hopped on the “let me make it equal and fair” treadmill and was trapped. I was a pleaser.
Every now and then I would make a visit to my therapist. I would sit on his couch tell him my frustrations with my children and one day he said to me: “You resent your child because he/she is requiring you to be the type of parent you do not want to be.” At that moment, I thought he was 100% correct, and realized if I was the parent that this specific child needed, then my (failing) parenting strategy of equal and fair would not work and I would have to make some big changes. I would have to toughen up, roll up my sleeves, and get to work. This would be uncomfortable.
Looking back, I realized that I did not have resentment towards my child, but I resented myself. I resented the fact that I did not have the courage to make parenting decisions that would cause tears. This was not the fun part of parenting, but would ultimately prepare my children for life — would toughen them up for when they were out of the nest. This was important work.
When I taught preschool, I always felt it was my duty to honor each child’s individual interests and needs. That is the guiding principle to my teaching style, and I so wish I would have applied this principle early on in my parenting journey. My three kids who are now 17, 18 and 19 have different schedules, different tastes, different friends, different interests. They are unique in every way, however they are equally kind and good humans.
So I guess I didn’t mess things up too much.
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