A Valuable Parenting Lesson I Learned From My MIL

by Laura Epstein
Originally Published: 
An old fashioned balance scale in front of a yellow background
George Morgan / EyeEm / Getty and Scary Mommy

If you google the term equally you get the following definition: “in the same manner or to the same extent.”

As in, “all children should be treated equally.”

I disagree. I don’t treat my children equally because my children are absolutely not equal. I have a six-year-old with Autism and two neurotypical identical twins. I love all three equally but they have their own strengths and weaknesses. They very much require different things from me and require the same things from me at different times. Instead of treating them equally, I treat them fairly and I really focus on giving each child what they need.

Now, I’m not advocating giving them different numbers of M & Ms because that would be a disaster and obviously unfair. But the amount of time, material things and sometimes the amount of energy I give each child depends on the child’s needs. One day a twin may need more time because he’s struggling with a runny nose or lack of sleep, and on a different day, his brother may require my energy as he does a school project.

Why did I change my approach? If you focus on making sure everything you give your children is equal, you neglect to take into account their differences. In a given day, I only have so much time and energy. I just don’t have unlimited capacities. If the time I gave each child was equal one may have too much time and another too little. By actively focusing on giving each child what they need to grow and excel that day, I can (a) be more thoughtful in how I spend my time and (b) stress out less.

I used to stress that they were not getting equal time from my husband and me. Now I can see that at given points in their lives our children may need either my husband or me more than the other. I have my own strengths and weaknesses as does my husband. There are ages I am great with and ages I am definitely not great with. Currently I am a lot better with our three-and-a-half-year-olds than my husband. He was a whole lot better at babies than me. We focus on essentially filling in the gaps of what our children are lacking. Whether that is who gets the most cuddles, snacks or reading. Currently my oldest always wants my husband. My husband spends more time with him than he does with the twins. The twins want me right now. This may change next year or maybe ten years from now. We don’t focus on giving them equal attention but giving them what they need to thrive because that is what we consider fair.

So how did I start rethinking how I divided my time, energy and resources? Well, my mother-in-law has been doing this successfully for years. Like me, she has three kids who are very different. My husband is the oldest. He’s a married lawyer with kids who just needs babysitting and an occasional word of encouragement nowadays but when he was younger he was homeschooled and took the most time and probably emotional energy. My husband has a younger brother who is also a married lawyer. He mostly just needs dogsitting and validation. As a child, he was very involved in school activities, popular and didn’t require as much one-on-one time because he was off with his friends. However, she says she probably spent a lot more money on “cool” clothes for him. Her daughter is eight years younger than my husband and at a totally different place in life. She is married but has been in school or internships forever (approximately) and still has a few more years left. She still needs one-on-one time and sometimes clothes bought for her. Even as adults, my mother-in-law still tries to spread her resources and time fairly but not necessarily equally.

So by copying my mother-in-law, I started thinking about giving my children my time and resources fairly instead of equally. This thought process has reduced my stress over having to do everything equally (especially with twins where that will drive you nuts trying) and hopefully made our family a happy and productive place.

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