I just heard it, the collective “gasp” of all the parents reading that. Of course I LOVE all my children the same. Young parents often don’t believe that they could ever feel the overwhelming love they feel for their first baby for anyone else. Then they have another, and they do! A parent’s capacity for love is limitless. What I’m talking about is HOW you love your children. You will discover, the more you have and the more they grow and change, that how you love them has to vary from year to year, and from child to child.
I was an only child, so large family dynamics always fascinated me. When I had my own children I read everything I could get my hands on. I discovered that while there are lots of helpful ideas out there, the only way you truly learn to parent is to actually parent. You’ve got to roll your sleeves up and get in there before all those ideas start to make sense.
Then, just when you think you have it down, everything changes. At one point I had three children under six who I kept in line like little ducklings where ever I went. They were adorable and well behaved and I got smug! Number four was born and took every idea I had about parenting small children and stomped on it, ripped it up, and threw it out the window. So I had to learn a few new tricks!
Just when you think you’ve got it all under control again, the kids will mix it all up on you just for fun and they will all take turns doing it. One will be great as a toddler but will throw you for a loop as soon as they hit school. Another will go from a tyrannical terrible two year old, to an amazing and mature preschooler over night! During the teen years, I used think there must be a chart in my house that the kids were hiding from me. I believe it showed the rotating shifts of whose turn it was to drive Mom over the edge that week because clearly it was a coordinated effort.
The funny thing is folks who haven’t had kids yet think you parent for 18 years and then you are done. Nothing could be further from the truth. You parent until the day you die, period. No matter how old you and your children are, they still need you. I mean, who doesn’t need their mom from time to time! I still do! If all is healthy and well, they need you for very different things at 25 than they needed from you at 4, but they need you none the less.
You may not think your kids are paying attention to your parenting, but they are. Most kids have a “not fair” radar that kicks in the minute anything seems off to them. They know exactly how much attention you’ve paid to each of them. They remember exactly the number of presents a sibling opened on their birthday months previous. They remember how late another sibling was allowed to stay up at the same age they are now. If you dare stray from that you’ll know it by the immediate and desperate cries of “ITS NOT FAIR!”
How many parents of multiple children have sat up late at night counting out the red jelly beans into Easter baskets so that everyone got the same, or making exact even piles for Christmas stockings? I don’t know about you, but I refused to buy anything that couldn’t be easily divided. On more than one occasion I had to eat the last one of something just to avoid the arguing!
Making sure that everyone feels they are loved the same is a full time job. I never understood sibling rivalry so I asked friends. After hearing more than one horror story about a youngest child who was under represented in the family album I set out to make sure that all the kids felt equally loved and documented. How could I have anticipated my youngest bursting into tears one day because of all the family pictures we had taken BEFORE SHE WAS BORN! Too young to understand, she simply thought we’d left her out!
You can’t expect the same things from each of them. They will shine or struggle in different areas. Sometimes you have to change the rules, or change your parenting style, mid-game! As an infant, one child may have a constant need to be swaddled, while another can’t stand to be held and wants to be put down on the floor to explore! Listening to them, and listening to your own heart, makes up for knowledge you can’t find in those parenting books. I was always amazed at how children, with the same two parents, could be so different!
As they get older, their needs, and their need for your help continues to change. That wildly independent toddler may turn into a very shy middle school student, who needs you to help nudge them to be involved in with their peers. One child needs a little more help with homework while another sores effortlessly past your own understanding of math in record time! One child has shown they can be given certain responsibilities and freedoms. Another child seems to always walk unknowingly into trouble and needs more supervision. Sorting out and meeting all those needs without setting off the “it’s not fair alarm” becomes more challenging.
As adults the challenges are different but still there. What they really need now is to try and fail or try and succeed on their own. Watching this process can be heartbreaking. Knowing when to step in and help, or when to back off completely is difficult. Sometimes one needs a little help financially, and another needs you to spend some quality time with them. One child needs you to mind your own business, and another really wants your opinion and advice. Discovering the healthiest ways to meet their needs, and yours, is difficult and just like when they were little they will keep mixing it up and taking turns to keep it interesting.
I wonder where they keep that chart now that they all live in different places.