The Myth Of Parity In Parenting: Get Over It, Kid!
The other day, I was surprised to discover that my teenager has been keeping a List. We were driving to school and his monologue began with every, single thing his little sister (who is 5 years younger) has gotten at her age that he didn’t at the same. The list included:
- Sleepovers, which he didn’t start until age 10 and I let her have since age 8
- Soda, which she has on special occasions and I completely forbid him to have until age 10
- Electronics, which we didn’t start him on until about 10 and which she’s had since 9
- Bedtimes, because his was much earlier than hers is now
- Chores, which we had him doing long before I asked them of her
His concept is that parenting, like life, is supposed to be fair. Hate to burst your bubble, Junior, but it ain’t (neither is life, but he’ll discover that soon enough). So much of parenting is situational; we fly by the skin of our pants, minute-by-sanity-breaking minute.
As much as we might try to treat each kid equally, maybe unless your kids are close together in age, parenting one child is quite different from your other one. I had the teen five years earlier than his sister. That was half a decade of undivided attention and energy dedicated to one child! Then, Kid #2 came along. I was older and, for the sake of my fragile mental health, my mothering philosophy changed from “sweat the small stuff” to “just keep her safe.” It’s like the saying that with the first child you take the cookie from their hand because it’s made with sugar and all sorts of chemicals; with the second, you see them eating dirt and turn your head because, hell, dirt is organic.
Juggling the needs and schedules of two beings became and remains a monumental, energy-sapping challenge. Plus, whereas my older one was mild-mannered, until he hit puberty, my daughter was and is a spitfire. If I’m not laid-back with her, I’ll have a nervous breakdown.
What my son does NOT remember is that my daughter went to preschool earlier than he did because I needed a respite from my daughter and she needed the stimulation preschool provided. Nor does he recall that we didn’t have babysitters over the summer until she came along because not only did I need a break, but the sitter allowed me to spend one-on-one time with HIM. Junior fails to remember that technology has jumped light years from when he was a toddler until now. Babies are now tech-savvy whereas ten years ago, the idea of your baby being on an iPad was alien. Kids who didn’t have cellphones until they were in middle school (like my son) are now getting them in kindergarten (and, no, my daughter still does not have one although she does have an iPod).
He does not realize that if not for his little sister, I would be THE ULTIMATE HELICOPTER PARENT because I’d have the time to be. All of my energy would be on him even though, at 15, that’s the last thing he wants. He does not understand that one of the very important jobs of a parent is to treat each child as an individual, nourishing each separately depending on what each needs.
Are there common rules I hold to no matter which kid I’m dealing with? ABSOLUTELY! They have responsibilities to the family and are expected to pitch in with projects as asked (we all bag leaves in the fall, clean up after ourselves around the house, care for the cat, etc.). There are social and family occasions which are mandatory to attend. They earn luxuries and are not give them just “because.” If I hear about them being impolite or disrespectful to anyone, there are repercussions. And if I catch either child smoking, doing drugs, or drinking while under my roof there WILL be hell to pay.
Do I love my kids the same? YES – with all my heart. But I don’t always like them equally, depending on their attitude at the time, my mood, and how much coffee I’ve had that day.
Children are not static beings and neither are we, as parents. This parenting-thing is an individual journey, changing with the kids themselves. Do I treat Junior differently from his sister? YES, because he is a wondrous, different spirit from her and deserves unique treatment, just as she does. There is no cookie-cutter approach to parenting.
I’m looking forward to my son, one day, becoming a parent so I can watch him evolve as a dad. Then, and only then, will I give credence to how “unfair” I’ve been to him.
(Artwork featured, “The Big Bad Wolf Seeks Therapy” generously provided by one of our writers, Nancy Anton, whose art and prints can be purchased at: http://pixels.com/artists/nancyanton )