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All Children Are Not Created Equal


All Children Are Not Created Equal

“Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.” ~John Wilmot

All children are not created equal. We recognize this when we have more than one pregnancy, when our friend’s child starts to walk and talk quicker than our own and when we see grades on report cards that allow for improvement. And yet, we so often feel compelled to treat our children equally when it comes to parenting.

If there was one style of parenting that worked, there would not be 3 million parenting books to help teach you the way that works for you and your child. Like the acquisition of most life skills, effective parenting is trial and error and the learning curve is often huge!

When most moms get together and talk about their kids, they spend the majority of their conversation swapping stories of how different their children are of each other and their friends. And then they will talk about what discipline or praise works for them. It is often quite different, just as different as our children. And yet, experts still write books which we read on how to do it the “right” way. Really?

My daughter is a gem. Sensitive, kind, insightful, super smart and well mannered, she brings us great pride. She is also incredibly manipulative and dramatic and uses her intellect to outsmart friends and her little brother to get what she wants, sometimes in deceptive ways. Confident and hopeful, she tries to work over her parents. Doesn’t she know these skills are genetic?

My daughter is also a perfectionist and has anxious tendencies. I know when I talk to her, I have to be sensitive to how she responds to criticism. She works hard to be the best and when she realizes she isn’t all the time, she struggles with this knowledge. My parenting style with her is direct and firm, but with a lot of reinforcement and praise for her positive behaviors to make sure she recognizes her strengths.

My son is a love. I have frequently labeled him “the happiest boy alive.” Charming, witty and always laughing, he truly seems to embrace every moment of life’s joys. I have also labeled him “the beast.” Impulsive and contrary, with an inability to sit still anywhere, he is tough to monitor in public without fearing arrest.

My son is not a perfectionist, with exception to his perfect ability to accept that he will not do everything well. He is quick to give up when he is frustrated and moves on quickly to the next task at hand, comfortable with his level of success. My parenting style with him is also direct and firm, but with more encouragement to keep trying until he does what he sets out to accomplish. He needs continuous redirection and a push to plod forward no matter how tiring or frustrating the task.

As their personalities develop and their behaviors change, I am more aware of how differently I have to treat them, but yet not let them in on the secret, because anyone who has more than one child knows, they are constantly watching for favoritism and discrepancies between how they are being treated. Gender differences and age can also impact how we parent them, but eventually we realize, it’s because they are simply different people, regardless of maturity or gender. By the way, I do think gender makes a big difference in how we parent at times, but that is a different discussion.

So how do you know the right style of parenting for your child? Start with knowing your child and seeing them for who they are. Then take the advice, your own or someone else’s that you have been given and try it out. I really am a firm believer that effective parenting comes from trial and error, which can be time consuming and frustrating, but once you find what works, you are blissfully happy…right up until you and your child change again! And know yourself. If you are given a suggestion that doesn’t jive with your personality, it’s not going to work for you because you won’t be comfortable and it won’t work for your child because they will see it doesn’t fit you. For example, if someone suggested I monitor my son’s every move and redirect his behaviors whenever I see them become negative, it would not work. I believe in fostering independence and learning from your own mistakes. If I were to monitor to his every move, I would get annoyed and he would become dependent on me to know when he was doing something right or wrong and it wouldn’t create the desired result.

So just as much as children are not created equally, neither are their parents! How much trial and error got you to where you are today? My guess is plenty. Sometimes scrapes and bruises help remind us to jump over the rock the next time we see it in our path. And sometimes the scars we endure help define who we are. Error is okay if we learn from it. Embrace what you learn and regroup when it’s not working, with the confidence of knowing we all are in this big learning curve together and with enough patience and effort, it can all work out.


“You Get What You Get and You Don’t Get Upset”


“You Get What You Get and You Don’t Get Upset”

“You get what you get and you don’t get upset.”

I don’t actually know where this originated from, but for my children, it was their Auntie Tara, my best friend, who coined the phrase which became our mantra last summer, for the grandiose act of selecting a popsicle. If you pulled out a green, you get a green. If you pull out a red, you get a red. That’s just the way it is. You’re lucky you’re getting a popsicle.

And then it moved onto snack choices or the type of juice that came in the coveted drink box. My children would chant this phrase often to each other when one of them would snub an option that seemed lesser than what they were willing to accept. They were teaching each other the power of acceptance in times of disappointment, an invaluable lesson in the realities of life. You do get what you get and you don’t get upset. Actually, you can and often do get upset, but it’s not going to get you anywhere, another irritatingly valuable lesson.

With childrearing, this lesson is the same, yet can be quite challenging to accept. We begin with expectations for the pregnancy, what the symptoms are and sensations and then compare with everyone we know who is or has been pregnant. After birth, we watch for their steady progression in development and inadvertently start comparing each of their stages to every child we encounter and every chart our pediatrician has. If and when the next child comes, we are constantly comparing their development to the first and how one is so different than the other and how miraculous it is that they share the same genes. We are constantly comparing and contrasting our children to every child and “norm” around them, trying to feel out what characteristics, types of intelligences, and skills we want for them versus what we don’t want. At some point, we either acknowledge that they are who they are and we are okay with that or that they are not what we expected nor how we want them to be and we are hell bent on re-sculpting them. After all we did make them and we should be able to reshape them into our own works of art. If only the stork knew to deliver us clay instead of talking, thinking beings, we’d be all set.

In my professional experience as a counselor, the most frustration I hear from parents occurs when their children are not meeting the expectations they have for them. In my personal experience, the most frustration I feel occurs when my children are not meeting the expectations I have for them. Coincidence?

Let’s face it, when we don’t get what we want and expect, it’s annoying. If you were holding out for the red popsicle, but orange was the only color left, you’d be disappointed, but you really wanted a popsicle, so you take it. It’s still refreshing and gives you the gratification you were looking for, it’s just a different flavor than you originally requested.

When you opted to have a child, you asked for the star running back for the football team, you ended up with the president of the drama club, both with great leadership potential, but different. What makes one better than the other? How we choose to view it.

Maybe you asked for the salutatorian, because really the valedictorian has way too much pressure, so you lowered your expectations just for your child, after all you don’t want to ask too much. And then you ended up with the child who thought community college was a better match for them to strive for and they wanted to save you $120,000 in college tuition. Your child doesn’t want to ask for too much either.

I asked for a respectable member of the community who uses good manners and has excellent social skills. I ended up with a child who runs through the grocery store like a wild beast and touches every item on the shelves 35 seconds after promising he would choose good behaviors. But when he asks if he can have a treat for being such a good boy, he always says “please.”

I believe it can be advantageous to ask where our expectations come from. Are they social norms and standards we are striving for them to meet? Or are they dreams and goals we created for them that they don’t seem to share? Either way, they are still ours and not theirs. That doesn’t mean we should change them, it just means we can acknowledge where they came from and assess their merit and the level of effort needed to teach them if they are indeed worth it.

If you wanted your child to play soccer because you were a soccer player, but your child would rather sit on the side lines and draw, fine. Let them try soccer for a couple of seasons (sometimes they don’t realize what a great sport it is until 3 years later), and let all your relatives know that drawing pads and colored pencils are the greatest gift they could give. And when your child “accidentally” pops their soccer ball with a kitchen knife and they just can’t go to practice without it, call it a day and consider letting it go. You both gave it a shot. Feed your expectation, but don’t starve your child when they don’t want to pick out the same item on the menu that you want.

Speaking of food, I am super conscientious about what I buy and serve my children, but I must admit, my kids turned me on to popsicles last summer…even sometimes the ones with high fructose corn syrup…shhhh. Because of their insistence, I truly do not care which flavor I get. I do still have my preferences, but I am learning to adapt to all flavors and brands. And I am slowly discovering, that no matter what, popsicles are great and I’m lucky to get one at all.