Ahh, parenting more than one child. It is the best of times, it is the…most stressful of all the times. Ever.
I admit that before my oldest boy was born, I was determined that if there was one thing I was going to get right – no, perfect – it was parenting. After all, I had a DEGREE in social work! I had taken several child and adolescent development classes. I had Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Erikson’s stages of development and the entirety of the content of Parent’s Magazine from 2009 onward memorized, for goodness sake. Not surprisingly, I also had a binder full of laminated articles from Parent’s Magazine organized by age and stage juuuust in case I ever succumbed to this “mom brain” thing I heard a lot of people talking about.
Having made it through the first year of his life
alive relatively unscathed, I was feeling pretty sure of myself. After all, keeping a human being alive for 12 months straight is a pretty big accomplishment. Monumental, even.
However, the routines and rigidity I had adhered to so strictly eventually flew out the window on October 29, 2012 – the day baby boy number two entered our family. Coincidentally, it was also the day Hurricane Sandy ravaged our section of the East Coast (among others), and looking back, I’d say that’s a pretty good metaphor for what happened to my parenting style in the weeks and months that followed. I found myself recovering from a C-section, dealing with mastitis, and trying to negotiate with a very strong-willed 2 and a half year old who had formerly been a perfect sleeper and decided 6 weeks after his little brother arrived that sleep just wasn’t his thing anymore. Hurricane Sandy seemed like a gentle summer rain by comparison.
Six years have passed since those hurricanes hit our lives, and one thing is for sure: I am now the proud owner of two wonderful boys, with two very, very different personalities. The third wonderful boy is only 9 months old, so his personality remains to be seen, but so far, so good. 😉
As such, I have found (as many parents do) that what “works” for one child in terms of discipline, navigating difficult emotions, and creating a daily structure doesn’t necessarily work for another. And, frankly, what “worked” for me with parenting my first child no longer did once my time and attention had to be divided by two. There were things I said I would never do as a parent that, of course, I ended up doing. There were things I said I would always do, that naturally went by the wayside when I found myself outnumbered (and let’s be honest, outsmarted) by two adorable yet demanding little men.
I’d like to share some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way that have been helpful as I still try to navigate the uncharted waters of parenting. Oh, and I won’t be siting from that binder full of articles…that mama jama didn’t even make it through our first post-baby move. Nope, these tricks are just from my own experience – not exactly science, but still.
It never ceases to amaze me that two kids who have come from the same two people and have been raised in the same exact environment can be so dang different. One of the differences I discovered between my kids early on is the way they give and receive love. My oldest is extremely sensitive to criticism or perceived criticism. A perfectionist to the core (hmm, wonder where he got that?), he shuts down when he is reprimanded or even redirected. And by shutting down, I mean from the ages of 2.5-7, it was like a war zone whenever he got mad. We likened him to a Sour Patch kid because when he was sour he was very, VERY sour, but when he was sweet, he was the sweetest boy in the world. But again, when he was sour…WATCH OUT. Learning that his love language is words of affirmation made me realize I needed to stop constantly pointing out what he was doing wrong, and heap on the encouragement for all the amazing things he was doing right. For my other son, a born snuggler, physical touch was super important. For him, all was right in the world when he was sitting on my lap or I was giving him a hug. Once I deduced their individual love languages, I could parent smarter and love them better. This led to less tantrums, less arguing, and less stress for me. Win, win, winning.
This one was HUGE for me. Ultimately, as I look back, I can see all the ways I tried to mold my kids (especially my oldest) to fit what I and I alone thought was the way they should be. UGH. I parented to control behavior, modify behavior, and make life easier…for ME. I thought if I could just be consistent enough, eventually he would “get it” and conform to my expectations.
In some ways, this is what parenting requires. We have to teach our kids right from wrong. But I was making big deal things out of little deal things, and in the meantime, squelching my boys’ developing personalities. The enneagram has helped me a lot to understand that my boys’ unique personalities are a gift, and with them comes a unique way of seeing the world. Instead of trying to change what was there, I now began to see the good in it, and work WITH it. I believe my oldest is a type 1, the perfectionist, and as such, I see that his rigid thinking is not out of selfishness, but his deep desire for things to be done the right way, and for justice. My middle boy, I’m still figuring out his type (but my guess is a 2 like his mama), I see how much he desires love and worries about not having it, especially since our little foster babe came along.
The point is, each of our kiddos has a unique personality and that’s a GOOD thing. Do a little investigating, and you’ll find your heart softening towards your kids as you begin to see that which formerly drove you batty as a positive!
After reading The Awakened Family, I realized that I was trying to control too much (ya think?!!). I really began to explore letting my children lead their lives (as much as possible) in their own way. I realized that much of my desire to control and manage was out of my own anxiety, based on things I had experienced as a child that I wished to protect my kids from. It seems like a good, healthy wish, but in retrospect, I can see the ways it harms them and makes them unsure of themselves.
Give your kids as much control as possible – yes, there still has to be law and order (dun dun!! sorry, I can’t type that without hearing that song clip from the show 😉 ) but again, the small things are small things, so just let them have some freedom. Let them become who they are supposed to become. Stand in awe of how amazingly unique and gifted each child is.
I hope you found this helpful, my friends! Much love to you!!