I have read so many articles and great blogs about raising boys or raising girls and how we need to teach them great values early in life. This one though is not about raising boys or girls. It is about raising two kids (or three or four or whatever your chosen number is, really). It is about how we, as parents, sometimes struggle with making sure that we are equal and fair in how we raise our kids.
I have always been very career oriented with my entire trajectory mapped out for myself and never imagined “stay at home mom” as a potential pit stop on that map. When I held my newborn in my hands for the first time, it was almost as if a switch flipped and all I wanted to do was hold him and snuggle with him. I just didn’t expect myself to fall so head over heels in love with this little human. My whole being was invested in making sure he was OK, he felt loved and that every smile was soaked in. He completed us as a family and that feeling was everything I wanted. I worked for almost a year after he was born and then decided to take a sabbatical from my career to be full time mom to him. To say that I enjoy my time spent bonding, soaking in every milestone and going on our little adventures on a full-time basis would be an understatement.
When we found out that we were expecting again, we were obviously thrilled and so excited that our first would be a big brother. I had no doubt that he would be a loving big brother even at a couple of months shy of being 2 years. I, on the other hand was a different story. During the 9 months of my second pregnancy, my hormones and my emotions played havoc because there were days that I would cry and just be agonized by the “What ifs”. My single worst fear being “What if I cannot love this baby as much as I love my first?” My husband and I had countless conversations of mostly him reassuring me that there was no way that this was possible. It continued to plague me though, this guilt of “Why did we plan a second? There is no way that I could have any more love to give? It is impossible to love another human as much as I love my first.” I felt like a horrible mom for even thinking these thoughts and even when I had only one child at that time, my fear that I would not be able to stay equal and fair was plunging me in a turmoil.
And then, our second was born. I have said this countless times and I will say it once more. He is the one who taught me how love multiplied instead of being divided when you have more than one child. Watching our boys together and holding this new little squish in my arms washed away any self-doubt that plagued me for a better part of my second pregnancy.
From the day we had two, both Nish and I have always been on the same page about one thing and that is to always treat them fairly and not play favorites. It is a struggle sometimes because they are such different personalities. Our first, is a great listener, very mature and so eager to please. I sometimes forget that he is only four and hold him to such a high standard. When he does have a meltdown, I am the one who feels the need to compose myself and remind myself that he is still a kid. Our second, is playful, naughty and almost always getting himself into trouble. He doesn’t care so much for the rules we set and is ready to break them just to show us who is the boss. So, at the end of the day, when I have fought all the battles that are to be fought with the 4 and 2-year-old, I tend to find myself caving to the 2 year olds tantrums and then I have to remind myself that his brother is watching and maybe thinking that how come he doesn’t get away with half as much. At no point would I want my first to feel like being good, the quieter and more patient one puts him at a disadvantage because he is not being “loud” or creating a “noise” about how he feels or what he wants. It is so easy to take the quiet one for granted just because he is easy to parent. Seems kinda unfair, right? We need to be better at not rewarding or caving to bad behavior, even though sometimes it might be the “easy” thing to do.
I draw a lot of inspiration from my parents who always tried to keep the balance between my sister and I. My sister is nine years younger than me and now that I have my own, I can only imagine how hard that must have been especially with such a huge age difference between the two of us. Some instances of them maintaining equality between us are so hilarious when we talk about it now, but I can see how it made sense then. It always drove my mom up the wall when I deferred to my sisters choice of restaurant even when it was “my turn” to pick. Maybe it is hilarious now because they made sure that these small things didn’t create little ripples of resentment. While my sister and I may not agree on many things (because which two sisters don’t argue!) we love and support each other in the good and the bad. But most importantly, we both know without a shadow of a doubt that we are both loved and kept in equal regard by our parents. And THIS is what I want for my kids. For them to know that their parents love them equally.
Nish and I tend to have conversations and level set our own parenting techniques. While we are not perfect or consistent in following all the rules, we do keep ourselves in check for a majority of the time. Our favorite way of keeping ourselves in check is tapping out when we feel like we are going to cave and then the other one can start afresh and be the one to say “No”.
We also try very hard not to pit our kids against each other. I know this might sound excessive to some since they are so little. What could a four and two-year-old take away from this that would scar them and make them feel like they are being treated unequally? Plenty. We don’t ever want them to feel like they are on opposite teams. And that they need to compete for mine or Nish’s affection, attention or praise. I always tell them that they are ONE team – that they are not rivals but brothers and best friends for life. No matter what, they should have each other’s back even if it is against us. I am probably making it hard on ourselves but I truly ALWAYS want them to know that they can count on each other and they are on the same team regardless of what goal they are fighting to attain. I have seen way too many siblings affected by this competitive jealousy pattern right through puberty, teenage years and into adulthood. A beautiful relationship is ruined because happiness to one is about competing with what the other has instead of being happy in what they have. Happiness should be about what you have instead of being about what the other doesn’t have. The most hurtful is watching parents continue to enable this competition between their kids even into adulthood.
We try to get one-one quality time with each kid on a frequent basis. Each kid gets to pick an activity for that day with one of us, this way, both get to pick one day to do their favorite thing with each of us and it is all about them that day. Both boys love their day of fun with each of us and to be honest Nish and I LOVE getting the one on one time with them and it is SO much fun to swap stories at the end of the day. They are close enough in age and yet there are certain activities that each compromises on if they have to do stuff together. This works out perfectly for everyone! I want my kids to grow up feeling loved equally and that we expressed it in the intangibles (love, affection and attention) because that is what creates the strongest relationship between siblings
I know they are so young and Nish and I are too close to the start line. But I am hoping that we can keep up with being fair and equal with them in every respect. Not so much in the material and monetary aspect (because that is easy to keep track of) but more in the emotional upbringing of our kids. I do this knowing fully well that I will still probably be told by my boys how I am playing favorites with one over the other and how I love one more than the other. They will play me as they do even now like a fiddle but that I am OK with. I have to say, my favorites change on a daily basis and sometimes hourly basis depending on who is working my last nerve but that I am OK with too. As I am writing this post they are trying to nap right next to me and fighting over how many pillows each gets to sleep with. And I am being told I love one more than the other because he has more pillows (what is my life??)
And just as I am about to lose my ever loving mind, the whiner tells me “Mom, can you sing us a song? The chicka chicka boom boom song, please?” that’s all that I apparently need to melt my heart. I’m telling ya, they play me like a fiddle!
Please tell me that I am not alone in this. Parents of more than one kid, tell me how do you battle the imbalance of the intangibles? What is in your bag of tricks to make sure that you are showering all your kids with the same equivalents because each one dances to a different tune? Comment below and tell us so we can learn from you too!