It’s common to hear parents discuss the differences between their children, despite the fact that they’re being raised in the same home.
One child is a team player, while the other migrates to his bedroom as soon as he gets home from school. One responds well to timeouts, while the other wrestles until she can break free. One is a natural with the latest technology, while another is an emerging and carefree artist.
What activities should we plan as a family? What discipline strategies should we implement? Navigating this parenting thing is hard enough as is, but having children from different planets doesn’t help.
Let me introduce my opposite littles, starting with their first interactions of the morning:
Daughter: “Good morning, Mommy! It’s a beautiful day!”
Son: Screams while attempting to climb out of his crib. After pulling down the curtains that are stupidly hung just within reach, he throws himself down as soon as I walk through the door — as if he’s been helplessly waiting for hours.
Then there’s lunchtime:
Son: Listens to every food option presented to him while he shakes his head frantically crying out as if he is insulted I would ever suggest anything but chicken nuggets.
Daughter: Quietly sits and devours whatever I place in front of her into her mouth.
And finally, this is how they say they’re sorry:
Daughter: Mumbles “sorry” so quietly I have to ask her to repeat it over and over until I hear her. Eyes are downcast and full of sensitivity as she requests to be hugged long and hard to reassure her of my forgiveness.
Son: Wears a huge grin on his face as he shouts loudly and stomps his feet with excitement that things are okay and we are at peace.
I know my children are different ages and don’t share the same level of expression. But I can guarantee these same basic patterns will remain in place five, ten, and even twenty years from now. This is who they are. Parenting their differences is a challenge, but I’ve learned a few tricks.
1 | Don’t look at one behavior as better than the other.
I used to make my son behave more like my daughter. I thought her behavior was better when in fact, it’s just easier. My son’s stubbornness and loud expression are a good sign he’ll speak his mind and possibly be a great leader one day.
My daughter’s ability to follow directions and her natural inclination of compassion and kindness will be great attributes for working with teams. People will be able to rely on her and know they’re loved.
Both of my kids’ personalities reveal tremendous strengths. It may be easier to parent a soft-spoken, well-mannered child, but learning to view the loud and active children as different, and not worse, is key.
2 | Omit the word “fair” from your vocabulary.
A friend gave me great advice when she told me not to use “fair” as a parenting standard. In a world that screams “fair and just!” this was difficult. But once I took the pressure off myself, I was able to honor the needs of my children on a much deeper level.
My son requires boundaries my daughter never needed. He also needs a lot more attention, leaving me to stand in puddles of guilt over the time I spend with him in comparison to my little girl. While fair treatment would leave each of them feeling like equals, it wouldn’t necessarily leave each of them feeling well loved.
3 | Learn the individual needs of each child.
My daughter needs affection. Cuddles and caresses speak to her heart. Mud, mess, and movement are my son’s dominant love languages. If I speak to them using other methods and neglect either of their needs, the day is long and challenging. But when I am intentional about tenderly holding my daughter while my son excitedly runs around the backyard, it’s a win!
We must look at our opposite children from a perspective that honors who they are. Though different, all children bring something unique to the story. Parenting opposites may seem like an endless battle, but if we strive to give each child the time and care their temperament requires, we’re more likely meet their needs and experience success.