Parenting Kids Differently
by Margot Starbuck
If you’re anything like me, you’ve gone to ridiculous crumb-counting measures to ensure that each of your children received identical portions of the cookie you’ve just dissected into mostly matching pieces. What’s usually motivating me here is the prevention of an indignant protest from one, or all, of them as they bellow, “NO FAIR!”
Cookies, of course, are just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other unpopular parenting decisions that are guaranteed to elicit my children’s outrage. One day, two of them will be grumpy that I’ve bought new shoes for the third; and the next day they’re bothered that just one gets to have a special play date.
I hold my ground, though, because I’m convinced that parenting different children differently is requisite to my job description. In fact, this is where the art of parenting finds its fullest expression. Unfortunately, my young children have very little appreciation for this art.
What my little charges don’t realize is that I’m not aiming for fair; I’m aiming for their good. To parent my children well, I nurture them and feed them, differently. For example, my youngest child has both the metabolism and activity level of a squirrel in training for the Rodent Olympics. To parent him well, I make sure he’s fed in short regular intervals throughout the day. My other two, however, are more like brown bears. Happy enough to hibernate in a beanbag chair with Legos or a yarn craft. These two are slow-burners.
As I pay attention to the uniqueness of my children, I invest my resources with them differently too. For instance, the way we spend our time varies. I might toss a ball with one, play a board game with another or sit and watch another one color. While two of my children prefer for me to join them in activity, another loves nothing more than me sitting and watching a fabulous art project unfold.
The way I spend money on them will differ as well. Whether I put money into tumbling lessons, an educational game or an MP3 player will be unique to each child.
Different children also need various investments of my energy. One of my children needs me to explain any change of routine explicitly, and frequently. But if his brother wants to find his shoes, he needs me to walk with him through the house and point to the shoes at close range. Another child needs my help at bedtime to prayerfully erase any scary images or thoughts that were experienced during the day.
We serve our children best as we parent them differently. Here’s what it takes to develop this fine art:
Insight — Know your child. Notice what excites or engages him or her. How is she different from her siblings or friends?
Wisdom — Discern what your child needs most: calories, or confidence, or practice, or socializing, or compassion or patience.
Courage — Be bold, especially when your choices aren’t popular ones. Parent your children differently from one another — for their good!
Margot Starbuck is the author of Unsqueezed: Springing Free From Skinny Jeans, Nose Jobs, Highlights and Stilettos and The Girl in the Orange Dress. She lives with her husband and three children in North Carolina. Learn more at MargotStarbuck.com