I have decided that parenting would be SO. MUCH. EASIER. if all of my kids were the same. But that’s not the case. In fact, every child is different. Vastly, unspeakably, mind-numbingly different. And parenting different personalities is no joke.
Granted it would be boring if they were all the same. And chances are, I would only have one of them instead of three. I mean, if you knew you were going to get the exact same child the next time around, chances are, you would do it once and say, “Yep, all good here.”
Instead, we have one child, then think to ourselves, “Well, that was something. I wonder what we’ll get when we roll the dice the second time.” By the third or fourth time, you probably just need to admit that you have a gambling problem.
Like I mentioned, I have three children. And despite the fact that I went fishing in the exact same gene pool for each of them, they could not be more different. There are days that I wonder how they can even be related. If it wasn’t for the telltale smile (thanks to the fact that they all, fortunately, got their father’s perfectly straight teeth), I would probably be running a hospital-switch investigation.
I feel like I could explain why every child is different if I had children of different sexes. But in a grand cosmic joke, I ended up with three girls. Don’t get me wrong. I love having daughters. In fact, when we’re out, we routinely get stopped by sweet old ladies or dapper older gentlemen who say things like, “Awww. How lovely…three little princesses.”
And yes, they are princesses. The only problem is that instead of Cinderella (who cleans), Snow White (who cleans and cooks), and Sleeping Beauty (who sleeps through the night in her own bed), I got Ariel (a theatrical dreamer who sings a lot and is just a bit clumsy); Merida (a child who will always find a way to make her point, usually to everyone else’s detriment); and Ana (a kid who would ride her bike in the house if she could and constantly nags her sisters to play).
Sure, it still sounds kind of cute, but think about it for a moment. Put the three together and the end result is that there is bound to be a near drowning, someone will end up getting shot with an arrow, and there will be a lot of screaming along the lines of “NO. I do NOT want to build a snowman. Mom! Tell her to leave me alone.”
Which brings me back to my original point…
Parenting is hard when every child is different and every one of them brings a different set of cards to the table.
No matter how proud you are when you finally figure out an effective parenting strategy for one child, it is guaranteed to fail with another. This is a scientific principle, proven time and again in the child laboratory that is my house.
But here’s the thing, I chose to have these three wildly independent and intrinsically unique children. And I kind of created the princess-monsters that they are. From the very beginning, I made a conscious choice to let them explore their own personalities and I taught them to articulate their individual needs.
What I found is that one needs a firm, but gentle hand, so as not to break her spirit. The other requires that I be on my A-game at all times; her basic operating principle being that anything I can do, she can do better – especially when it comes to making the rules. The third one just tries to dodge bullets and walks around talking to herself a lot. I’m still not really sure what to do with that one.
Parenting these distinctly different mini-humans requires constantly changing my strategies, changing my parenting styles, changing my tone of voice, and trying desperately not to call anyone by the wrong name, including the cat.
As they get older, it seems to get harder. They each hit new stages at different times and suddenly, I feel like I’m back to square one.
And if I’m honest, sometimes I wish that everyone could just be in the same space, doing the same thing for once. I wish everyone had the same bedtime and after-school schedule. I wish they would respond to the same rules and discipline. Heck, at this point, I’d just be happy if everyone liked the same food, never mind each other. Instead, it seems that we are all spinning in different directions that somehow manage to come full circle in a grand collision of interests, intents, and personalities.
It’s on my toughest days that I have to stop and remember that my goal is to raise my daughters to have confidence in who they are. The thing is, in a world where the media constantly bombards our children with images and videos of how they should act, dress, speak and live, it can feel like being different is the same as being broken.
As parents, it is imperative that we accept, embrace, and nurture their individuality and teach them that differences are, in fact, what makes them whole. To achieve that goal, a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting will never be the way to go, no matter how exhausting it is to rewrite the rule book over and over again.
After a particularly long week last week, I made a point of watching all three of my girls interact over the weekend. Yes, it was like watching a Disney princess movie mash-up, and I was on standby to play the villain just in case something went wrong. But it didn’t. Turns out, even though they each hear a different song playing in their heads, they manage to harmonize with one another in ways that astound me.
I have to believe that whatever I’m doing might just be working. They already seem to know themselves and accept one another’s differences – even when I struggle to do so myself.
The constant shifts and changes required in parenting leave me exhausted many days, but I am so deeply in love with these people I am raising. I love their quirks and idiosyncrasies, just as I love their strengths. They are rarely in the same place physically, and almost never in the same place emotionally, but they always find their way back to each other. And therein lies the beautiful common thread that binds them together, no matter how different they are.