When you have your first child, they are barely out of the womb before someone will ask when they will have a sibling. I would always say never. I could not imagine sharing the love I had for this child — nor having the patience to deal with another one. For years, I was told I would love both children equally but differently. Five years later when — surprise! — that second child was born, I finally understood what “equal but different” love meant.
Unless you are the parent of an only child, most of us will admit to parenting our children differently. You naturally parent a boy child one way and a girl child another. You could be the helicopter parent of the firstborn — don’t touch the stove! — and the seasoned professional of your youngest — touch the stove, that will teach you. I mistakenly thought that, at my core, my parenting style would remain the same.
I never fully understood that I would become the Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde of parenting. I am taking what I learned with Abby and using (or not using) my infinite knowledge with Bridget. I have discovered I have two completely different personalities with each of the girls. For consideration…
Swimming lessons: When Abby has hers, I leave the pool area and (try to) ride the spinning bikes, even though the instructor doesn’t even get in the pool with her. When Bridget is in hers? I hover and sit on the bench with an eagle eye, even though she has a 1-to-1 ratio with the instructor.
Dinnertime: Abby must finish her dinner, everything on her plate, with no exceptions. If Bridget is tired and fussy, she gets cereal for dinner.
School: I talk every day with Bridget’s teacher and her classmates’ parents. I don’t even know some of Abby’s friends or their parents, and quite honestly, I haven’t even met Abby’s teachers. I could pass them on the street and not know this is the person who spends six hours a day with my child.
Chores: Abby must make her bed every morning, with no exceptions. Bridget doesn’t have to make her bed, but she has Abby make her bed, too. (I tried getting Abby to make mine and failed.)
Birthday parties: Abby is the kid that gets dropped off; Bridget is the kid whose mom will one day embarrass her by hovering as she jumps in the bounce house.
The list goes on and on, highlighting how I parent both children with equal love but different parenting styles.
Of course, there is a rationale why I parent my two children completely differently. When Abby was born, she was born healthy. That set the tone of every decision I made from the moment of her first breath. When Bridget was born, her life began differently and that has a direct impact on every decision I have made since that first moment.
Yet I wonder, had Bridget been born in perfect health — had she not been born with a disability — would I still have parented differently? I think the answer is yes, as I watch typical parents in restaurants or on the playground. When I hear, “Be careful,” to one child as their other child is leaping from the top of the structure, I see that I am not alone in how I parent. At a playdate, when I see a mom cut the corners off one sandwich, while she cuts the other into triangles, I feel camaraderie and not judgment.
In the end, I believe my girls know I parent them differently. They are OK with different parenting because love equals it all out. At least I hope so.
How about you? In what ways are you a Jekyll-and Hyde parent?