I have two sets of children. The first set, a girl and a boy, were carefully planned, exactly 2 years apart. The second set, not so much. We wanted a third child, but gave up after years of heartbreak. Months later, it somehow happened, and then it split in half. This brought identical twins to me at age 41, my total number of children to four, and my brain to oatmeal. I now have four amazing children spanning two generations. This age gap creates all sorts of fun, but it’s also required me to become very creative in my parenting style. In other words, birth order is real.
I have two teenagers and two 7 year olds. We go to high school, middle school, and elementary school. We are simultaneously preparing for college, baseball season, and writing our names on 40 valentines for school parties. On school days, I spend exactly one hour and 45 minutes executing two bus shifts. I shower two kids, make 2 breakfasts, three lunches, and two snacks. (high schoolers are required to make their own lunches). As the end of the second shift nears at 7:39 am, I frantically look for lost library books, force winter hats onto resistant heads, and pray for no sudden-onset belly aches. I can taste freedom.
In the evening, I nimbly move from geometry and global citizen projects to bedtime stories. Two of my kids still want to be put to bed with goodnight kisses, only to immediately get up, asking random questions about heaven and how batteries work. Once they are safely asleep, I return to my older ones, answering much different questions, mostly about transportation to the mall and sports practice.
But it’s not all about logistics. When my oldest asked to watch Hannah Montana at age 5, I was horrified. I made her wait until she was 8, and even then with suspicion. I allowed my 6 year old son to watch these shows with her, because, well, it was just easier. And my twins? They have no idea who Elmo is, but they could pick Miley Cyrus out of a crowd any day. They also know every major league baseball and NFL football player, compliments of their older brother. My husband is currently teaching them archery with their very own bows, no less.
How did this happen? When did I stop being so concerned, and start being “cool?” Am I more realistic? Absolutely. Do I care any less? Absolutely not. As an older mom, I’ve been there and done that. I’ve dressed kids impeccably, controlled TV programs, and forced vegetables. But, I eventually relaxed and reprioritized. I learned that my sanity was a lot more important than a matching outfit, and my twins felt empowered by dressing themselves anyway. (Don’t get me wrong – I still keep a close eye on TV and movie ratings, but Star Wars has slowly creeped into our lives.) I didn’t have time for playgroups or playdates for my twins, but never worried about socialization. Bedtime, which was exactly 7pm for my older ones, has become 8pm for my little guys, if I’m lucky. Late night out? Eh, they’ll just sleep in tomorrow.
The best part of having kids of all ages is that my husband and I adore them, and they adore each other…most of the time. All four of them wrestle together, laugh together, and look out for each other. The older ones babysit the younger ones, and happily relive their own recent childhoods. The Wiggles briefly resurfaced, much to their delight, Peppa Pig was a family affair, and they forbid me to get rid of the play dough toys.
So, no matter where you are in your parenting journey, understand that it is indeed your own personal path. We all start out as novices and end up with literally a lifetime of experience. In between, we struggle, we screw up, and at times, we’re sure that we’re doing it all wrong. But, rest assured, your first baby has no idea that you’ve never done this before. And as your family grows, you’ll notice your own parenting style will evolve as well. It’s amazing how much easier potty training is, once you’ve been through it. (Hasn’t every parent had to gingerly cut poopy-filled underpants off their toddler?) And remember – a more relaxed parent is still a caring parent, and as my older kids become teenagers, this is coming in very handy!
So go be the best parent that you know how to be. Learn from your mistakes, relish your victories, and help your kids to be the independent and inspired people that this world so desperately needs. And, if you find yourself bending the rules for your second, third, or fourth kid, don’t sweat it.