I used to wonder how two siblings who grew up in the same household with the same parents could experience their childhood so differently … until I gave birth to my youngest son, Dominic. Although he joined our family only two and half years after my oldest was born, I was quickly struck by what a different mother I was to him.
You see, with my first, I did everything “right.” I always dressed him in the cutest matching outfits. I knew everything that happened to him. I followed all of the advice from parenting books. There was no dessert without first eating dinner. He never slept in my bed, and when he would try to come in at night, I always walked him back to his bed. Consequences for his problematic behavior were consistent. And I certainly never yelled.
With Dominic, on the other hand, I have done everything “wrong.” Although he has always worn his brother’s hand-me-down clothes, more often than not he looks like he should star in an episode of What Not To Wear because I don’t fight him when he wants to wear the same shirt three days in a row (as long as it is clean) and he accessorizes every outfit with rain boots and a cape. When he went for his first dental appointment, the dentist pointed out that his front tooth was chipped – and (gasp) I had no idea what had happened or when. For all I knew, (and I shudder to think about this) he could have swallowed the other half of that tooth.
By the time Dominic came, I had long forgotten about everything that I had read in parenting books and had started using said books as coasters under my well-deserved glasses of wine after a hard day, every day. Also, Dominic eats dessert when he wants it, and more often than not, it is not contingent on his eating dinner. When he reached the age of a big boy bed, he started coming into my room at night, and I was often too tired to notice. When he turned 3 and started sleeping literally on top of me, I tried telling him that it might be best if he slept in his own bed. His reply, “Ok, mommy, and then when you fall asleep on your pillow and daddy falls asleep on his pillow, I will climb in the middle.” Consistent consequences for problematic behavior happened solely when I had the energy to follow-through, and that is when yelling became to new norm.
And I am not doing these things because I am neglectful and do not care. It is not because my time is spread thinly between the two of them or because I am infinitely more tired. Nor is it because of the postpartum feelings of resentment that I had for the first eighteen months of my second child’s life because I had underestimated how drastically my relationship with my oldest child would need to change when he arrived.
I mean sure, all of the above factored in to some degree, but the honest, deep down truth is, I am doing everything “wrong” because I am acutely aware of how quickly they grow up, without warning. And although I thought I would feel relieved because my life would be easier (which I mistakenly thought meant better) when they were out of the infant and toddler stages, I quickly learned that would not be my truth.
You see, the other night, Dominic fell asleep early. So, I told my oldest I could lay with him in his bed until he fell asleep. I had not done that in a while and really wanted to be close to him. Instead, he said, “that’s ok, mom. I know you have germs because you are sick (it’s just a cold!), and I don’t think it would be good to get them in my bed.” Now, yes, I am glad that I taught him about the spread of illness, and that he is mature enough to protect himself from germs. But, oh, how my heart broke when my son, for the first time, for any reason, did not want me to lay with him. And I longed to have the days of his childhood back — the days when I did not let him sleep with me because I thought I was doing the “right” thing.
So, yeah, this time around I’m doing it all “wrong,” but I am doing it for all the right reasons.