Soon after I had my second child, another boy, I couldn’t help but make constant comparisons between the two which left me confused. One was a good eater and one wasn’t. One was an early riser and the other could sleep until noon. (These statements remain facts seven years later.) I distinctly remember after one particularly long monologue describing my bewilderment over the differences between the boys my father stating bluntly in a direct manner he has mastered: “Anissa, they are not the same person.” My father’s words have always held supreme permanence in my subconscious so it’s not surprising that his simple statement finally helped me realize this truth.
As I continue to build relationships with my three kids, my father’s words become more evident in their preferred communication and learning styles, their expectations of me, and emotional support requirements. In order to honor their individuality and encourage them in the best way possible, my role as “Mom” looks different depending on which child I am parenting.
Here’s how I see the breakdown of my roles:
My oldest, on the surface, doesn’t need much. He often answers me with a non-committal “I don’t know.” Or a “I’m good.” when I ask him what he thinks about a particular social situation or how he’s feeling about school. He’s wired to keep things to himself. Naturally inclined to share only when necessary, as he defines it. With the pressure surrounding our lives, it would be easy to accept those comments at face value and label him as an easy child. Instead, realizing there are complex thoughts behind those responses, I have to press him for more. Dig deeper. Let him know I am here ready to listen whenever he is ready to talk. Give him space. Come back and again and again until I can get to the heart of his feelings. The most rational of the bunch, he leads me inch by inch, down the steepest and windiest roads.
I’ve always likened baby boy number two to a big dog. A golden retriever puppy who loves love and attention. This breed needs the freedom to run until collapse and if those needs aren’t met, you’re left with a frustrated pup and destruction in his wake. Same goes for this child who wants constant connection in a physical sense.
“Mom, want to shoot some hoops?” (We don’t have a basketball hoop.)
“Mom, want to play tennis?” (No tennis courts either.)
“Mom, want to see my sweet, new move?” (This applies to soccer, hockey, football, etc.)
“Mom, LOOK AT MEEEEEEEEEEEE!” (ALL. THE. TIME. FOREVER AND EVER.)
Day in and day out I just can’t keep up with him, but I make sure I find time, whenever possible, to join him in a race or soccer shoot out or check out whatever athletic feat he is trying to master even if this means doing a set of burpees before bedtime.
My baby girl insists on my deep and eternal comradery. She loves ‘Girl Power’. This female bond stems, at least partially, from feelings of being excluded by “the brothers” and her deep seeded desire for a sister. We are a natural pair. She wants me, prefers me, DEMANDS ME over any other. Having a shadow is equal parts adorable and exhausting. I need to keep my desperate need for alone time at bay while we’re together so you know, ALWAYS. She’s very sensitive and easily crushed by certain and ahem, ever present, tones of voice. The most effective approach I’ve found to keep her world spinning is calming words, hugs and holding hands when words aren’t enough, and lots of two-person, choreographed dance numbers.
Now, some times number 1 wants to cuddle at bedtime and I have to investigate why number 2 is quiet and reserved while number 3 wants to go running with me and all of this analysis goes straight down the drain. Sometimes I think I would be a better mom to one kid, more focused on one set of expectations – those are the days that I am not patient, active, or sweet mom – I’m just tired, stressed, and forgetful mom. Other days in knock it out of the park, being the person they need me to be when they need me.
However, I have long ago given up on being everything to everyone every day.
It’s like anything else in motherhood. Good enough is good enough.