Friday, February 5, 2010

The X Factor in Parenting

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

Before I get started on this post, which is really just a longish thought that's been roaming around in my head, I have to tell everyone: "WE HAVE NEW FLOORS IN OUR HOUSE!" :o) However, we have very few area rugs, and we spent all of our money on the floors, so I'll be taking up donations at a later time. (Kidding.) (Kinda.)

On to my profound (to me) thought for the moment.

Parenting more than one child has really opened my eyes to something. Sometimes, when something I've done or said has had the desired impact on one of my kids, I think to myself "Hey, that was a good parenting moment right there." Don't we all do that? (And we should!)

Sometimes, though, things that happen as a result of my good and proper parenting actually occur--at least partially--due to the X Factor: The Child.

A quick example. When Ryan was a baby, I went and put him in his crib one night, and he fell asleep. He did that pretty easily and regularly for the most part, and continues to be able to sleep independently without too much parenting. When I only had him, I put this phenomenon down to our excellent parenting strategy. Clearly, we were doing something right. ;)

Enter Morgan. And then Sean. The exact same strategies (plus those important years of experience, which should not be discounted in the least) do not have the same effect on them. Actually, Sean is still very easy, but he's different than Ryan. Morgan has always been hard to get to sleep, and has a difficult time putting herself to sleep. She's getting better, and as with all things Children, goes through phases of progress and backsliding.

But my whole I'm Excellent at Getting my Children to Sleep Theory has been blown out of the water. And this is the Multiple Children Bonus--if I hadn't had more kids, I'd have gone on thinking that I was just the best parent ever at getting kids to sleep.

Each kid is different, and in addition to Excellent Parenting Strategies (which certainly exist), there's each individual child and her temperament AND her free will to take into account.

It works the other way, too, and this can be very comforting. Ryan is nearly eight years old and STILL has trouble sharing toys* and being kind when playing with other kids. We have several Excellent Parenting Strategies we've used (and continue to use) to help him learn that a complete freak-out is not necessary if someone accidentally touches your stuff. As you might imagine, this issue has caused me to worry about him, me, and whether or not I've "done something wrong."

I haven't done anything wrong: Enter Morgan. She is a kind and generous soul. Learning to take turns was never difficult for her. She doesn't mind sharing crayons, or letting someone have a turn. She willingly shares her coloring books with other kids in the waiting room of Taekwondo. She takes turns with her friends and brothers on the computer or with certain toys.

Now, when I was helping her learn those skills and the reasons (again, *) for sharing, I used the same exact strategies I used with Ryan. I modeled taking turns. I helped her find other things to do while she waited for her turn. I shared boxes of crayons with her. I showed her that her friend feels sad if she can't share the crayons. Sometimes, I enforced the sharing. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Here's my point: Morgan got it, years ago. Ryan, three years her senior, STILL has trouble with this concept and struggles to learn these skills. (And yes, it's not only distressing, it's annoying as you-know-what.) So my Excellent Parenting--which is necessary and I do think helpful and I will continue to do--is not the only factor here.

It's those darn kids, and all of their personalities and free will--the X Factor. In many ways, Sean is still emerging, and I don't yet know what I'm dealing with, which keeps things interesting! I can make a few generalizations about his personality, but I can't predict how he might deal with taking turns or potty training or when he'll read or anything like that, because he's just not developed enough for me to have a really good idea yet.

With the third child, I can be sage enough to say that he'll have his own special Seanie difficulties, and he and I will struggle over them. They'll be different Things from Ryan's and Morgan's Things. Because he is a different kid yet again.

I'm not trying to suggest that good parenting is futile or that it's not possible to have objectively good parenting practices. Clearly I think parenting is really, really important, since I do that as a job and think about it all the time and write about it, too. But sometimes I need to remind myself that Parenting isn't all there is to it.

*Sharing in and of itself is not a value for us in the same way it is for most families, and I honestly can't remember if I've written about this topic before. But taking turns with friends/siblings or sharing a box of crayons is a rational skill, and when I talk to Ryan I focus on the rational reasons for doing so, and do not take an altruistic stance on sharing.

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