The magic of two - FamilyEducation

The magic of two

April 23,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

After talking with a pregnant colleague the other day about the ups and downs of parenting two children AND juggling our chaotic lives (she's a month away from her due date and feeling nervous about #2), I got to thinking a little about how one of the trying and also rewarding things about having more than one child is that you end up never really parenting the same way twice--and you shouldn't. I do know some parents out there who seem to parent the exact same way for each child (brother slept through the night at three months; therefore, by god, sibling shall, too), but most of the parents we know have adapted and refined their repertoire of parenting techniques to fit the developing needs of each child. In doing this, you soon realize that you are capable of so many different ways of responding to your children's needs. They are varied and can be frustrating, but in the process you learn so much more about yourself and what you're capable of--as a parent and as a human being.

I started out intending to try the same things on my daughter that we'd used with L.--the sling, for example. I always called L. my sling baby. From the tender age of six days, he was tucked into his sling and walked around the house, and he was in heaven. The sides of the cloth enclosed him almost completely, and as I walked with him I could feel the delicious weight of his small body swinging in front me. He would make little chirping sounds in his sleep. He could sleep for hours in the sling, happily oblivious of the world around him. Fast-forward from that moment to 3-1/2 years later: I didn't try the sling on T. until she was almost two weeks old. Trying to get her to sleep one morning,, I decided to try putting her into L.'s old sling. Surely this would work! I imagined the chores I would get done, moving around the house with T. fast asleep against me. But as soon as I tried to slide her in, she stiffened her body and flailed out her arms in desperation. Each time I tried to lower her inside she stiffened; then she cried. My people-person daughter, who from such an early age sought out the faces of those around her, wanted nothing to do with the solitary space the sling represented. I had to come up with different ways to try to calm her into sleep.

My son's propensity to be highly over-cautious and anxious has protected him (and us) from having to worry too much about typical fears, and lulled us into complacency with T. We never childproofed much of anything when L. was a toddler. One sharp sound of warning or gentle instruction about the dangers of an outlet or of a passing car would move him to tears and he would be forever wary from that day on. T., however, is always pushing the limits. I find myself worrying more about her as she gets older; wishing too that she wouldn't be so friendly with everybody. We spend time trying to teach her ways to be adventurous and cautious at the same time; we constantly watch her gleefully running from us in public places, and inwardly we worry about what she'll be like when she hits her teens.

I can hang back a little with T., parent her a little differently. I do activities with her I could never do with L. at that same age (take her to story times and delight in her clapping and interacting with the children around her), yet I do things with L. that I will probably never do with T. (our quiet, contemplative nature walks; the careful crafts; the endless amounts of history and science we read together, his still-wet-from-the-bath head resting against my shoulder). And I parent the two kids together differently, too, then I do when I have one child to myself. I will forever keep my memories of tiny L. in his sling, and the ones I have of T.'s wide gummy baby smile at a lady in the grocery checkout line. They are such different children--that's just the wonderful magic of it all.