As I heard the voices grow louder and the confrontation was escalating, I approached my 9-year-old daughter’s room. She exclaimed at her younger brother: “Ugh… You are so annoying! How is it possible? How am I even related to you?” I was startled by the harsh words.
I understood her frustration. It seems as though her brother, almost three years her junior, has made it his mission in recent weeks to get under her skin. And he succeeded! But I was not pleased with her choice of words. I explained that I understand her frustration and suggested she use other words to express her feelings.
As I turned and walked away, I shook my head and chuckled. She did have a good point: My daughter and her brother were conceived from the same genetic pool and are raised in the same household, yet their personalities are so distinct. I was reminded of the realizations my second child blessed me with.
My daughter was a high-needs baby. Then, around the age of 2 1/2, her fussiness seemed dissipate as she blossomed into a content, independent and cooperative child.
In comparison, my son was an easy-going baby. I thought I had “conquered” parenthood and found the perfect balance between nurturing and discipline. But my son put a deep dent in my thoughts around the age of 2. While my daughter was a determined toddler with the typical tantrums, my son took determination and defiance to a whole new level. He was also physically aggressive. Communicating was not an issue as he used sign language by the age of 6 months and spoke at an early age, so I believe the difference was due to innate tendencies.
Nevertheless, I was not prepared. The parenting approaches that worked so well with my daughter were not effective with my son.
In response to my son’s aggressive manners, my sister said that if she didn’t know us, she would assume that we are aggressive, even physical, in our home. That comment turned on a light bulb for me and I wondered, Are these the kind of judgments people make about my family?
I wasn’t troubled by other people’s opinion of me or my family; I had already endured ample criticism about my parenting style. What bothered and embarrassed me was the notion that I may have been guilty of judging other parents. What I learned is that I ought to reserve assumptions and judgments of other parents. We are all facing challenges and have unique situations.
In nursery school, at a parent-teacher conference, I inquired with my son’s teacher if she witnessed any aggressive behavior. Her face displayed a sense of confusion as if she didn’t understand why this question was brought up. If I could read her mind, she may have thought: What child are you talking about? She responded that he was gentle and never showed aggression toward another child.
Another light bulb turned on: I understood that our parenting approach at home was not effective as his behavior at school and that we had to make changes to see a difference in my son’s behavior at home. We implemented different strategies at home, emphasizing more consistency, boundaries and encouragement. We are still trying to strike the “perfect” approach with our son.
This insight was valuable when my son started Kindergarten, where it was even more evident that my kids’ learning habits, skills and interests are as distinct as their personalities.
Today, when I disclose to my friends who know my son well that he was very physical as a toddler, they display a familiar confused face. This time, that expression puts a smile on my face. I treasure the realizations he led me to:
- As parents, we should know better than to cast judgments on other parents, as we are not aware of the situations and circumstances other families are facing nor do they really matter.
- As parents of multiple children, we need recognize and embrace that each child has his or her unique personality and needs to be engaged accordingly.