Each of my kids has a different mom. Sort of. No, we didn't adopt. No, we didn't use surrogates. I definitely grew and birthed all three of them. Believe me, I remember. But I have a mommy confession: I parent each of my kids differently. I suppose you could call it multiple personality parenting. But I like to call it doing what's best for my kids. Each one of them. Individually.
Before having kids, I knew exactly the type of parent I wanted to be. My hubby and I talked through everything. I was going to breastfeed. We weren't going to use binkies. We weren't going to introduce TV for the first two years. We'd make all of our own baby food. We wouldn't eat fast food. We weren't going to co-sleep. We weren't going to use spanking as a form of discipline. In other words, we had it all worked out. We were so pleased with the kick-ass parents we were going to be.
And then we actually had a kid.
And you know what? Aside from a few circumstances beyond our control (our first was born 11 weeks early and couldn't breastfeed, for example), we were pretty much able to be those kick-ass parents we dreamed of being. Belle* was such an easy baby. She slept well everywhere: in her crib, the swing, the pack 'n play. She ate well. She naturally fell into a sleeping and feeding schedule very early on. She travelled well. She hardly ever fussed. Looking back, it's no wonder we were able to be those ideal parents we had set out to be. We didn't have any resistance, and Belle's personality meshed so well with how we wanted to parent.
And so we had a second kid.
And boy, did this throw a monkey wrench into things. Enter Saurus*. I am not exaggerating when I say that he was the complete opposite of his sister in every single way as a baby. He was the king of fussy babies. He didn't sleep well. He cried all the time. We could never seem to get him on a consistent sleeping or feeding schedule. And god forbid we try to take him out of town. Or out to a restaurant, for that matter. Any time we'd start to make progress with him, something would happen to land us right back where we started.
I was in shock. I was depressed. I was confused. I felt like a failure. And I was left analyzing every parenting philosophy that my husband and I swore to abide by and that worked with our first child. I felt like I was a first-time mom all over again. I had done all of this before. What the hell was the problem? What was I doing wrong?
I started getting angry. And frustrated. I blamed my child. What was wrong with this kid? Why couldn't he just sleep like his sister? Why couldn't he eat like his sister? Why couldn't he be easygoing like his sister? Why was he making it so hard for me to parent him like I did with his sister?
Because he wasn't his sister. BECAUSE HE WASN'T HIS SISTER!! This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. What the hell was I doing? Why was I trying to parent my children the same exact way when they clearly had very different needs?
This was another "aww, hell" moment for me. I realized that the perfect, kick-ass parent I was able to be with Belle existed because that was the type of parent she needed. Saurus, on the other hand, needed me to be an entirely different parent. In many ways, the type of parent I had never intended on being. Where Belle was content to be put to bed awake and drift herself off to sleep without a peep, Saurus needed to be rocked, swayed and cuddled until he fell into a deep sleep and could finally be put into bed. Where Belle could sit in her swing and be content for 30 minutes to watch her little birdies fly 'round and 'round, Saurus couldn't stand to be in one place for more than five minutes at a time. Where Belle was independent, Saurus was clingy and needy.
This was a difficult realization for me. One that was not apparent in the baby books I read or in the advice I was given from family and friends. Sure, the "do what's best for you and your kids" mantra was thrown around a lot -- heck, I've even shared that advice with people -- but the missing piece for me was that this mantra applies to each child. Individually: "Do what's best for this kid. But also do what's best for that kid."
And then we had a third kid. And although at 1, he's just now coming into his own, we'll be parenting him the same way we parent our older two: By whatever methods work best for him.
Don't get me wrong. My kids are not running around willy-nilly doing whatever the hell they want. We have rules and we have consequences for breaking the rules. We have expectations for our kids to behave in certain ways in certain circumstances, and we have consequences when this doesn't happen. But our approaches for fostering these behaviors are not the same for each of our kids.
With Belle, for example, the mere mention that she might have to go to time-out is usually enough to get her behavior in check. With Saurus, we usually need to not only put him in time-out, but also take away a toy or privilege before he understands we mean business. With Belle, a hug and a quick kiss is usually all it takes to help her feel better when she is upset. With Saurus, we often have to hold him in a tight embrace until he is calm.
And we'll do whatever works best for the baby... once we have some more time under our belts and learn what this is.
What about consistency? What about being fair? How can you possibly parent your children so differently? Well, we're consistent when something works. And then when it doesn't, we find something else that does. Our consistency is always doing what is best for our children. And this seems pretty fair to me.
I'm learning that as my kids get older, my parenting needs evolve every day, every second for each of my kids. Sometimes what's best for one kid is best for all. But sometimes, it isn't. And sometimes, what's best for one kid on one day isn't what's best for that kid on another day. And that's OK. At least for me. Because I know that "I am exactly the kind of mother my children need." Each and every one of them.
*These are pseudonyms.