Does Birth Order Affect How We Parent?
We all know that parents worry. From the instant the pregnancy test reads positive, there is a sinking realization that, despite thinking we had all the answers just five minutes ago, we now know for a fact that we truly know NOTHING.
Parenthood is the ultimate equalizer. Unfortunately, everyone else does such a good job faking it, that we each suffer a silent misery, thinking we are the only parents without a clue. However, even though there are stacks upon stacks of parenting books out written by so-called “experts,” we all end up figuring out this parenting gig on our own, mostly by trial and error.
That original worry from the early stage of diaper changes, feedings, and sleep deprivation becomes both stronger and weaker with each passing phase. We learn to take things in stride and try to save our freak-outs for bigger issues.
Likewise, when you have subsequent children, your worries over your crappy parenting become both bigger and smaller, too. We know what worked and what didn’t with bottles or breasts, but we panic when we worry that we’ll have to divide our time and attention among multiple kids.
We try to balance our efforts between kids, while learning from our mistakes and experience. Suddenly, we realize that, because we are learning on the job, we are not parenting each of our children the exact same way. Guilt over taking time and attention away from our first-born morphs into guilt that we have screwed up our oldest worse than his younger siblings.
I’ve always told my oldest that he has the toughest job in the family because he is the one who has to teach me how to be a mom. Yet, just yesterday, I had the first inkling that maybe an experienced mom does not always equal a better mom.
My middle child had a playdate after school, during which they mostly watched TV and played a video game. Sure, there was snack time and Lego time mixed in, too, but the majority was TV and computer. If that had been my oldest child when he was in second grade, I would have announced, “Okay guys. No more screen time. Go play outside or upstairs for a while.”
It was that realization that made me wonder, “How does birth order affect how I parent? Am I really doing right by my younger kids?”
I mean, we all joke about how crazy we were with our first babies compared to our younger kids. Dropped pacifier? Wipe it on a pant leg — third kid! Missed nap time? Oh well, she had to tag along to soccer practice. Even diaper commercials use that theory in advertising.
We like to think that we “get the hang of it” and are better for our experience. But are we really being better parents? Or just lazier?
The truth is, we can’t tell which way of parenting is better or worse. Is my oldest such a worrier because he picks up on my unease over the unknowns of all of his firsts? Or am I raising a slacker kid in his younger brother who has learned how to manipulate me more expertly? Will my daughter be spoiled and vain because I raise her as my last baby?
It’s no longer a question of “Am I screwing them up?” It’s become more a worry of “Which one am I screwing up the worst?”
I guess we can’t ever really know the answers until they’re grown and charging us for their therapist bills. I only hope that, by then, they’ll realize that it was all just a giant crap shoot for us as parents. That our intentions were good and always driven by love, and pride, and a little bit of fear.
I just hope they know that, no matter how much we worried over parenting them fairly, there was never any limit to how greatly we love each of them.