In The Name of Fairness: Raising Two Very Different Children

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Most likely making a plan: She can’t believe what he came up with, and he’s quite pleased with himself.

That’s not FAIR!

I didn’t realize when I became a mom just how many times a week I would hear those words and how much time I would spend trying to figure out what exactly is fair. I have two children, ages 5 and 6, who look enough alike and are close enough in size that they are occasionally mistaken for twins. But they are completely different people with completely different needs. I should have realized when my son was born, and he was such a different baby than my daughter, this would be case. As they have grown and come into their own personalities, my husband and I have to focus on figuring out their unique individual needs and the best ways to meet them, which often leads to long, emotional, discussions about what is fair.

When the kids were toddlers, their personality differences were already clear. I barely baby-proofed the house for my daughter. She wasn’t a climber, and if I told her “NO,” she would listen and that was that. My son would be swinging from the ceiling fans if given enough time to get up there, and the word “NO” didn’t apply to him unless repeated 17 times at an extremely high volume. Despite these adventures in toddlerhood, the first time it was clear their differences were affecting my parenting style was screen time. My daughter, who is older, was always lukewarm when it came to television shows. She never showed much interest in TV; she would watch one show and then run off to play. Meanwhile, my son was mesmerized by the TV. He loved nothing more than curling up on the couch to watch a show, followed by another, then another. I’d always approached screen time pretty casually because it wasn’t an issue with my daughter. If she asked to watch a show, I let her, because it was so rare, and I felt like she knew when she needed a break. I tried using these rules with my son, and it did not work. He would throw a fit when I turned off his show and would immediately start asking for another. I ended up applying rules for screen time, and a few years later, it is still my son who is always trying to push those boundaries.

One smiles sweetly when being asked, but the other has a difficult time containing his feelings.

Around this same time, meals and snacks started becoming an issue, also. My son will eat pretty much anything, and he loves fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, my daughter is picky and will always choose a sweet treat, carb or cheese (kind of like her mama). Despite their differences, I found myself always preparing pretty much identical snacks and meals. I’d include a variety of foods, but I would always have to remind my daughter to eat the healthy stuff, too. It got to the point where I would have to give her an ultimatum of losing treats if she didn’t finish her fruit and vegetables. At the same time, my son would eat the entire bowl of raspberries and was trying to take fruit from his sister’s plate. Years later, meals and snacks are still a bit of a struggle. I pack my daughter less fruit in her lunchbox and put only what I expect her to eat on her plate. Thankfully, my son doesn’t protest because he still loves fruit and vegetables. But because I worry less about what he eats, I tend to be less strict on his treats or junk food, which does not go unnoticed by my daughter. When she finds out that he had cookies while she was at soccer practice or went for ice cream while she was school, she lets me know, loudly, how unfair she thinks that is.

Speaking of sweet treats, they are also an issue when it comes to rewards. My daughter is motivated by a piece of candy or a trip to the ice cream store, where my son would much prefer an extra 30 minutes of Minecraft time. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rewards and discipline. My daughter is a people pleaser. She does not like to get in trouble or disappoint anyone, particularly her parents or teachers. But of course, like all kids, she does end up making bad choices, and when she does, it comes with a lot of attitude and drama. She gets angry about being punished and ends up hiding under her bed, unwilling to speak to anyone until she calms down, which can take awhile. My son, on the other hand, while generally a good kid, is always breaking some kind of rule. He has a mischievous side, and he’s more accustomed to getting in trouble. Sure, he cries and gets upset about it, but he bounces back quickly. I often feel like I’m being too hard on one of them and too easy on the other. Sometimes I’m too hard my daughter because I expect more of her, and other times I’m too easy on her because I think, “well, she’s always so good.”

Despite their differences, I am fortunate that they are the best of friends. They love playing together, and while they fight, they love just as fiercely. Most of the time, they are peas in a pod, working and playing together. They have recently started making plans together to get what they want from my husband and I, and it is hilarious and endearing. Because they are so close, I don’t always consider how different they are until they have completely different reactions to something, such as a sudden change in plans or an unexpected obstacle. Their differences are challenging both in the daily grind of parenthood with our regular routines and rules as well as during big moments and adventures. I have to plan differently for each child.

I am working on teaching my kids that fair doesn’t always mean equal, and that not all things in life are fair. I try to focus on not comparing them, particularly when they are in trouble, and adjusting my expectations without lowering my standards. But as they have gotten older and more aware of what is happening around them, it is getting more difficult. They have begun comparing themselves, and I’m starting to hear, “But he ALWAYS does that, and he didn’t get in trouble!” As they grow, and as their personalities become bigger, I try to spend one-on-one time with each of them for at least a few minutes each day. I’m hoping that as I focus on truly understanding their uniqueness and their individual needs, I can figure out the best way to meet those needs.

Does anyone else have children who are complete personality opposites? 

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Jessica Stewart
Jessica is a North Carolina girl, who after living in New York City for eight years, is loving being back in the south since moving to Jacksonville in 2008. She is a stay at home mom to Linda Claire (3) and Liam (2). Prior to filling her days with parks and play doh, Jessica worked in event planning and marketing for financial and media companies, including This Old House. A graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, she is a passionate Tarheel fan, and college basketball season is her favorite time of year. Jessica spends her free time on the tennis court, training for races with her running buddies, or drinking wine her husband, Trevor. Her favorite things include snuggling with her sweet dog at the end of the day, hearing her kids laugh together, and pink cupcakes with sprinkles.

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