Thursday, August 30, 2018

Celebrating Our Kids' Differences

Any parent who has more than one child knows that it doesn't matter one bit that your offspring all come from the same DNA pool and are raised in the same home by the same mom and dad; in spite of all the factors that point to the conclusion that your children will be more or less alike in personality and temperament, nothing could be further from the truth.
My husband's all-time favorite picture of me with my boys.
God created each human person with his or her own unduplicated set of fingerprints--not to mention his or her own one-of-a-kind immortal soul!  So!  We certainly shouldn't expect that our children will grow up to be carbon copies of one another.  We certainly shouldn't expect that the same methods of discipline will produce the same results with each of them.  It is our job as parents to figure out what makes each of those precious souls entrusted to our care tick, to help them to become the very best that they can be (in the eyes of God, not the world), and then to celebrate the differences between them.  I was always of a mindset that each of my boys was my "favorite" child, simultaneously, because of the special gifts, talents, and virtues that each one of them brought (and continues to bring) to the family dynamic.
My five favorites, circa 1998.
In our case, son number one was a sweet, happy, placid baby--an easy introduction to parenthood for a pair of 25-year-old first-timers.  A reserved, observant type, he was rather cautious, as firstborns often are, so he didn't give us too many worries.  He was an early talker and an eager learner of letters, shapes, and colors.  It's a good thing we didn't waste too much time before producing a sibling for him, or we might have given our parenting skills too much credit and thought that we had more to do with his serene temperament than we did.  We didn't know yet that certain personality traits appear to be formed before those little folks exit the womb, apparently!

When our next son came along 15 months later, we soon found that he was a different animal than his big brother.  He was a happy little guy, too (except for those first six months of his life when he screamed every time we strapped him in his car seat).  Exceptionally affectionate and funny, and very much attuned to the feelings of those around him, he was also way more physically daring than his brother had ever been.  Our firstborn had never had any interest in getting on a swing until he saw his little brother do it at a much younger age.  To see the differences between the two was fascinating, and to watch them forge a bond was one of the sweetest things ever.

Fifteen months after son number two was born, along came son number three, a happy-go-lucky, easy-going little fella with a quick, heart-melting smile.  While son number one was a rule-following peacemaker and son number two tended to wear his deeply-felt emotions right on his sleeve, everything just rolled right off son number three's back.  His brothers (when they got older, and funny in an adult-rather-than-eight-year-old-boy-obsessed-with-potty-humor kind of way) used to joke that that was his superpower: you could not get a rise out of him because nothing bothered him.  (As his fourth grade teacher once said of him, he was "a peach.")
Two-and-a-half, fifteen months, newborn!  
Son number four joined the team about 21 months after son number three, and now we had four boys aged four and under.  As crazy as that sounds, it was actually pretty wonderful.  (#BOYMOM)  But it was loud; so son number four learned pretty early on that if he wanted to be heard, he'd better crank up the volume.  He was a kind-hearted, instinctively empathetic kid, but he did cry a lot, and loudly, over the many injustices that came with being the youngest, weakest, and slowest of the bunch.  He had no idea what an inside voice was supposed to sound like.  (And BTW: it wasn't long before he caught up with his three brothers in size and speed!)
We had a big break between sons number four and five--just about exactly five years. And you would think that with an age gap like that, our fifth-born would be the stereotypical baby of the family: a demanding, perennially immature attention-seeker.  But he was more like a firstborn in temperament: an "old soul" who was serious, eager to please, loath to get in trouble--and above all, in a hurry to grow up as quickly as possible and be just like the big guys, who were his heroes.  You might also think that after five whole years as the baby, son number four would be jealous and resentful of the newcomer, but the opposite was actually true: instead, he took the little guy under his wing and in spite of their age difference, they became the best of playmates.
All my men!

Our boys were--and are--five unique individuals.  Yet growing up, they had many interests and personality traits that bound them together (the term "Band of Brothers" comes to mind).
When they were little, our boys were all dinosaur fanatics; I think they could have given most paleontologists a run for their money when it came to knowing every fact there was to know about those prehistoric monsters.  They always liked the same TV shows and movies, laughed at the same kind of jokes, and played the same sports (football and lacrosse).  All competitive by nature, they excelled both on the field and in the classroom.  All five were self-motivated, hard-working students who never needed us to nag them about studying for tests or doing their homework.

While many people think that having a houseful of teenage boys sounds like a nightmare, I look back on their high school years with fondness and nostalgia.  They loved sports too much to risk losing playing privileges by engaging in bad behavior (one of the many reasons I am a huge fan of kids playing sports), so they stayed pretty close to home and kept their noses clean.  In the grand scheme of things, they required minimal discipline.  (I mean we were strict, don't get me wrong; and there were some bumps in the road.  But compared to what we saw going on with some of their peers, we felt extremely blessed!) Many of the parents we knew at our boys' high school were more than ready for them to go off to college by the time graduation rolled around, but I can honestly say that each time one of our guys left home to start that next chapter in their lives, it was hard for us to let them go.  Not just a little hard; terribly hard.

So to recap: in many ways, our kids were quite similar; but in other ways, they were so very different.  And we were glad about that.  We appreciated their differences and didn't want them to compare themselves to one another.

Of course, once your kids grow up and get married (to kindred souls who are every bit as one-of-a-kind as they are), and then start raising children of their own, the ways in which they are similar and the ways in which they aren't become even more striking.
I'd like to explain more in depth what I mean, but it would take too long and this post has already turned into a novella of sorts.  So I think this is going to be a two-parter.

But I'm sure you want to read more about my favorite subject, my boys...don't you?  Sure you do!
These guys...sigh.  How lucky was I to be the one chosen to be their mother?

My hubby and I are going out of town this weekend, to a Notre Dame football game, so I may not get to it until early next week.  But I'll be back with more on this subject, I promise you.  Stay tuned!  (And in the meantime--go Irish!)


  1. I actually would like to hear more because I can learn so much from people who have already walked the path I am on. My kids are super different in personality as well, but I hope they grow up and stay as close as your boys.

    1. It has always been our dearest wish that our boys will stay close, so that they have each other after we’re gone. The more life experiences that get thrown at everyone as the years go on, and the more people you add to your family, the more challenging this can become. But helping to maintain closeness between them, their wives, and their kids is our MO. It’s what made us move from NH to VA!

      I’m hoping to write the second part of this post next week. :)

  2. Your post makes me wonder about generations. How similar are the interactions among your son’s families compare to how you interacted with your siblings during the silimar stage in life?

  3. This is a wonderful post! It's so helpful hearing your perspective. It seems like you are very good parents to have this insight and great outlook on what makes our children so special. Thank you for sharing!