If you’ve been here more than a minute, you know I have two kids. A fifteen-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter. I love both of them fiercely and unconditionally, and obviously, I love them equally.
But loving my kids equally does not mean that everything in our house is always even. Because as much as love my children equally, they are two, very different people. For one, my oldest is a boy, and my youngest is a girl so by virtue of the gender that God gave them, they are automatically different. Add to that they have incredibly different strengths and weaknesses and vastly different temperaments. They have different needs and wants and personalities. And there are times in each of their lives when one needs something the other doesn’t and vice versa . . . maybe that’s an actual physical need (clothes, shoes, etc.). . . maybe that’s an emotional need . . . maybe one needs specifically separate time and attention. Not to mention there is a pretty large age difference between the two so while the eldest definitely has more privileges and independence appropriate to his age and maturity, he also has a lot more expectations and responsibilities, also age and maturity appropriate.
I think a lot of parents worry heavily about things being even. If I go to this event for one, I must reciprocate with my other child(ren). If I buy something for this one, I must spend the exact same amount on the other. If I spend time with one, I must spend equal time with the other. As if there’s a scale that continually has to be balanced. While I’m certainly not a proponent of giving all your time and attention to one child whilst neglecting the other . . . I’m most definitely not saying that . . . the reality is, it’s impossible to balance the scales perfectly. And it’s kind of ridiculous to run ourselves ragged trying. Sometimes the scale tips heavily in the favor on one child, but then the weight shifts, and we go the other way. Such is life.
At the end of the day, as I’ve said many times, our goal is to raise independent adults, not grown-up children that expect us to do for them what they are capable of doing for themselves. Of course, when I say “independent”, as the mother of one child with some special needs, I fully realize that what is fully independent for one is vastly different for another . . . thus the “equal not even” heading.
We allow a lot of independence with our eldest, and he’s gaining more independence as he grows older. Yes, he has a smart phone which at this point still has some rules and restrictions . . . but he has one . . . he has to learn to handle technology appropriately, and I don’t think tossing it at him for the first time when he’s eighteen and leaving home is wise. And in case anyone is wondering, we do not, at this point, allow any devices in their bedrooms (even televisions . . .). I honestly have no idea when my oldest actually goes to bed. I don’t regulate his bedtime other than saying “goodnight . . . love you . . . go to your room now”, but I figure he’s much more likely to actually go to sleep at some point if he doesn’t have device to distract him. Yes, he gets to make a lot of choices and decisions on his own. Yes, he has an appropriate and probably what seems like to some, large(ish) number of responsibilities. Yes, he’s expected to work for actual money to help cover the cost of sports equipment (namely, shoes . . . and we expect him to contribute to those costs), and meals out with friends, and all the extras . . . we’re not his ATM machine. Earning his own money lends a sense of accomplishment, and learning money management is so important. No, I do not sit with him and hold his hand while he works and studies nor do I hound him (too much) about his studies. It’s not for lack of wanting. Believe me when I say, it’s a temptation to jump in every chance I get, and sometimes I fail at keeping my mouth shut. But I have to pull back and remind myself that, he’s rapidly ascending in young adulthood. He will be leaving home in a few years, and not only do young adults not need hovering mothers, but he has to learn to make the right choices without my voice or his dad’s constantly at his back.
We’ve always been very protective of our kids in their younger years. Protective of their hearts and minds and spirits. We have reasonable expectations of them as part of our family that will remain as long as they live with us, but as they grow the protectiveness that is both important and needed when they’re young, can quickly become overreaching and damaging when they’re older. There comes a point . . . not necessarily a certain age because each child is different, and for some children that point may come much later . . . where we have to start slowly pulling back. To re-emphasize, this is not to say we don’t have rules and expectations. Our house is not a free for all.
I could spend hours belaboring the point of raising independent adults, but it’s really just an aside to my main point. It’s where the “equal not even” comes in. My youngest has far less responsibility. She doesn’t have the same expectations placed on her, but she also doesn’t have nearly the same freedoms. The most obvious reason for that is her age. Nine-year-olds, don’t need or deserve the same freedoms as fifteen-year-olds. But the reality is, because of both her personality and her needs, both responsibilities and the freedoms will likely come more slowly for her. What was healthy and normal for our eldest as a young teen, could be incredibly damaging and detrimental for her if given too early. So yes, the playbook looks different because my kids are different. The attention and time, the expectations and even financial responsibilities are different because they have different needs.
At the end of the day, our children are individuals, and they deserve to be treated as such. There’s not perfect rule book for parenting, and I’d say most of us are doing the best we can. I pray daily for wisdom and patience, because the good Lord knows I need it. I pray constantly that I won’t be too much or too little, and what I’ve learned, is that even when I don’t get it all right, these are the children with which God has entrusted me. It’s no mistake they’re mine, and I have to trust that even when I have no clue what I’m doing, He has it all under control.
Disclaimer: I am a mom of a child with special needs. I have no issue acknowledging or owning that. My child is so uniquely and beautifully made, and some of the things that have come about as a result of those needs are truly miraculous. I, however, would be remiss if I ignored the fact that there are parents who are sitting there saying, “My child will never reach this point . . . they won’t even get close . . .”. I just want you to know, I understand and acknowledge that. I know that for some children even an iota of independence is not possible, and if that’s your particular child, then I know the choices and decisions you make in loving them well and preparing them for adulthood looks so different from the typical family.