If the first rule of parenting is know thyself, the second rule must surely be, know thy kid.
While Amy was pregnant with our 2nd child, I remember thinking, “what’s this one going to be like?” We had a two year old girl, and she was smart, silly, focused, neat, curious, and musical even then. When Jonah came along, his personality was totally different! I know, I know, now. But when you’ve only had one kid, you don’t realize how different the others can be. Jonah is all boy… rough, crazy, hurling his body everywhere without regard for health or safety, and for about two years we couldn’t keep food out of his hair. Where his sister would get upset if she couldn’t remember how to tie her shoes, Jonah gets tickled at himself and falls over giggling.
Now we’ve got Benjamin, and he is equally unique. He’s loud, very shy at first, then super talkative later. At the end of the day, he waves his arms and wiggles around on his tiptoes as he recaps the events of the day in his little 2 year old-speak. Something like this…
Grey car – beep beep! beep beep! Shum shum moom moom Libi Doah Libi Doah. At the ZOOO at the ZOOOO chum chum monkeys in da monkeys in da monkeys and a haircut! Ben haircut! Ben haircut! Ben haircut! Ben haircut! Ben haircut!
And so on. This can go on for as long as you encourage it, and it is unbelievably awesome. When he’s not melting down at the witching hour, Ben is almost always smiling, and he reminds me of my cousin Bo in that he will laugh at anything. Recently I was giving him a “piano lesson” and a moth flew up into the window behind me. Ben lost it like it was the funniest joke that the world has ever known. Easy laughter… I always loved that about Bo, and I love that about Ben.
All these subtle differences make our family so rich and beautiful and complex. But it’s the complex part that sometimes can trip me up as a parent. With Livi, she is so mortified to have made a mistake at anything, that discipline is almost never an issue. She gets so mad at herself when we correct her that we end up having lots of conversations about grace and freedom and the deep wellspring of God’s love.
After getting used to a kid like that, it took me a while to adjust to Jonah’s very different makeup. I leaned way over on the tender and nurturing side of things, and after a few years I realized he needed something totally different. He doesn’t need a heart-to-heart before bed, he needs to be able to spout off all about the new improvements he’s made to his Lego Battle Crusier,or tell me all about the moves his jedi did on the Peterson’s Wii. He needs to jump on my back and he needs me to throw him on the couch (watch out for the battle cruiser!).
If Livi is in a bad mood, instead of telling her to shape up, I might ask if she needs a hug. (She always says yes, and it always works some). Jonah, I’ve learned, probably needs to be told to shape up. Once he’s straightened up his attitude, he is able to talk more clearly about what’s bothering him. But there’s no total consistency either. We parents have just got to listen to our kids and our experience, and pray that the Holy Spirit leads us into wisdom with each new situation.
Amy is great at this. I think it’s the mom factor, but I’m always slower on the uptake about what kid needs what when. She’ll tell me, “Hon, I think you need to give him a break,” and I’ll immediately realize she’s right. OK – maybe not immediately, but eventually.
You know, this is one reason why I love blogging and reading other folks blogs about parenting. This stuff is hard! I love sharing what I’m learning and I love learning from others. Who doesn’t want an emotionally healthy kid? I want my kids to love others well, to love themselves well, and to know the Love of Jesus like they know the love of dad.