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September 2, 2009
Seven ways to love each child individually
By Lynn Dean
I remember when I was expecting my second baby. I would look down at my toddler and wonder how I could love another child as much as I loved her. The depth of the feeling I had for her had come as a surprise to me. The love and bond I felt were stronger than the love I had for my parents, sister, and, in some ways, even my husband. I just could not imagine loving another child as much, and as deeply, as I loved my first. But I did.
When I was pregnant again, many people questioned my decision to have a third child. How would I be able to give my children all the material things our society values so? But I knew that it wasn’t the material things that a child needed to grow and thrive, it was love. And by that time, I knew I had enough love to give them all. Indeed I love each child with as much passion as I had once loved only one. But, I love each child individually. You can too! If you are expecting a second or third child and are wondering how you will ever find time and love for each of your children, the following tips might help.
1. Recognize that each child is an individual in his or her own right. Differences become readily apparent, even in infancy. Celebrate those differences. If Sally shows an interest in physical activities, encourage her interest by providing balls, jump ropes and other opportunities to allow her to excel. If Johnny shows an interest in reading, buy him a variety of books on topics that fascinate him. If Mary has tried broccoli several times and just can’t stand it, respect that. After all there are foods you don’t like, right?
2. Share their dreams and aspirations. If your son likes baseball, watch a few games with him. If he collects baseball cards, keep your eye out for bargains and celebrate with him when he finds the coveted one. If your daughter loves dolls, spend time with her making doll clothes, and creating a comfy bed or cuddly blanket. If your son adores flowers, plant a garden with him. Marvel with him as they grow and flourish. If your daughter loves bugs, buy her books on insects. Catch one in a jar, examine it from head-to-toe and then let it go. What they will learn is that their passions are your passions.
3. Resist the urge to compare children. We all do this, but it can hurt our relationships with our children. For example, let’s say your first child learned to read at four. You might expect subsequent children to read, then. That would be a mistake. Child number two might be focusing on motor skills and not be ready to read until he is six. Resist the urge to use one child’s behavior to influence another’s: “Your brother never gets called to the principal’s office!”
4. Spend time alone with each child. As any parent of more than one child knows, the family dynamics change depending upon which members are together. To really get to know your children, you need to be able to talk to them, dream with them, share with them. Time alone need not be some formal time that is scheduled. It might be unloading the dishwasher with Jimmy, or talking to Elizabeth in the car on the way to soccer practice. Of course, it is nice to have some “special times”, too. Lunch out or a quick stop for ice cream can provide time for communication and make that child feel loved individually.
5. Recognize your own tendency to identify with the child who shares your birth order position. Family research shows that if you are a first born you empathize more with your firstborn. You may remember being bugged by your little sister or brother, and therefore “feel” for the child in that position. Likewise if you are the baby, you remember being bossed around and “tortured” by older siblings. Your empathy then lies with your baby. Overcome these tendencies and try to see the whole picture. How can you support each child wherever he or she falls in the family line-up?
6. Foster positive relationships between children. By encouraging a loving, sharing relationship with each other, you increase the love bond and decrease sibling rivalry. Therefore, the children will support your efforts to spend time alone with each of them. They will not be jealous of the attentions you give to their siblings. Enlist them as allies. They will enjoy looking for that baseball card as much as you do. Or, they will delight and finding the perfect sofa for the doll house. They will take joy in their sibling’s joy.
7. Understand that fair isn’t always equal. When I was little, my parents bought my sister and me identical gifts. Mine were red, Deb’s were blue. If she opened a little blue purse, I knew there was a little red one for me in the pile somewhere. Then, equal didn’t seem fair! Each child has different needs. One child may grow a foot overnight and need new jeans. That doesn’t mean that every child must get a new pair. Rather, you should focus on meeting each of their needs as they arise. If you apply this philosophy consistently, each child will know that his or her turn will come and not be jealous of his brother or sister’s good fortune.
Loving each child individually means recognizing them as a whole person and loving everything that makes up that person. That doesn’t mean that at different times you won’t identify with one child more than the other. What it does mean is that, for whatever reason, you love them each passionately, completely and unconditionally.
Lynn Dean is a Colorado writer and the mother of three children.