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The Compliment I Didn’t Deserve

My younger son is calmer than my older son. Is this nature or nurture at work?Scrunchy Face, as long as he’s fed, tends to be a mild-tempered guy. When we’re in public, he is usually quiet but happy to share smiles with friendly strangers.

So, as I expected, he behaved fairly well during his very first haircut. He sat calmly on my lap, jerking his head away from the barber’s scissors only a few times, flashing a toothy grin here and there.

Two middle-aged Russian-speaking women sat nearby — a hair stylist and her customer. They probably assumed I didn’t understand when they quietly remarked on what a good little baby he was. “A good upbringing will do that,” one said as the other nodded in agreement.

I should have been flattered, especially since they were talking to each other instead of directly to me — it was all the more reason to believe that the praise was genuine.

But here’s the thing: I’m a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due and, in this case, I don’t believe I deserve much, if any.

What would they have said if they’d witnessed my older son’s first haircut? A sweet little boy, Saucer Eyes is nonetheless a feisty, active kid who doesn’t sit still for long. That is as true today as it was when he first sat in his grandmother’s lap for a barber shop haircut some two years ago. I’m still grateful that Saucer Eyes survived the experience without injury and, even more impressive, with a neat-looking head of hair.

If the two ladies had been there, would they have decried that my fidgety older son was the product of a bad upbringing?

Or maybe I just happen to have a younger child who is naturally calm and an older child who is naturally rambunctious while my own parenting skills are firmly average? In the age-old nature or nurture debate, let’s give nature its due here. This contrast in my boys’ behavior has been evident since day one: Even as a newborn, Saucer Eyes would kick his legs furiously during diaper changes, while Scrunchy Face lay happily on the changing pad for his first year of life. (Once he began walking, Scrunchy Face became noticeably less cooperative during diaper changes … Who wants to lie still with his legs in the air for minutes on end when there’s a whole world out there to stumble around in?)

There’s also the possible impact of birth order. Here, we return to the nurture argument.

Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at New York’s Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, has been practicing for nearly two decades and said that parents often tell her “that the second child is calmer, quieter, or more well behaved.”

You know who else is calmer? Second-time around parents. Trachtenberg, the co-founder of the parenting toolkit app Baby Bundle, said that parents who are on their second child are “more rich with experiences and knowledge that they gained previously from the first go around.”

These parents, she said, “certainly tend to be more calmer than their previous selves.”

Therapist Debbie Pincus, the creator of The Calm Parent AM & PM, brings us full circle, explaining that this change in how parents act definitely affects their children.

After the first child, she said, “the parents are a bit more relaxed so the younger child typically is more relaxed and mellow.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m as cool as a cucumber now that I’ve got a second kid — just ask my children’s pediatrician, bless his patient, understanding soul — but “a bit more relaxed” sounds about right.

Is that part of the reason Scrunchy Face is such a happy-go-lucky little guy? It’s entirely possible but, again, that’s not something I can take credit for. I learned from experience, became slightly less crazed, and my child benefited from it. That doesn’t make me any better or worse than other parents who’ve gone through the same thing.

And yet, though I share all of this with you, dear readers, if the two ladies at the hair salon had directly approached me with praise about my parenting, I’m sure I would have smiled and said “thank you.” Sometimes, the polite thing to do is just accept a compliment, no matter how misguided. My own good upbringing taught me that.

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More from Alice:

Should I Have Had a Dog Instead of a Baby?

5 Crimes Possibly Being Committed by Babies Right Now

Dropping Out of the Baby Milestone Rat Race

 

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