When my first child was born, I obsessed about her every milestone. Why is she still waking in the night? Why does she hate tummy time? Why isn’t she crawling yet? Even though I eventually learned that my daughter would do things in her own time, I still worried about her — a lot — and the truth is, I still do.
When my second child was on the way, I expected to worry about him just as much. I even wondered how people with more than one kid simply get through the day. Is it possible to breathe with all that extra worry sitting on top of your chest each day?
But then he arrived, and while the first year was tough, I noticed myself taking a step back more and more once he hit toddlerhood.
The truth of it is, I was exhausted, overworked, and I didn’t have much of a choice. I also didn’t obsess about the milestones I once thought were so significant, either. When a doctor would mention his height and weight percentile I’d say, “Oh great!” and then immediately forget them.
More time on the job made me a more laid-back parent to both of my kids in a lot of ways, and perhaps that’s no surprise. Suddenly, there were two humans to care for, more work to get done, more meals to make, and more tasks to add to my already epic to-do list. Survival mode was my only option.
I got to thinking about all of this recently while reading yet another study on the curiously common traits of sibling order.
There’s almost a seemingly never-ending flow of these conducted each year, and most of us find ourselves oddly fascinated with their accuracy. So far, science has claimed that firstborns are more likely to do better in school, middle kids are more independent (but also the most “challenging”), and the babies of the family often teach their older siblings about empathy.
Little is said about the parent’s role in all of this, but surely wherever we are in our own parenting journey has to in some way factor in here. Right?
Yes, my second-born proved many of the studies true, by being more independent than my first. But I’ve also watched myself expecting far more of my younger child than I ever expected of my first; and I tend to think I’m not alone in that.
Case in point: He’s downstairs right now, pouring his own cereal and driving his sister mad as I type. He will make a monster of a mess, I’m sure. But I’ve learned it’s a hell of a lot easier than doing every darn thing myself.
The way I’ve parented each of my kids so differently makes me understand a bit more now about how birth order can play an important role in how personalities develop.
Perhaps it’s because they feel that freedom more ingrained in them from the get-go, whether out of necessity, or parents that relaxed more the longer they were parents.
My laid-back approach is good for my second child, I tell myself. I was too stressed with my first. I never let her just do her own thing!
Then again, maybe all of that first-time mom anxiousness had some benefits. One study from The Journal of Human Resources showed that first-born children have a clear intellectual advantage over subsequent children, which means that in some regard, all that anxiousness and over-parenting probably did something good, even if it wasn’t necessarily good for the parent.
I’m far from alone here, though. Most parents are quick to admit that the way they parent first child is far different than the way they did the children who followed. Andi Diehn, a mother of three from Enfield, New Hampshire, says that taking a more laid-back approach with each child has certainly been true for her.
“All I know is that my third son is a complete attention-grabber, and I’m sure it’s because he’s ignored so often,” she jokes. “If he didn’t squawk so loudly we’d forget all about him … poor dear.”
Diehn is obviously kidding — she loves each of her kids equally. But I can totally relate to where she’s coming from, because giving all that intense, constant attention you gave to your first baby feels impractical, overbearing, and utterly exhausting when trying to replicate it.
Kathy Radigan, a mom of three from Northport, New York agrees — so much that she says her three kids “have each had a different mother.” Radigan describes the way she parented her first kid as “pro-mom,” but from there, things changed.
“[My] second kid got a watered-down version of the pro-mom,” she explains, “[and my] third kid got the ‘been-there-done-that-mom.”
But it’s not all bad, Radigan jokes, asking,”guess who’s the more laid-back kid?” We totally don’t have to guess — it’s clearly Kid No. 3. Because while “pro-mom” certainly has its perks for the big kids, I’ll bet anything that “easy-going mom” has perks for the rest of the bunch.
The truth is, even though I’m aware of it, I still parent my kids very differently. I’m not sure I can help it. Sometimes it just feels like “bigger kid, bigger problems,” because little kid dilemmas are so much easier to fix. (I mean, falling down on the playground feels like small potatoes when compared with friendship drama, boys, and all the other tween struggles I’ll soon be privy to.)
I love my kids equally, that much is true. But as a mother, they get different pieces of me.
I don’t doubt that birth order has some biological impacts on how kids turn out. But any honest parent out there will admit they parent their kids differently — partially out of necessity, and also partially out of where they’re at in their own parenting journey.
And I think that’s pretty okay.