Raising Siblings Differently


I have two children – an older son and a younger son. I love them both, obviously, and I like them both, thankfully, but they are different kids and I treat them as such. I can’t decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Should I treat them the same? Strive for total equality lest one of them feel cheated or victorious? Or should I treat them like the wildly different kids they are? I’m still not quite sure, but I know I do treat them differently. It’s not intentional, exactly, but they are such different kids. I don’t know how one treats two different people exactly the same when they react so differently.

My older son is a sensitive, artistic, anxious, intelligent kid. He's an observer, carefully watching how the things and people around him work. He likes to understand things completely, from the inside out, and when he doesn’t he becomes profoundly frustrated. He is filled with music and sings constantly, his clear little voice ringing out at the quietest times. He craves independence and privacy, but gets frightened with too much slack or distance. He is beautiful and stubborn and brooding and filled with love. He feels his feelings intensely and they fill him to the brim, but he doesn’t quite know what to do with them.

My younger son is all about absolutes. He is all or nothing, black or white, happy or irate, no gray area whatsoever. He is enthusiastic to a fault, often taking risks he shouldn’t because he is JUST. SO. EXCITED. He is goofy, loves to make people laugh, and is both curious and predictable in his passions. His anger is intense, but he recovers quickly from anything difficult as if he has a switch he can just flip on and off. He shows everything he’s got up front; everything lives in plain view, so his reactions are easier to gauge than his brother’s.

These two boys – so similar in so many ways – seem to need such different things from me. The younger one is more independent, able to play happily on his own for a while before seeking company. The older one seeks company more often than not, although he requires a certain amount of quiet alone time to charge. They both love music, relishing a beloved song and asking for it again and again, but the younger one likes to listen and absorb the notes, feeling them in his body, while the older one sings along, his voice passionate and clear, winding its way through his favorite notes. When they love the same song, they become frustrated with each other because one wants to listen, while the other wants to be a part of the music.

And this is how it goes – observe and take part, push and pull, together and separate – these two boys so similar, but so profoundly different.

They require different things from me, and of course, what they need is not always what they get. The older one – in school now – needs more from me. He craves my time and attention in a way that the younger one doesn’t. But because he’s in school, he doesn’t get the kind of time he wants. The little one, meanwhile, has loads of time with me, but I honestly think he could take it or leave it much of the time. I feel this pull to make things even, when truly, they require different quantities and qualities of time with me.

So this leaves me wondering: Do I balance out of a feeling of necessity? So that one day, they won’t look at me and announce their disappointment at my division of motherly resources? Or do I provide what I believe they need now, regardless of whether it’s equally balanced?

It seems to me that the latter is the only acceptable option – the only one that will really work, but I don’t know if I’ll still feel that way later. Will I feel like I stole from one child to provide for the other? Or is this just how it works?

I often wonder if any parent truly feels like they’re doing it right. I certainly don’t. I try, and I aim to make the best choices for my kids, but I know I’m not always successful. I know I could do better, but maybe this is as good as it gets.

Maybe you have to make the choices as they come, balancing each one precariously on each child’s changing needs. Maybe the younger one, who needed me so much more when he was a baby, is ready to give time back to the older one, who had to give some time up when his baby brother was born. Maybe it all balances out over the years if I can pay attention adjust with their needs.

I’m not sure. I only know these two wonderful, different little kids, and I know that even if I love them equally, sometimes I love them differently. And I think that for now, it needs to be that way.

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