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Jan 12

It’s not my fault – thoughts on parenting very different children

My daughter Jessica was born to a very different mother than my other two were.  Jessie was my first baby, she was born almost exactly a year after I met her dad.  I was still figuring out how to be a wife, how to be a grown up.  Being a mother was wonderous and amazing, and I loved it from the very first second.  I felt this amazing bond with Jessie, still do.  I had a hard time separating her from me, knowing where she ended and where I began.  I still do, honestly – it’s very hard for me when she’s upset.  We bounce off of each other’s moods.  I had a very hard time sharing her – I felt as though her rightful place was in my arms.  I wanted her with me 24/7.  I loved Marc, of course, but motherhood was really overwhelming for me, at first.  I couldn’t always balance out being Melissa and being Mommy. 

Jessie is definitely a product of that.  She’s a stereotypical first child and stereotypical middle child all at the same time.  She’s intense, dramatic, brilliant and always, always wonderously challenging.  She struggles with trying to be my oldest and the middle of Marc’s children.  She’s so much like me sometimes it’s scary.  I hear her echoing my speech patterns, my thought pattern.  She’s maternal, she’s all emotion and feeling with a scary smart sort of intellect.

Sam and Julianna were born to a woman in an established happy marriage.  I was very confident in my mothering skills, had a good idea on who I was and how I wanted to parent.  I’m as bonded to them as I am with Jessie, but a lot more confident about who I am.  I’m a lot better about sharing.  My parenting tends to err on the side of attachment parenting.  I co-sleep, I breastfeed until the child is done.  I don’t CIO, I do baby led solids, and I spend pretty much all my free time with them.  I’m a SAHM, so my free time is pretty minimal, but I don’t generally make plans that don’t include at least one if not all of my children. 

And you could not possibly find two children who are more different.  Sam is an extreme introvert.  He cried for the first year of his life, I swear.  Nobody would watch him, he would cry if anyone other than immediate family caught his eye and smiled at him.  Exceptionally attached to me for the first couple of years, and still very close to both Marc and I.  He’s not ready for preschool and is terrified at the thought of kindergarten.  He spends most parties hiding behind me and begging to leave.  He’s visibly uncomfortable when he’s in a setting that he’s not very familiar with, if I’ve got strangers at the house, or if he’s around a bunch of people he doesn’t know very well.   He’s exceptionally tenderhearted – he cried at the end of the Little Mermaid because he was devastated that Ariel was going to be leaving her dad and her family, that broke his heart.  He’s the sweetest, most loving little boy and I wouldn’t change a single thing about him.

BUT – I always blamed myself for Sam’s lack of social skills.  I think, as a parent, I always blame myself for pretty much anything my kids do.  I blame myself when Jessie is sobbing with so much drama and emotion.  I blamed myself for Sam’s shyness.  I’m shy, I’m not super comfortable in social settings with strangers.  I thought it was obviously my fault, I had been too nuturing, I had nursed him too long.  It was obviously poor parenting – otherwise, Sam would be more relaxed, more confident.  I always felt a twinge of guilt – if I had been better at this, life would be easier for him. 

Then I had Julianna.  And she’s just the exact opposite.  Anyone can hold Jules, total strangers have asked if they could hold her and she’s fine being in anyone’s arms.  As long as she can see either me or Marc, and we smile, she knows she’s safe and is delighted to interact with everyone.  She loves people talking to her, smiling at her.  She’s just an extreme extrovert.  She’s much more comfortable around people.  She’s a Mommy’s girl, don’t get me wrong, but there are many nights when Marc puts her to bed by rocking her and rubbing her back – whereas Sam was only ever put to sleep by me for the first three and half years.  He wouldn’t ever fall asleep without nursing.  It doesn’t occur to Julianna that the world is anything other than delightful and fun and that she’s perfectly safe all the time.  She expects people to love her, and they do.  She charms everyone she sees, big smiles and happy to play with anyone.

And you know what?  I didn’t do anything different with Julianna that I didn’t do with Sam.  I did nothing to cause his stranger anxiety, and did nothing to foster Julianna’s absolute delight in the world around her.  They just are who they are.  My job isn’t to blame myself for their personality quirks but to love them.  And I do – so much.  I love my drama queen, my antisocial lovebug and my social butterfly.  I just wish I had realized earlier that they are who they are from the very beginning and I can’t change or influence it.  I just have to love them all the time – fortunately, that’s the easy part.

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