Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On having two kids & not playing fair


The Taboo Carnival
Welcome to the Taboo Carnival. Our topic this summer is PLAYING FAVORITES!

This post was written for inclusion in the quarterly Taboo Carnival hosted by Momma Jorje and Hybrid Rasta Mama. This month our participants reflect on favoritism in relationships with children, parents, siblings, and more.

Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.





big brother and baby brother meeting — watching father hold newbornWhen I was growing up, if I protested about some perceived privilege my older brother got that I hadn't, my mom would invariably respond, "That's because we like him better than you."

If my brother protested that my parents were easier on me because I was the girl, my mom's response was the same: "Well, we like her better than you."

I credit my mom's unflappable refusal to get drawn into arguments of fairness and any sort of hierarchy of affection for my own even-keeled confidence that I would be able to love multiple children according to what they needed from me — without any worries about loving one more or one less.

It's not how I think of love, for one thing. I don't rank my loves and in fact abhor making favorites lists of anything — movies, books, foods, colors. Why can't I like them all? And why can't which one is dearest to me at the moment be in ever-shifting flux?

I mean, sure, I love my family more than I love strangers. And I took more care of my children and husband than I did my cat. But, then again, my cat needed less of me than my husband and children do, and there we come back again to the crux of fairness and favorites. We parent the children we have, in the moment they need us — not based on some external notion of what's extrinsically equitable.

When I was pregnant with Alrik, I heard other mamas in similar circumstances worry their love would not be enough to embrace two children — that they loved their firstborn so much that they could never bond with the second the same way.

But I knew bonding in the same way was not the point. Each child is your child. Each one will bring you delight, assuming enough time and no interference with attachment — such as can happen with PPD or the like, or as unfortunately also happens with neglectful parents.

I can't here go into all the ways parents can fail or be failed, so for the purposes of this post I'm assuming you're already a successfully attached parent and hoping to continue so. I know you'll be able to read other posts in this carnival that touch on just what can go wrong with parenting, but let's embrace the fact that if you're interested in this sort of post, you're probably already doing something right.

Love isn't hierarchical; it's elastic. It expands to fit what's important to you. And, believe me, every kid you raise will be important to you.

When Alrik was born, I knew I was right not to worry. He was beautiful and tiny, with weentsy legs and with chubby cheeks that reminded me of his brother's.

Then four-year-old Mikko shyly walked into our bedroom, our birthing room, to meet him, and there was my firstborn, and my heart swelled again to include him in this moment.

Love just keeps getting bigger.

When Alrik was a newborn, Mikko would get annoyed sometimes that we weren't giving him 100% of our attention, as he was used to. Since he could talk and demand responses, I was more giving Mikko 80% attention while I held and nursed Alrik and occasionally smiled down at him. The thing was, I felt like I was short-shrifting Alrik by giving him only 20%, and here was Mikko feeling like life was unfair because he had to go down in attention by that same 20%.

But I knew we would muddle through it and get over it — while love is unbounded, time and attention are indeed limited. We all have had to find new ways to connect and have our needs met within those constraints. But love finds ways of doing that.

And once again, I had to throw any notions of fairness out the window. Was it "fair" that Alrik received less attention as a newborn than Mikko had? Was it "fair" that Mikko had to make do with a decrease in attention? Who cares. It was what it was, and I met each of them with the resources I had to fill their needs as I could.

And I also let other people (and the universe) step in and take over fulfilling some needs. When Mikko was a baby, I nursed him to sleep every night. Now, after Alrik's tanked up, Sam often takes over bedtime duties and bounces Alrik to sleep on his chest. It doesn't matter that everything be exact between the two kids' experiences, just that they both grow up feeling cared for in the way they've needed.

I don't feel any pressure to give each of them the same number of bites of food (good thing, because Alrik's appetite is through the roof), the same type of birthday party, or the same number of Christmas presents. They can have different experiences and friends and treats and privileges and schooling choices, and it's all ok.

I parent the children I have. I parent to their personalities, their needs in the moment, their desires and dreams — I don't parent to some checklist telling me to fear playing favorites and to make sure everything comes out even.

big brother and baby brother meeting — older sibling peering into newborn's face in mom's arms

I love Mikko for his thoughtfulness, for his chatterbox questions, his inquisitive mind and his quick sense of humor.

I love Alrik for his ready grin, his eager exploration of the world, his enthusiastic hugs, and his easygoing nature.

They're both absolutely beautiful to me. I don't love them the same, because I love them the way they pull that love from me. I love them each with my whole heart, because there's no need to divide love. As they grow, my responses to them will change and adapt, but that whole love will keep enveloping them.

I'm glad love isn't fair, because fair would mean something much less all-encompassing than what love is.

Are you or were you scared to add to your family? How have you dealt with favoritism and fairness in your family of origin or your family now?



Visit Momma Jorje and Hybrid Rasta Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Taboo Carnival! Enjoy the posts from this month’s Carnival participants!

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon August 28 with all the carnival links.)


  • What makes a favorite? — Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders what caused her grandparents and parents to choose favorites. She also considers possible causes for her own favoritism.

  • Taking Longer to Fall in Love with My Second Baby — Dionna at Code Name: Mama fell helplessly, powerlessly in love with her first-born. Love with her second-born has not been as easy, but does that mean #1 is her favorite?

  • Mommy Dearest or Darling Daddy? — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro guest hosts about every parent having faults. Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders why she would prefer one parent over the other and whether this applies to every situation or can it vary?

  • Money and Equality: Should All Your Kids Get the Same? — At Authentic Parenting, Laura investigates whether or not we should provide exactly the same for our children financially.

  • More Than the Kid Sister — Amy of Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work always felt that she lived in the shadow of her older brother's accomplishments, until her parents made her aware that her personality and passion have always brought them joy and pride.
  • Playing Favourites — Lyndsay at ourfeminist{play}school looks at how her intense parenting style has created what 'looks' like favourites but is more causal than reality.

  • There Are No Favorites (I Hate You All The Same) — Amy at Anktangle guest hosts about it being easy to see how a cycle of conditional love can make a mother keep her children at arms reach.

  • Yes, Parents Have A Favorite Child — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares her thoughts on parents having a favorite child and how this may have long term effects on both the favored and unfavored child.

  • On having two kids & not playing fair — Lauren at Hobo Mama learned from her mother that you don't raise children based on what's fair but on what's right for each child.

  • My Kids Totally Play Favourites — Amber at Strocel.com tries hard not to play favourites with her kids - but they make no secret of which parent they prefer.

  • The Ugly Side of Favoritism — Shannon of Pineapples and Artichokes shares a guest post warning: Don't favor one child over the other.

14 comments:

Amy Rhime said...

This is really beautiful, Lauren! My parents had a similar attitude toward fairness as you seem to have: each child is different, so we can't do everything exactly the same even if we wanted to. And that's more than just OK. =)

mamapoekie said...

I absolutely love this post, Lauren. Once again, you have stated something I have felt, but had not been able to voice. thank you

Arpita And Jonathan said...

I was just bawling at this beautiful post! Honestly, so moving. "Love isn't hierarchical; it's elastic. It expands to fit what's important to you. And, believe me, every kid you raise will be important to you." That is beautiful, and honestly, I beleive you. :)

Shannon said...

Thank you so much for this post. My son will be two months old tomorrow and this is an echo of my words. I know I give him love and attention. It's not my undivided attention, but it's still love. I shed many tears over how I would give him the same love I have given my daughter and realized it will be different but just as good.

See Kate run. said...

I spent the first month of my daughter's life baffled by how completely different it was than when I had her brother. I was convinced I was doing something wrong until it hit me- she's an individual, a second child, I'm already a seasoned mother, everything is different and that's perfectly okay.

Yes, I have to balance time and effort more mindfully, but that's life. You acquire a sibling and lose single child status; it is a kind of death and rebirth.

Finally: seeing them together is magic. It's like I didn't know love until I saw both of my children, side-by-side, loving each other.

Amber Strocel said...

"Why can't I like them all? And why can't which one is dearest to me at the moment be in ever-shifting flux?"

Yes. That.

Jennifer Saleem said...

So, um, yeah. This is a perfect post! Seeing that I am a mama to one and was also an only child, all of this is terribly foreign to me. You make it seem so simple, which it really is.

Love this: "I parent the children I have. I parent to their personalities, their needs in the moment, their desires and dreams — I don't parent to some checklist telling me to fear playing favorites and to make sure everything comes out even."

I think that is a very important and real statement.

Thank you for joining in on the Carnival! Again, I really adore this piece!

Kara said...

I really admire your attitude towards this with your children. As someone who was very clearly not anyones favorite as a child, I am definitely struggling with this on the cusp of having my second. I fear over identifying with my eldest and overcompensating for what I didn't have, or her feeling the rejection and disappointment I did as the eldest. It is my goal to parent to their individual needs while making them both feel loved unconditionally. I hope I can succeed.

Becky said...

I really needed to read this post today. I'm expecting my second daughter at the end of December and really from the start the pregnancy has not been the same as my first daughter. So in a way I do wonder what it will be like to parent this new baby; if I'm doing something wrong or different during this pregnancy that will influence the newborn; if I'm not taking enough pictures; etc, etc.

I think by reading this post I'm seeing that you can't be equal with everything (and frankly when I really think about that it sounds tiring and boring.) Everyone is an individual and every child will have a different childhood because he/she is different with a different perspective. Meeting each of their needs is what's most important. And, yes, I also loved the "love is elastic" metaphor, very beautiful!

Momma Jorje said...

Reading this brought to mind a comparison. When Tyler was a baby, I would nurse her, pace the hall, bouncer her, and sing... for what seemed like hours! It took a lot of effort to get her to sleep each night.

With Spencer, I strap him into my Boba, sing his favorite lullaby, and pat his butt and/or back. This usually only takes 15 minutes, but it can take longer.

How silly would it be if I tried to continue bouncing and singing to him just because I'd given her more bed time attention? They don't (didn't) have the same needs.

Awesome post, thank you so much for participating in The Taboo Carnival!

Sarah said...

Such an insightful post! I'm in the process of deciding whether or not to have a second baby and all these questions/fears/anxieties are playing on my mind. I really like your point of view, thank you!

Janine said...

Thank you for this post! While I know that what you write is true - and I grew up with my mom saying the exact same thing growing up - it's always nice to read. We're trying for #2 right now and it is hard to imagine the love, as I'm sure it will be until actually it happens.

Inder-ific said...

I actually really love your parents' response to complaints about fairness - mine always just said grumpily, "Well, life isn't fair." Which says the same thing, but isn't as funny, right?

I am experiencing that same 80/20 split with Joe and Maggie right now and feeling guilty about both. So it's good to hear you were struggling with the same thing. But it is what it is, right? So, moving on.

Christine Powell said...

This is lovely, and I agree. I haven't worried about adding another child to our family, as I, like you, believe that somehow my heart will stretch and encompass all my children :)

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