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May 23 2013

Why Can’t You Be More Like Your Brother?

By at 12:05 pm

little boy frustrated with homework“Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister?”

It’s a question parents are advised never to ask.

But, that’s a tall order to fill. At least for me.

I have three children. And, except for the fact that they look ridiculously alike (my husband’s and my joke is that if they gave us the wrong baby at the hospital, we got all three of them from the same family), they are all completely different.

My oldest son is the hardest working, most responsible kid I have ever known. He does all his homework without being prompted. He gets good grades. He takes his younger brother to school and baby-sits both his siblings in the evenings. He’s extremely well-read, a talented artist, and usually remembers to hold doors open for people.

He also talks incessantly, his mouth frequently writing checks his brain can’t cash. When he can’t think of anything to say, he finds something to complain about, instead. He worries even when there’s nothing to worry about, and he sometimes forgets that having the vocabulary of an adult still doesn’t make him an adult, and so proceeds to address those older than himself like a peer, which merely comes off as obnoxious. Conversely, he has a tough time relating to kids his own age, and prefers to avoid the experience whenever he can. The same goes for anything resembling athletic activity.

My middle child, on the other hand, makes friends instantly. All he has to do is show up at a playground, and suddenly he’s got a little posse following him around, wanting to do whatever he’s doing. At the same time, he is perfectly content to sit alone for hours, teaching himself computer programming. He picks up physical skills quickly, always ready to give anything a whirl, and ends up being invited to move up into the next age group in his fencing class or join the pre-professional division of his ballet academy.

School, however, is torturous for him (and for me). Assignments that should take 20 minutes stretch out into two hours, as he insists he doesn’t know the material, he can’t do it, he won’t do it–and then he does it anyway, but always with the very minimum amount of effort. He cries if he doesn’t grasp something instantly, and refuses to raise his hand in class for fear of giving the wrong answer. He holds a grudge like a mafia boss, seething with resentment over kindergarten-era slights despite almost being done with third grade. He’s also decided that, unlike his siblings, he will not learn Russian, he will not speak Russian, he will not hear Russian. Why? Because he won’t, that’s all.

In contrast, my daughter is a ray of sunshine. While we toured schools applying her for kindergarten, one admissions officer dubbed her, “the happy camper.” Instead of feeling pressured or judged like many do during the process, my daughter saw it as, “I’m going to make some new friends today!” She loves to socialize, she participates in everything she’s asked to with a smile and, if not, then a bribe, and she promptly does her homework (she even asks me to give her more) with unparalleled enthusiasm. She’s always there to offer sympathy if someone is sad or hurt, and she reaches out to other kids if it looks like they’re feeling uncomfortable or shy.

My daughter also lies with impunity (and about stuff that really doesn’t matter, either), she makes a mess of the room that she shares with her brother, then refuses to clean up. She ducks completing her chores and bursts into overdramatic sobs when she doesn’t get her way. She loses clothes, toys, and books, not caring if they’re hers or someone else’s. And then she lies about that, too.

Obviously, I am extremely fortunate. I have three overall good kids, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

But, is it really that much of a sin that, once in a while, I hear myself say, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” when my middle child launches into yet another round of the Homework Wars, or my older one whines about having to try something outside of his comfort zone? Is it so wrong to tell them they should try to be more cheerful like their sister, or to tell my daughter that she isn’t pulling her weight around the house like her brothers did at her age?

No one is born perfect. Everyone can stand to improve. Rather than measuring our children against some abstract standard of good behavior, why not make it more real and accessible by pointing out concrete examples right in front of them? The parenting books advise: Don’t tell your kids, “Be a good boy.” Tell them, “Don’t leave your toys on the floor.” Be specific so the child understands what’s expected of them. So why not say: “Don’t leave your toys on the floor. Pick them up and put them on the shelf. The way your brother does.”

Siblings are supposed to be role models, aren’t they? One of the best parts of living in a large family is learning from each other. Isn’t it?

So is it always erroneous to compare kids? Is there never any good that can come from it?

What do you think?

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