Last week, I found my younger son sitting on the floor in the midst of a pile of drawings that he’d made. Drawings that I knew would soon end up all around the house and eventually in the trash. Drawings that he’d work hard on and were important to him.
“How would you like a special sketch pad to keep all your drawings together?” I asked.
His face lit up.
“Really? You’d get me one?” he asked softly.
For a blissful two minutes we sat together, searching online for just the right sketch pad. And then my other son and daughter came bursting into the room.
“MOM!! Why does HE get a sketch pad and not me?”
“Yeah! That’s not fair! I want one, too!”
Suddenly, what was meant to be a special gift to my son who asks for so little turned into another battle with the other two who ask for a lot.
This is a situation that I struggle with regularly. My basic theory of raising kids is to help foster the qualities that will make them successful in life, not necessarily the ones that will make it easier to raise them. And, as my oldest son often reminds me, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”
Boy oh boy does he squeak! Not only does he constantly remind me of all the things he wants/needs, but he presents good solid arguments of why he should get them. As annoying as this can be as a parent, I’ve got to believe that persuasion and relentlessness are good life skills. So, should I reward him for that? I’m not sure.
And what about my younger son? The quiet, people-pleasing one who asks for so little? As much as I want to reward him for being so sweet and considerate, the truth is, if he doesn’t ask for things in the real world, he isn’t likely to get them.
This stage of parenting is different. While the younger years were often about just getting through the day with all the kids alive, now I find myself thinking about the kind of people that they are becoming, and what I can do to help make them the best versions of themselves. That answer is not always clear. The truth is so much of who they are was evident from the very beginning. My older son used to march up to other kids and parents in story time and request snacks and attention, while my younger son preferred to cuddle in my lap. And, while I did my best to instill my oldest son with manners and help my younger son to approach potential new friends, the truth is, they are still very much those same little boys that they once were.
It makes me wonder sometimes how much my role as a parent actually matters. Certainly they need love and security, but, beyond that, maybe the best thing that I can do is just to let them navigate the world in a way that makes sense to them. And, maybe, in doing so, they will naturally get what they need out of life.
While it’s true that my younger son often ends up with slightly less “stuff,” he does get more physical and emotional attention from me—which he seems to thrive on. And, as much as I love my oldest son, his constant badgering can sometimes drive me away. That, too, is a life lesson.
Meanwhile, the sketch pad issue was becoming heated. My oldest son and daughter were getting more and more outraged about how unfair I was being, while my younger son was quietly retreating into the corner. My first reaction was just to forget the whole thing, not buy a pad for anyone. But, my younger soon looked so dejected that I knew I needed to come up with a better solution.
I ended up buying my younger son the high-quality sketch pad that he so desired, while the other two got less expensive versions. I still don’t feel great about my decision. But, I’m not sure what a better alternative would have been. Any ideas?