Here’s a scenario:
We’re on the way to karate when the red light on the gas meter flickers on. My oldest son notices and shouts out to his brother and sister, “We’re out of gas!” Their responses are as follows:
Oldest Son: Frantically Googling nearby gas stations while demanding that I turn off the AC and keep my foot off the gas pedal as much as possible.
Middle Son: Crying hysterically, saying, “We’re going to diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie!!”
Youngest Daughter: Humming to herself while intermittently declaring, “I like this! It feels like an adventure. I’m never going to fill up the gas tank when I grow up.”
This scenario could be used as paradigm for our entire home life.
My oldest son is a planner. He is a persuasive negotiator and an all around go-getter. When there is a problem, you can count on him to find a creative solution… especially if it benefits him. The only times that he is moved to tears is when he receives a particularly rough smack from a baseball or when he’s late for drum practice and his sticks are nowhere to be found. He is keenly aware of what it takes to fit in with his peers.
My middle son is an empath. He feels things deeply and isn’t afraid to express his emotions. He cries easily, thinks deeply, and is fiercely loyal. He struggles with big issues like racism and global warming much more frequently than he does about homework and karate. He has two very close friends who engage in complex fantastical scenarios about robots and aliens with him during recess.
My daughter is a free-spirited rebel. She thrives on adventure and being unique. While she certainly cares about others, she has a strong sense of self. Life is one big drama to her, and she is the star. She has lots of friends and no friends all at once.
Being entrusted to care for three such wildly different human beings can be challenging. What is a grand adventure to one is a nightmare to the other. Vacations, dinner, even bedtime routines are all opportunities for vastly different reactions.
I often struggle to find a balance between meeting all of their needs and over-indulging their particular quirks.
We tell them that they are each perfect in their own way. We tell them that they will find their place in the world. We tell them that they will do just fine.
But, the truth is, I worry. I worry that my oldest son will become so concerned with the material world that he will neglect the emotional. That my middle son will get so lost in his deep thoughts that he will never be able to hold down a job. That my daughter will put so much value on being different that she’ll never find those common links that are so important for deep bonds with other people.
More than anything, I worry that I am failing them somehow by accepting them for who they are and not pushing them in those areas that could use some work.
I try to balance these concerns with guidance. This summer my oldest son wanted to earn money to buy his own laptop. Instead of giving him household chores, I assigned him the job of teaching his sister to read her kindergarten sight words. At first the idea of spending all that time with his “baby” sister annoyed him. After all, he’s a big, busy tween with ambitious aspirations that don’t include 6-year-old girls.
But, after a few days, I’d find the two of them huddled together in the corner, reading books and giggling together. Not only did he earn the money, but he was also able to strengthen the bond between him and his sister that might not have happened otherwise. And…my little wild girl was a lot more motivated to leave her backyard adventures to do “school work” if it meant spending time with her big brother.
It all comes down to what our job is as parents. Are we there to mold these little beings into capable, functioning citizens or just to support them in all their beautiful diversity?
I suspect that the answer lies somewhere in between. For now my plan is to keep them as close as possible so that one day, when my oldest son is a wealthy mogul and my middle son is a spiritual guru and my daughter is the lead singer of a traveling punk rock band, they can take care of each other, fill in the gaps, and help each other along.
By the way, we made it to the gas station on the last dying fumes of gas. When we got there my oldest son wiped his brow in relief, my middle son said a prayer to thank God, and my daughter opened up the door and ran out to jump in an enormous puddle of rainbows (aka spilled gasoline).