You actually don’t parent all your kids the same way and here’s why that’s awesome

Parents often get caught up in being fair and rationalizing that they raise all their kids the same way, when in fact, they don’t. Dr. Sheryl Ziegler debunks the popular myth and discusses why it’s a good thing that children are treated differently.

Every week I have a family in my office that says some version of, “we raised them all the same, I don’t know why he is so different…” But when they say that I don’t just nod my head and agree, I say some version of, “you actually aren’t raising all of your children the same way…” And once they get over the surprise of what I just said we start to process it.

Due to a number of factors including birth order, stress, marital changes, finances and most importantly the personality and temperament of each child, we do not raise our children the same. We do not have the same rules, expectations or responses to them in many situations. Sure, we have a family foundation, they may be taught the same values, but the way in which you enforce them looks different.

It is important as a parent to understand this because without conscious awareness you won’t know how to best respond when one of your kids says the classic line, “it’s not fair…” and you may make poor choices based on some sort of false belief that life is fair and kids should be treated equally. They aren’t treated the same and life is not fair. The sooner you and your co-parent realize and accept this the easier parenting will become. It’s never easy, I just said ‘easier’!

Let me give you an example: with your first child, the house was always quiet, you breast fed or tried to breast feed until the last possible moment, you made your own homemade organic baby food and went to every mommy and me class right when you could. You probably read a lot of books, took good care of yourself and when your child was hurt or ill were immediately responsive. You would call the doctor with child number one over coughs and colds and had no problem bringing them in just to be sure they didn’t have an ear infection.

Well, then comes baby # 2: from the start this baby has to deal with noise, a young child holding it, kissing it, and maybe even pinching him every once in a while. When they cry they are not responded to immediately because you have another child on the loose that really needs your attention. Pacifiers falling on the floor (no problem), waiting for food (they’ll be fine) and playing with random car keys for entertainment (just deal with it) are all they know.

As your children keep growing older, there continue to be types of issues that you will handle differently. Your second or third child will likely eat more sugar, watch rated R movies sooner, learn to sleep anywhere, help out around the house younger, have a later curfew sooner and be on a screen much longer than the older siblings.

The oldest usually has high expectations and get experimented on. You try out rules, boundaries and consequences on them. By the time the next one is going through similar situations you know what worked and what didn’t and typically adjust accordingly. Your kids will throw this in your face. They will remind you how unfair things are. So, the sooner you can understand why you do what you do and that it’s okay, the easier it will be to say, “you are right. I tried that before and it didn’t work so now we are doing it this way…”

If you need more convincing on why this makes you an awesome parent let’s talk about one of the most important healthy attachment practices of attunement. Attuning to your child means you can read and respond to their emotional needs in the moment. One minute they are happy and singing and then next they fall down and are crying. Learning how to shift your response to them sometimes within seconds is a great skill of parenting. So, when we talk about not parenting your kids the same way we look at this very skill. You are treating each child how they need to be treated. Maybe one child wants to be scooped up and kissed when injured and the other responds better to “you’re alright…” and wants to move on. Being flexible to what their needs are conveys great emotional intelligence and shows that you understand parenting is not a one size fits all experience.

Most people, including children, respond well to being understood. As a parent, understanding that your children’s personalities vary and that how they sleep, eat and learn affects them greatly will make you all the better to respond to their unique needs. Issues like boundaries and independence will be tested as early as when they start to crawl. Being keenly aware of your child’s personality and not solely relying on data from their older sibling or your own childhood will keep you on the path to a healthy and secure relationship. Last, understanding that your temperament (maybe neat and rigid) gets triggered by your child’s temperament (maybe unorganized and flexible) will help you figure out creative ways to approach solutions. Personality and temperament are two fundamental blocks of who we are that don’t typically change easily. So, working with your own as well as each of your children’s will reduce conflict and increase your bond.

Sheryl Ziegler, Psy.D. is the author of Mommy Burnout: how to reclaim your life and raise healthier children in the process and is a parenting and child development expert.