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One of these things is not like the other…

They always tell you that your kids will be like you, yet drastically different from each other. I was skeptical, because I think my three siblings and I are actually quite similar when it comes to what matters- like our values and principals. My sister and I look alike and have a lot of similarities, but she likes two things on a Thai menu and I could devour the entire menu. She always felt at home growing up in the U.S. and I could only relax and be me when living outside of the U.S. She married a giant white dude and I married an average height, sexy brown man. She and I are same same, but different.


My four girls are still little, but I'm sure their differences will grow deeper as they grow up. They have opposite food preferences and physical differences, and I have yet to see what my two oldest have in common. I could honestly say absolutely nothing. My oldest is 7 and wears her heart on her sleeve, she's loud and in your face, she can be bleeding and not even realize it, she has boundless energy, can take care of herself and her sisters, and makes a new friend every time we go to a playground. My 5-year-old is quiet and pensive, I have to draw the words out of her, she's sweet and sensitive, but has an explosive side, she forgets where she's going before she gets there, and prefers indoor recess. I've actually heard my oldest pass a food to her younger sister and say, "Ew, I don't like it, so you will." I'm grateful they get along even though they're polar opposites, and I hope their differences will make them appreciate each other and not drive a wedge between them. I'm sure ages 12-17 might be rough, but I have hope they'll find their way back to each other.

Photo Credit: Maria Madrazo Photography

If my girls are extremely different, should I be parenting them differently? I'm not talking about treating them differently, I'm talking about using different approaches when it comes to instruction and correction and determining what's best for each child. I've come to realize there isn't a one size fits all approach for each child, even within the same family. Some of you might have an extremely sensitive child, perhaps even with sensory issues, and you have to be very careful about how you approach them or present new information. Just look at yourself- what makes you get defensive? What words make you shut down? When do you see red?


I bring this up because I already screwed up. My oldest has thick skin, she's rough and tumble, she isn't all that touchy feely. She's like me. And then there was Elena, my second child. Who is this quiet being who can sit calmly in the back seat for a 30 minute drive? My oldest seems outright uncomfortable with silence and quickly feels the need to FILL it. Elena on the other hand only really speaks when spoken to. She's also very sensitive and has BIG emotions- all of them. She doesn't ask much of me, except for my presence and lots of hugs. She just needs to know I'm there, and when I'm not for a long period of time (like a full school day) it wears on her and life can get hard. It's harder to be kind to her sisters, it's hard to not cry over something silly like not being able to find the other shoe, and it's hard to be obedient and follow simple instructions like, "Go brush your teeth, please." Life is also hard if she's a little hungry or tired. She just feels things way more than I am used to.

The one and only, Elena

So how did I screw up? I expected that what works for my oldest would work on Elena. Yeah, it doesn't. She shuts down, she gets overwhelmed, she throws tantrums like a toddler, and becomes completely unreachable. I read all the books, I spoke to a child psychologist friend, I cried out to God, "What am I supposed to do here?! How do I get through to this child?!" Silly me, she isn't the problem, I am.


Once again, I was at my wit's end with her because she was throwing fits at gymnastics because she didn't want to do the work. This year she was invited to be on the team and it's more training and skills and less crack the egg on the trampoline. I cannot relate to her because I'm driven by a challenges and competition, so I was struggling to understand how to encourage her to stick with it. Competition is overwhelming for her and it makes her want to give up. Challenges are daunting unless presented to her in smaller, manageable parts. I was drawing a hard line of refusing to let her quit, I was playing authoritarian and might as well have said, "Suck it up!" Obviously, that was not working. I had no words, no ideas, no incentives, I did not know what to do about these episodes twice a week that were draining both of us and damaging our relationship.


Then God showed me this in Isaiah 28: 24-29:

24When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and working the soil? 25When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field? 26His God instructs him and teaches him the right way. 27Caraway is not threshed with a sledge, nor is the wheel of a cart rolled over cumin; caraway is beaten out with a rod, and cumin with a stick. 28Grain must be ground to make bread; so one does not go on threshing it forever. The wheels of a threshing cart may be rolled over it, but one does not use horses to grind grain. 29All this also comes from the LORD Almighty, whose plan is wonderful, whose wisdom is magnificent.

The footnote in the Life Application Bible goes on to explain, "Farmers use special tools to plant and harvest tender herbs so they will not destroy them. They take into account how fragile they are. Similarly, God takes all our circumstances and weaknesses into account. He deals with each person sensitively and uniquely. We should follow his example when we deal with others. Different people require different treatment. Be sensitive to the needs of those around you and the special treatment they may need." You don't approach each of your friends or family members the same way when dealing with a delicate situation, because you know one approach won't be well received by each personality. We also need to be sensitive to our children's differnces, especially the kids who aren't like us and require a different approach. A farmer isn't going to use one method and one tool for all his different crops. I need to approach my sensitive child delicately, so I don't lose her along the way.


So what did I do with my aha moment? I told her that if she is truly unhappy and gymnastics no longer brings her joy, she could finish the month (beause I had already paid for it) and move on to something new. Let's remember the girl is FIVE, alright? We're not talking about quitting varsity sports that make or break whether your kid goes to college on scholarship. So yes, I was willing to let her quit!!!! Seems like the absolute wrong thing to do, right? However, once she realized I was finally hearing her, she told me she wanted to quit because doing the splits hurt when her coach would push her too hard to force the splits. Once I truly listened, gave her a voice and we addressed the source of her turmoil (in a calm, quiet space away from peering eyes and well after the tears had dried), she had a change of heart. Coach ligtened up on the splits, Elena reached new milestones on certain skills, which majorly boosted her confidence, and she told me she wanted to stick with it! After months of fighting her, forcing her, insisting she finish the year, and even using positive reinforcement (aka bribery) I was finally going to let her stop, and she came to me and said she wanted to finish out the year! I'm not saying that letting your kids quit is the solution. I'm saying that listening to this kid, acknowledging her feelings and approaching her in a unique way that works for her is what worked...today.


I do need to be careful of the fine line between coddling and being sensitive. Child-centered parenting gave us millennials, and we all know that entitled, lazy (wo)man-child population is super annoying. Yes, I am one because I was born in '86, but my parents taught me the value of hard work and if you want something, you gotta earn it because there are no handouts and no such thing as free lunch. I can be a bit harsh in my parenting style because of my own personality, so the scripture I read in Isaiah, my moment of truth, was God telling me to be more sensitive to the needs of my children. That doesn't mean coddle Elena and let her give up whenever life gets hard. It means using diverse approaches when teaching the same life lessons. It means recognizing that each of my girls is the same-same, but different.

Same-same, but soooooooo different.

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