As my parents’ first baby, I was the guinea pig on whom they developed their parenting style, the tiny human on whom they began to try all kinds of methods for sleep and feeding techniques. Once they had mastered that, I’m sure they expected that their subsequent children would behave exactly the same way. They may not have been quite sure how to raise baby number one, but after landing on methods that worked for me, certainly they had parenting in the bag and were ready for number two, right?
Apparently, I had been a passionate little fighter child who never wanted to sleep and always wanted everything my own way. I was ten days late, because of course I wasn’t going to come when they told me to do so. Yet, my mom said I was also pretty easy to trick as long as they could convince me that it was my idea and ultimate desire.
But when my brother came ten days early, they were shocked at the already apparent differences between us. While I had been passionately for or against everything, he was less than convinced of the importance of anything. According to my brother, “To eat or not to eat?” was not even a question. Everything was just “meh.” He wanted to sleep more than anything else, and there was a time when my parents thought he might be deaf and wondered if he’d ever eat. As we grew up, our passionate vs. passive personalities remained intact, with all of their strengths and weaknesses.
I don’t think my parents were alone in this phenomenon. In fact, I know they weren’t. Raise your hand if you expected your second baby to be just like your first child, or even like your niece or your friend’s little bundle. My hand is way, way up. But my first parenting experience was nothing like I expected it to be, and my second child is as different from his brother as orange juice is from apple juice.
My water broke with my first child, Bingham, at thirty-six weeks—before I had the nursery together or a single birthing class under my belt. Birth plan? Kinda sorta handwritten in pencil. Bottle stash? Somewhere beneath the rest of the gifts from the baby showers. I was not prepared to have a baby, let alone be a mother; and when he made his debut 21 hours later, I was a tired, sleepy mess. It took me a few weeks to fully bond with him because of deep (and undiagnosed) postpartum depression.
William, on the other hand, was born a week and a half later than his due date. I had everything ready for him to arrive: his space, a birth plan, a list of instructions for the people watching big brother, and a special surprise for Bingham when he visited us in the hospital. I held and bonded with William immediately after he was born, and I was hardly interrupted by nurses because I said, “I’ve got this.”
Since then, many similarities have presented themselves, including that they’re both incredible boys and they both look a lot like their dad. But the way they react to things is different. One clear example of this is the way they react when someone is sad. Bingham and William are extremely empathetic. When Bingham notices that someone is sad, he has a gentle way of reaching out and talking about it with them; he tries to relate and process. William’s preferred methods of comforting others are to cuddle into their arms or to make them laugh.
Just as they are different, so must be my relationship with each of them. As unique people, it makes complete sense to me that I would relate to each of my children individually and specifically. I want to encourage their empathy, but I do so by building them up in the way that they’re already inclined to express it. I don’t try to convince Bingham to cuddle with me or force William to talk it out when he just wants to make me laugh. By relating to them individually and specifically, according to who I know them to be, rather than who I think they should or might be, I can have relationships with each of them that are special and personal.
My first child surprised me with his entrance into the world, and my second caught me off guard with his uniqueness to his brother. I expect that just as they surprised me then, they’ll keep changing, and so will our relationships. And I want to continue to be close to each of my children… especially if “a son is a son until he takes him a wife.” So, as hard as watching them age and change can be, and as difficult as it is to shift my own approach to them, I think that I need to keep my mind open and my heart ready to do just that. I think, I expect, probably, but parenting may yet continue to surprise me.