I like to think I treat my children the same. My little boy has put a worrying thought into my head…
A few weeks ago he asked me if I love his sister more than I love him. “Of course not!” came my response. “I love you both the same.” “So why are you always telling her you are proud of her, and you don’t say that to me?”
Uh oh. Potential parenting fail (again). The thing that really challenged me is that, to some degree, he’s right. I do praise my daughter more for certain things than I do him. My justification is that she has a brain injury, and it is harder for her to do things that come naturally to most children. She is only mildly affected, but her brain has to calculate different ways of doing things all day, every day. And this is why I celebrate her small successes more than I do his.
Celebrating small successes
Annoyingly, physical activities come very easily to my boy. My daughter learned to ride a 2-wheeler at 5; my son was 3 1/2. He learned to swim before she did. Anything she learns – he copies, and learns doubly fast.
My daughter and I spent an afternoon learning a violin piece. I’d been teaching her how to pluck open strings, and we’d finally progressed to playing these with the bow. We performed for the male half of the family when they got home. My son picked up my daughter’s tiny violin, held the bow and violin in the wrong hands, and immediately played the piece we’d been learning all afternoon. Hmmm.
I did, of course, praise him for his natural ability and fantastic aural skills. It was frustrating that my daughter had had to work at it, and it came so easily to him. I think we heaped on the congratulations liberally after she got a merit for her Grade 1 as it is a real achievement for someone who has fine motor skills issues to be able to learn a stringed instrument. Will I be so voluble when he takes a music exam? I hope so.
What was it that I did wrong?
When I challenged my boy on what it was I didn’t praise him about, it turned out that I hadn’t waxed too lyrical about his three 1st place and one 2nd in the four races he ran on Sport’s Day. Apparently I celebrated my daughter’s 3rd place in the long distance race far more than the four certificates he had had. She’s had about 4 certificates over 5 Sport’s Days and he has had 7 over two. I just can’t get it right.
I know how these things can stay with people. We remember this sort of thing as adults – those of us with siblings can recall one or more moments when we feel our sibling was favoured by our parents. For some, the feeling comes strongly, and it shapes their personalities in adult life.
A friend of mine had a baby before her older sister. Breastfeeding had come easily to the younger child, and the elder struggled. Her mum told her, “Now it’s your turn to be better than your sister at something.” Boy, did that sting! Her mum said with the very best of intentions, but that’s not how it was taken.
It’s your turn to be better
Lessons for myself? Keep talking. Remind my boy that his sister hasn’t had the easiest start to life. She’s always on the back foot. And keep a mental log of the times I have praised him (if that is possible…). When he feels worse off, remind him that I AM proud of him. And that if I do seem to spend more praising his sister, I still love them equally.
I was asked yesterday if there is anything she does better than him. Sleep, I said. But that’s a whole other story!
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