Perhaps, as parents, they've succumbed to the clichés of picking their battles and not sweating the small stuff but from the older child’s point of view it can seem like a loosening of apron strings; a granting of freedom they were not so generously afforded.
I compare how I parented my firstborn, to how my fourth child is being raised and almost shudder.
I see how anal I was with the first. When it came to food and toys I rarely gave him anything outside the recommendations for his age. I followed all the guidelines for age appropriate development and was keen to see if he was meeting milestones. I attended every maternal and child health nurse appointment, as scheduled, diligently listening to the advice and painfully taking on board the judgement. I read my firstborn an excessive amount of books each day, because I could. TV watching was limited to Playschool twice a day, because I deemed it educational. He was always nicely dressed with matching bibs. And he was usually clean!
Unfortunately the areas I should have been more attentive to, I wasn’t. My need to socialise during the day worked to both our detriment - all that running around fuelled his sleep resistance. Declining an offer to meet a friend never occurred to me, even if the catch up was an hour’s drive away, right when he was due for a sleep. I craved adult company to ward off the often-isolated feeling of being at home with a small baby and repeatedly paid for it later in the day as he screamed with over-tiredness.
There couldn’t be a starker contrast with my fourth (and last) child. The term “being dragged up” has been bandied about and although I wouldn’t use that phrase to describe her first nine months of life, I can confidently say I’ve been more relaxed in most areas.
Take her start on solids: she was fed a lolly by her two-year-old brother when she was five weeks old. It’s OK, I retrieved it before she choked, and was able to wipe away the bright red food colouring on her lower lip. I’m pretty certain sugar is not suggested for newborns, but I don’t check the food lists much any more. She was definitely eating finger food much earlier than her brothers, because she has the benefit of three “feeders” who happily offload the least desirable items on their dinner plates to her highchair tray. She plays with whatever toys happen to be lying around on the floor, although I ensure tiny lego pieces are not within reach (not always successfully). I’ve missed a couple of maternal and child health nurse appointments but I’m relatively sure the baby’s on par with her peers. She is dunked in a bath with her brothers every second day, and starts off the day in clean clothes.
Some may examine from the outside and think perhaps I’m too relaxed, bordering on negligent, but I beg to differ. I’ve wised up in my parenting old age and finally figured out (most) of what matters. The rest I blow to the wind. I’ve ditched “should” from my vocabulary and learnt to go with the flow.
Except for sleep.
After three non-sleepers, I know all too well the value of sleep and giving babies every opportunity to catch some winks. I’m no longer a slave to my social desires, but cater my outings around the baby’s sleeps, something I thought I would never do. I discovered the hard way that my children just do not sleep in prams or cars, instead screaming their little lungs out until they collapse from exhaustion hours later. Doesn’t make for a pleasurable café visit.
It has only been eight years since I had my first son so I am by no means an expert. In that time, through painful trial and error, I've assessed what works for each child and what doesn’t. It has been a slow and steady slackening of rules, and dropping of standards. My expectations of good behaviour and high achievement stand the same for the four of them, and I am a little too obsessive about being fair to all, but I’m now a realist rather than an idealist.
The most life-changing lesson for me has been to cease worrying about what others think of my parenting style. Instead I’ve listened more closely to what my children truly need. This has been pivotal.
I’ve many years of parenting left, and I know the real tests are approaching. No doubt how my first son exits his teens will be vastly different from how my last-born does. And she’ll have her brothers to thank or blame for paving the path.
If you had your time over, what would you do differently? Can you see a difference between how you have parented (or are parenting) your first and last child?
Edited by Kylie Orr, 20 September 2011 - 01:08 PM.