Different Strokes

Ruth and Nora parent very differently than we do—it is increasingly uncomfortable as we parent side by side. I am going to sound critical here, although I hope to also be fair: but I want to say upfront that while I disagree with some of their decisions, there is no question but that they are thoughtful, loving, and attentive parents.

There are a number of lines you could draw to differentiate our parenting from theirs. The one that’s got me broody is what I’m going to call What Is Okay? For Joey, most of what he wants to do is okay; I can only think of three rules we have for him so far. He was eight months old when I looked at Mr.  Book and said “I think he might be old enough that we can get him to stop hitting us in the face.” Sure enough, after a couple of days of stopping him, saying no, and explaining, he had stopped. The other two have been less successful: “No biting while nursing” has been mostly effective, but I do get bitten once in awhile; “Use gentle touches with the cats” is something he can do when he’s not too tired or worked up, but if he’s manic or worn out, he grabs a big fistful of cat. And that’s okay—he’s a baby—we just move him away from the cat and redirect to something else. In general, we steer him away from things that are dangerous or painful for himself or his targets. He makes up his own games, and sometimes he wants to do things that are noisy or annoying—or just not my cup of tea—but I try to be involved and encouraging, because I want him to learn things and have a good time. I know that not everyone does things this way; my parents are mildly shocked to see me strip Joey down and give him a handful of raspberries, because while he loves it, the mess is incredible. But Joey already seems like a boisterous kid, and I want to let him be that kid—noise and mess both end. We’ll add manners slowly, as we go along, but he still gets to express himself as he is. (I’m thinking a trampoline may be in our future.)

Ruth and Nora are back in the pool, and their letter is online; in it (along with other, positive qualities), they refer to Cricket as “independent, “stubborn,” and “willful.” The letter is, overall, more uncomfortable for me to read than I had expected, but that sentence was the worst. Cricket has a lot of restrictions on his behavior that don’t feel fair to me—I’m not parenting him, of course, or any toddler, but it turns out that I still have a strong opinion. “Cricket was very B-A-D today,” Ruth said several times while we were there. She gave an example: Cricket had been banging a truck against some LEGO, and she told him to stop, because this is against the rules. He did not stop; she picked him up; he bit her.

The boys have very different temperaments: Joey is mellow, funny, and outgoing; Cricket is somewhat volatile, likes people but is slow to warm up to them, and will dig in his heels but good if he sees a power struggle coming. It was only a few months ago that I started to understand that his moms consider Cricket difficult—a casual comment by Ruth opened my eyes. Throughout our visit to the Emerald City, there were small reinforcements of this central ideal—Cricket’s moms were surprised by Joey many times—by his cheerful fondness for their dog, the fact that he shared our meal, that he slept through the night.

I have no idea whether our differences in parenting philosophy have influenced the boys’ personalities; before Joey, I would have told you that temperament is temperament is temperament, and you’re born with the same stuff you’ll die with. Now I wonder whether it isn’t more complicated than that; maybe your central tendencies are the same, but look and are expressed differently in different environments. It has certainly given me something new to feel guilty about: Would Cricket be happier with us? There was one point during the visit when Cricket seemed very like Joey: Nora was pretending to eat his arms and legs, and he was screaming with laughter. Nora is physically affectionate with him, which is great, but she is not the stay-at-home parent.

Brood, brood, brood.

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13 thoughts on “Different Strokes

  1. We finally got our copy of Mara’s file and it’s interesting to me how each of the three families she’s lived with since leaving her mother’s care have described the same behaviors and attitudes differently. I described something as Mara seeming to be a perfectionist, unwilling to keep trying if she’s not able to do succeed at something the first time. One previous home described her as flighty and unwilling to stick with a task, the other as easily frustrated and impatient. I know from descriptions that this was the same kid doing the same thing in different family situations and being read in very different ways.

    I’m not sure that’s relevant to what you’re discussing, but I do think adjectives parents choose probably say more about the parents than the child. It’s hard to know what would have been different for Cricket. It’s hard, too, because it’s always a “special” situation when you see him and he’s not going to be doing all the (positive or B-A-D) things he’d be doing on a normal, relaxed day. So complicated and there really aren’t answers, but I know I’d brood too.

  2. That’s got to be a hard place for you to be right now. I do think that temperament is very much influenced by environment. I’m sure I would be a very different person today if I had been raised by Iris then I am from having grown up with the parents I did.

    {{{hugs}}

  3. So very hard. While I have no parenting comparisons to make (since I only get email updates), I now wonder what I did to my daughter as at 15 months old she became the oldest sister to twins that her mother had through fertility treatments.

    Suddenly the baby is now the big kid and her parents now have two children “of their own”. Their time is consumed with bottles, diapers and just trying to get some sleep.

    And I wonder, would it really have been so bad being with us, single mom and older brothers? Certainly no worse than exhausted mom and two other siblings who she will be raised as a triplet with. Not overlooking tge fact that she will be the triplet that doesn’t look like them. Or act like them.

    If I would have made a different decitions, we would all still be together. She would still be the baby. And she would never have to wonder if she was different because she was the only one in her family not blood related.

    Geez, we could just crucify ourselves over and over again, couldne’t we?

    If I were you, I would also be very disturbed by the comments by Cricket’s mothers. Words become reality. And what we say about our children so often becomes prophecy fullfilled.

    I have a difficult child. I know.

    The teachers who have seen his energy and enthusiasm as a gift to be embraced have shown me that the characteristics that drive me crazy as a parent are the same ones that make him an exceptional child, and one day, an exceptional adult.

    This is a real issue. In my opinion you are not being hyper sensitive.

    I hope that they change their attitude toward Cricket. And above all else, that they will change their words. (Especially ones they put on paper!!)

  4. I have been thinking about this a lot since you mentioned it to me. I mean A WHOLE LOT. SO MUCH A WHOLE LOT. I don’t really have much more to say about that except that it’s running through my brain like crazy.

  5. I can only imagine how hard it would be to read R&N’s letter. Maybe the underlying message they wanted to send was “we love him unconditionally.” If so, I wish they had just stated that instead of listing specific traits. Also, it’d feel strange reading their comments about OA. The idea that R&N find Cricket difficult makes me feel sad. At least their feelings might change.

    I love the images of Joey eating raspberries and playing with companion animals. You’re an awesome mom!

  6. There is so much in what you wrote: perceptions & intentions, wondering about nature/nurture & also about the difference in Cricket & Joey’s early experiences (adoption vs staying with you/no disruption). Wish I had some easy answer to all the questions raised or reassurance or something.

  7. Cricket sounds like a typical toddler to me. Being in a challenging developmental phase doesn’t mean he actually has a challenging personality. I’m sorry – it must be hard to know that’s how they see him.

  8. Gosh that is so hard. I agree with all- Cricket is in a toddler stage and all the challenges that come with it. I wish his moms weren’t so literal about describing it (stages aren’t personality traits!) or so rigid in their descriptions. It sounds like they are putting a permanent name or belief on a temporary phase. There is so much going on here- if you believe your kid is a hellion, they are going to live up to your expectations. If you believe your child is an angel, same thing. That’s a little simplified but that’s how I see it. Even if they don’t say it aloud to him everyday, waking up in the morning and believing “Well my child is STRONG WILLED, Lord help me!” certainly shapes the way you treat him or her, the energy you share with them, your unspoken body language towards them. They pick it up, certainly they do. I do believe your environment has a whole heck of a lot to do with how your personality and traits develop. There’s no way around that either. I am really curious how the dynamics may change if they adopt again. I am optimistic that a sibling may help Cricket in the way that he is not the center of their attention (and discipline) and may balance the restrictions a little bit?

  9. Just wanted to second some of the pp. I couldn’t stop thinking about the post. 1. Your writing is so precise. I wish I were able to convey the physical scene of something so concretely, eating raspberries, the awkwardness of standing there having your son’s a-parent say to the other that he was bad today. 2. His behavior sounds developmental. Toddlers are weird. They cannot conform to social norms. Their vocabulary often far exceeds their ability to recognize and then control their emotions. 3. I have four sons, they are all very different individuals and I can choose to see each of their temperaments and quirks as a negative or as part of a person I love and reframe it as a blessing. For example I have one child who I never will have to worry about following the crowd. He is fiercely independent. He also works hard for you to understand his point of view and will not give up on trying to explain where he is coming from. You could call that stubborn and argumentative. I don’t.

    Anyways, your on my mind.

  10. Someone needs to send Ruth and Nora some parenting books. Didn’t they send you some awhile back? It’s only fair. ;)
    Your Two-Year-Old by Louise Bates Ames comes to mind.
    Positive Discipline with Toddlers might also be a book they could benefit from.

    And yes how our children are nurtured has just as much of an impact on the nature they are born with.

    Ruth and Nora seem like a couple of…interesting people. They do seem to have a lot of nerve.

    • I still wish that we could be named as his guardians in case anything were to happen to Ruth and Nora—but there’s just no way they’d ever agree to that.

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