Thursday, March 1, 2012

Asking the "village" - apples and oranges

I started talking about this yesterday but just to remind you - my boys are very different.  They have the same mother and father, born two years apart, live in the same environment and go to the same schools, and yet they are different as apples and oranges.  Per my brief bio, my boys were born at home, so we can rule out some weird mix-up at the hospital.  Whether our kids are with us from birth and share our DNA or whether they come to us as toddlers or teenagers, through adoption or foster care, or whether "our kids" are the neighbors who visit us on a regular basis, they are "our kids" because we love them as they are.  We love the pieces of them that we recognize and the pieces that are bizarre and foreign (my husband is convinced that our one son's early morning rising is perhaps an early warning sign of some strange mutation).

So, if we accept the fact that our kids are going to be unique creatures and not cookie cutters of us, how do we meet the varied needs?  We want to encourage their talents and be sensitive to their concerns but we also want to be sensitive to our desires or those of others in the family.  Take my guys, one is a raging extrovert.  His ideal day would be talking non-stop in a mosh pit of humanity, taking breaks only for food and reading.  My other son can be very social but in his perfect world he is juggling or unicycling for hours, with no more than one other friend. They are both smart, but one thrives on group projects while the other prefers to work alone with focused attention. One lingers on, saying, "goodnight" multiple times and remembering one more story or footnote on the day that needs to be shared.  The other keeps watch of the time himself and can disappear at the bewitching hour without a peep.  If we decide to go to a museum, we have one child who is in heaven, reading material and mingling with people everywhere while the other son is "peopled out" 30 minutes into the outing and begging to do laps around the parking lot instead. How do you engage two (or three or four) divergent personalities in a way that honors everyone?

This was my dilemma last summer.  Our normal vacations involve road trips to visit family members.  For the very first time we took a family vacation that was just our little foursome, planning our days and nights, routes, food, and entertainment for a whole week.  As the planner of vacations I was a little nervous.   I decided that the best way to get "buy in" was if everybody was part of the plan.  I asked everyone what a perfect trip to the Black Hills would include from their perspective. We made a list of all those ideas and made sure that everyone knew their thing would get done and when.   I also told them that if we ever got to a point where we weren't sure what to do next on a given day, everyone could have one wild card choice during the trip.  They could choose to use it during the week if they felt their needs just really needed to be considered most in our decision.  That week we went horseback riding, explored caves (in the dark and in very confined space), toured the Wounded Knee Museum, and took incredibly long and beautiful scenic drives through Custer Park.  We all participated, even though the museum almost bored my youngest son to tears and my husband had a bloody scalp from scraping the ceilings of the caves. 

When the kids were little such idyllic displays of cooperation and enlightened compromise did not exist.  It often felt like a day was not complete unless someone was pouting, crying, or in full blown, red alert mode.  Usually the upset was directly linked to somebody needing to sit outside of their comfort zone for just a titch too long.  I could count on a meltdown when the extrovert was forced to stay home with me all day or the introvert was required to hangout at a church activity AND stay indoors.  I would sit at baseball games for one, watching the game part of the time and part of the time playing catch with the other one who hates team sports but loves being physical.  I ended most days feeling like I had let somebody down.  

Fast forward ten years.  to my oldest son surprising me and  putting all of this in perspective.  He said that while he didn't like it at the time, doing things together as a family helped him.  His insight came when I asked him if he had any idea how he came to be such a cool person (the single most awesome conversation I've had with him).  He shared some interesting thoughts and one was, "I hated having to do everything together but I also think it ended up helping me.  Whether you planned it or not, it was teaching us that "it" isn't always about what we want."  It absolutely wasn't planned but he's right.  The differences in our families allows us to practice cooperation and compromise.  They allow us to set aside our own personal desires once in awhile and think about other people.  They allow us to learn new things and try new things that our own little comfort zone wouldn't have made possible.  It isn't very pretty at times but it's absolutely better than only doing things that we want, when we want them.  Our family is our first little practice run at having classmates, coworkers, and personal relationships.  You know the people in your life who didn't get enough practice as kids.  Differences can be a pain but they can also help us learn how to be great grown ups.


  1. this strikes on the parenting question I am really dying to get an answer to (although it may still be years away from being answerable). What lessons did I teach you?

    I know what I think I am teaching and what I am trying to teach but I desperately want a crystal ball or fast forward button to see what lessons my kids take away from our parenting that I don't expect. Oh please, please let them be good ones. (if not, go back and reread saving for therapy or bail blog post).

  2. The day will come and the answer will be a wild and wonderful affirmation. You two are too intentional. Your kids see how authentic you both are. Relax. It is there developmental job to make you doubt yourself. That's what they are supposed to do. Pulling away from you and challenging your ideas is part of the deal. It's how they figure out how to be their own person.

  3. Love this: "I hated having to do everything together but I also think it ended up helping me. Whether you planned it or not, it was teaching us that "it" isn't always about what we want."

    I can't wait for the day when our boys tell us that they appreciate that they had to share a room, take out the compost, empty the silverware, write thank-you notes, etc. etc.