Parenting upstream

When Gavin was born, my ass was quickly kicked by Motherhood.  Breastfeeding gave me the one, two punch.  Attempt to implement a schedule?  Uppercut.  Colic was the roundhouse kick to the face, just for good measure.  I waved my white flag of surrender a few long weeks in, gave up all the baby books and vowed to learn as I go.

When the second child came around I thought “surely my experience over the past two years has left me with some shred of useful information.”  A practical, if not hard earned “What to Expect.”

“WRONG AGAIN” taunted Motherhood.  Bitch.

Obvious gender differences aside, Gavin and Chloe are different in every way.  Their sleeping habits, their eating habits, their playing preferences, their dispositions, their methods of communicating – complete opposites.

Different kids call for different parenting techniques, right?  Absolutely.  Or maybe not?

Gavin has learned that everything has the potential to cause hurt.  When first learning to walk his forehead was always black and blue, his hands perpetually scraped.  At two, he got stitches in his lip after slipping on his own pants.  The simple act of walking or jumping up and down in the wrong pants = pain.

He's too young to think this now, but I'd be surprised if this poster isn't on his teenage walls

Chloe has no idea of the dangers the world holds.   She gets herself into a dangerous situation no less than eighteen times a day, but I am always there to dive onto the concrete  to cushion her fall or juggle the glassware she topples before she cuts herself.  She has never even heard the word boo-boo.  Blissfully oblivious.

No problem, I'll get that. You just keep on walking.


I silently push Gavin.  I stand far away while he plays.  If he shows interest in something new, I offer tons of support and instruction.  He still refuses to step out of his comfort zone.

I am Chloe’s shadow.   I constantly remind her that slides are not for running up, or for licking, or for diving down face first.  I discourage her from doing most of what she wants to do.  Her comfort zone is everything she’s never tried before.

So by pushing Gavin, letting him fall in an effort to show him life goes on, am I only reinforcing his caution and concern that he is never safe?  If so, I am getting the opposite of my desired result: to foster confidence and autonomy.  Should I hold his hand every step of the way instead?  Wait until he is decidedly ready to move away?

Or by protecting Chloe from the tornado that she is, leaving her with only a warning, am I reinforcing her oblivion and wild child antics?  If so, I am getting the opposite of my desired result: to foster awareness and caution.   Should I let her try things I know she can’t do?  Even if that means injury?

Some traits are present from birth (nature) while some traits are learned from our childhood environments (nurture).  It seems I am trying to nurture what goes against their nature.  It also seems that my efforts are only reinforcing their DNA.

What do you think?  Am I fighting the current, swimming upstream, and getting nowhere?  Or should I stay the course, confident they will get there with time?

26 thoughts on “Parenting upstream

  1. I kinda think that no matter what you do, you are always gonna wonder if it is the right thing and question if it is hurting or helping. That said, since mine seems to fall under the exact same umbrella as Chloe…total maniac, skirting danger at every turn, I can tell you that we have started to do one thing that seems a bit effective (fingers crossed). We haven’t stopped preventing the injury, but we have eased into telling her a bit more about the “what if” than we did when she was younger…and it really seems to be working.

    For example, when we came upon on the 100th time that she stuck her leg out right as we were closing the car door and almost got it cut off (very long legs…), which she seemed to think was hysertical and some kind of challenge for us, we FINALLY decided that noticing just in time was getting very dangerous and telling her “no” was clearly a waste of time. So, we started to instill just a little fear…nothing gruesome…but along the lines of explaining how hurt she could really get, by way of the things she wouldn’t be able to do for quite a long time if her leg ever got caught in there. Crazy thing happened…having a long thourough discussion about it really worked! What was a multiple times a day occurence has never happened again!

    We have started to do the same on other crazy risky things she regularly does and I am really noticing she’s thinking a little more before she does stuff. She is still a total maniac…but a bit more thoghtful in her mania.

    My mother has always been a HUGE proponent of “a little fear is good”…and so after a bit of resistance, I guess I am applying something that has been instilled in me since I was her age. Although, a much muted version of it. In the same scenario my mother would have absolutely just told me my leg was gonna be cut off forever, I wouls have to go to the hospital and there would be lots of blood. We definitely did not say that! Though, in all fairness, after she said that I probably would have stopped doing it afer 1 try. It did take 100 times for my daugher. So maybe my mom had the better approach.

    • Now that I think about it I totally agree with your mother. Because my parents always let me be naive and look how that turned out (I’m thinking college especially) 😛

      Which brings up a whole other issue — raising the both of them together. Surely if I tell Chloe in the car that sticking your leg out might result in blood and gore and hospital visits, not only will Gavin be in tears, he might never go through another door again. Foiled again!

  2. Staying the course has worked for me. We have 5, all of them completely, completely different from one another. The only one who is COMPLETELY kicking my ass is the baby, who is the first one to be truly high-maintenance. (I guess that’s what you have to do when you’re 5th in line and want some attention, right?) But staying the course for the others has worked pretty well.

  3. This topic is near and dear to me. I spend a lot of time wondering if I treat Sadie and Simon differently because of their genders or because of their birth orders. Just yesterday I took Simon to his very first class (music). It was so different than when I took Sadie. Sadie would run around the whole time trying to grab the jam box (this is a very high quality music class) and pull it out of the wall. Simon just sat cuddled up next to me silently rocking and quietly cooing. It was so weird. I get lost so often: who do I push?– sadie to chill out or Simon to stretch out of his comfort zone? Both of them? Butt the hell out and mind my own business and let them develop? I have NO IDEA! I am glad I am not alone. It’s also gratifying in some way that my daughter is my wild child (so far) and my son is the gentle giant.

    • You know after I wrote this I was thinking about you. I have a good idea of Sadie’s personality from your posts but was wondering about Simon. Now you confirmed what I find utterly fascinating. That despite stereotypical adult gender roles AND despite birth order, our girls are the wild ones and the boys the gentle ones. Do you think it is genetic (since in our house if you had to choose mommy would be the assertive/aggressive one and daddy the gentle giant)? Could something as specific as a ‘strong female’ be genetic? I always assumed it was learned (like I learned it from my mom).

  4. My kiddo is a monkey. I’ve come to think that’s why he likes bananas so much. I see your dilemma. We want them to be the best they can be, which sometimes means letting them fail (or fall). But we also want to protect them. Sometimes hard to know which to do.

    • It’s true. And you are right. Somehow it gets so much more confusing when you are used to one style. I used to be happy when the boy got hurt. Well, not really, but it usually meant he was doing something he didn’t think he could do. He always needed pushing, never needed protecting. It is foreign to me as the girl gets older that she may need some protecting and probably never need pushing. OR DO THEY? I guess it’s a balance.

  5. My co-blogger just wrote a funny post about the differences in temperament between her oldest and second daughters. And, they are just like my kids, so I wonder if this is an oldest child/second child dynamic?

    I am always encouraging Robin to be BRAVE ROBIN — to feel the fear and do it anyway. I really don’t want her hesitance to hinder her ability to risk take. I want her to fight that urge. I was way too wussy. Scratch that, I AM way too wussy, still! I want Robin to try things. And with Holly? I feel the fear and let HER do it anyway :) .

  6. First of all to not answer your question, but when you figure it out can you let me know? I am going through the exact same thing. It’s funny because I, myself, have become a dichotomy between motherhood theory and practice. Thank you. You just inspired a post :O)

  7. I’m Lauren’s co-blogger! I hope my link shows up!
    My middle daughter has been a daredevil since she started crawling. She climbs over, crawls under, falls off of everything. She falls probably 50 times a day. She touches everything in every grocery store aisle. Her experience of the world is largely tactile and she fears nothing.
    My oldest thinks about everything, worries about everything. She has become braver about playgrounds since beginning preschool. But the bike and scooter fears are killing me, because they change the dynamic of our outdoor time so much, and because she is so impervious to all my strategies: praise, rewards, encouragement, reassurance, competition with her sister– it almost always ends in tears, no matter the strategy, because she’s so sensitive and so dramatic. I’m at a total loss.

    • I was just reading your post and thinking about all of this. So many interesting theories! Lauren cut short my gender theory and my own experience negates the birth order theory. Which one do you identify with more?

  8. Love it! And of course my S is exactly like your C. Shit, he’d run into the street to touch a taxi driving along! And when I say no, it’s the most hilarious thing he’s ever heard. I don’t know what to do either!

  9. Adeline and Chloe sound remarkably similar! The girl is fearless and just wants to get into anything she possibly can. I really do NOT want to be a helicopter parent, but I find that I have to constantly fight that urge to follow her around and save her from herself at every moment. She’s definitely gotten banged up in the first year and a half of her life: giant face-plant on the driveway, five stitches on her forehead, and innumerable bumps and bruises. And while she does seem to learn to be more careful with whatever hurt her, it doesn’t stop her from being a wild child in general. Which is all to say, I’m not sure how much you can do.

    On the other hand, I do think it’s interesting that you’re more hands off with your boy than with your girl. Maybe you were more hands off from the beginning and he learned lessons about pain earlier? And with Chloe since you’ve protected her so long, she still hasn’t learned the hard lessons? But who knows. Not me!

    • Oh wow. Interesting thought. It is certainly possible. The subtle differences in our parenting can make significant changes in our children. But it’s the chicken and the egg though, right? My guess is if C were anything like her brother I would have ignored her completely (simply out of necessity/lack of time when you have a 2 year old). It’s likely that I was more available with my first/the boy and less hands on generally with the second/girl (who has that kind of time!) — until they were mobile at least! Which may be why she is crazy – it’s the best way she knows how to get attention? Though that theory is squashed by Christie (her second is the sweetie). I like to believe it’s a girl thing…

      Genetics, brains, parenting theories – these things are beyond fascinating to me.

  10. I am absolutely fascinated by watching the nature/nurture/temperament tug-of-war that presents itself in my toddler every day! Your post made me think though…because I shadow Max just like you’re describing. I’m constantly yelling out to him to “slow down, be careful, go slow, oh no watch out!” I often wonder if I’m helping or hurting, especially because lately he’s been saying to me “Oh mommy, be CAREFUL!” Helpful? Or am I making him just as neurotic as I am? Either way, hasn’t stopped him from climbing the furniture, just because he can 😉 I think I have a “Danger Child”, just like you!

    • Very interesting. I am not a big word person (ironic for a writer?). I generally don’t give my kids warnings about anything. I try to keep my cues physical (redirecting a step, lending a helping hand, catching a fall). When speaking, I tend to just mimic whatever they say rather than adding something new to the conversation (until now as my son soars past 3 years old and he is capable of so much more). The truth is I don’t trust my words. Maybe that is from having such a cautious first born. I would say ‘no!’ one time and he would never go near something again. It was like he took me too literally. But if Danger Child was first I could see this all being different. Fascinating. This is going to keep me thinking all night.

  11. Awww. Gavin is my Sully. They could walk around together and try to save one another from injury while Chloe and Will try to drive themselves to a theme park and ride a roller coaster. The very fact that you recognize their differences and are there for each of them to answer their own unique needs makes you a wonderful, wonderful mom.

  12. Since I’m not a Mom I feel it’s perfectly reasonable I way in ;)…I do have a mother so that Gould qualify me. Anyway, my parents did both; they overprotected me and encouraged me to try everything, be brave, go off on adventures. In my heart of hearts I really believe we are who we are. Are parents guide us and shape us and definitely influence how we act out but whether we have the souls of adventurers or self protectors…I just don’t think anyone outside of ourselves, no matter who they are, can change that.

  13. I nicknamed my kids Cautious and Curious long ago. Cautious is my oldest and Curious my youngest. I’ve always wondered if it’s a boy/girl thing, an oldest/youngest thing or simply who they are. I’ve learned that kids need different types of parenting even if they have the same parents. And that has been a challenge.

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