(Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)
Remember high school biology class? Where you learned that plants live by osmosis?
While it's not applicable with the first child, I am positive that siblings learn through a similar osmotic process!
I know it sounds crazy, but stay with me here, okay?
Our oldest children griped that the younger ones "never got into trouble." They didn't understand why. They didn't realize they themselves taught the younger ones many of the basic do's and don'ts of the family.
- When Heidi was three and Romm two, we had a special outing planned. They were really excited. We had to eat dinner first and it was something they didn't like. They dawdled! The clock was ticking. We told them they had 15 minutes to finish their meal or we would call a babysitter and go without them. Romm finished. Heidi did not. We left her home with the sitter. Although it was hard for us to do, Heidi learned that when we said something, we meant it---a lesson she always remembered.
- One day Heidi asked me for a piece of candy. I told her no. She went to her dad and asked him. He said "yes," but when he came into the kitchen to get it, her ploy was discovered. She didn't get the candy but she was disciplined, and she never again tried to pit one parent against the other.
Of course they tried to learn, through trial and error, which parent to approach to receive the particular answer they wanted. Sometimes they were successful. Sometimes that backfired!
- Another time the kids were playing under the ping pong table. Later there were telltale marks on top of the table (an advantage of accumulated dust) but, amazingly, no one knew who walked on it. Taking my clue from the fairy tale Cinderella---the part where the prince tried the glass slipper on the foot of every young woman in his kingdom searching for the one it fit---it was easy to identify the table-walking culprit because the footprints fit perfectly! The denial hurt Heidi much more than the admission would have!
- Still another time, then two-year-old Josh kept coming upstairs after he was sent to bed. After the second or third time we told him he would receive a spanking if he came up again. A few minutes later Josh bounded up the stairs but...he did not receive the promised spanking --- Heidi and Romm did. We were stationed by the doorway waiting for Josh's return and overheard the older two, urging him, in conspiratorial whispers, back up the stairs.
Along with the osmotic process of learning, Dave and I were learning more about parenting. We realized that some things that we thought were horrible with the first kids were really no big deal. Pacifiers and thumbs come immediately to mind. From "Not our kid" when the subject of pacifiers was brought up while I was pregnant with Heidi, to "Here let me help you get that thumb in your mouth," with subsequent infants.
Isn't is amazing first kids survive at all?
I naively use to believe that we raised all our kids the same way. No way! Nor can it really be, nor should it be, that way. They are not the same. There is not a mold. They are not clones. Physical characteristics may be similar, and their way of doing things may develop along the home-learned pattern but they are individuals with individual personalities, dispositions, abilities and needs.
Plus, we are not the same parents with the first child as we are with the "middles" and definitely not with the last. My sister is the oldest and the things she tells me about our parents are not the stories (or parents) that I new and grew up with!
Heidi did survive being the first child and is now the mother of four. I close with a wise quote from one of her long-ago college professors in a child development class:
"Fairness across the board is stupid. Don't be fair; be best for each kid."
Originally from Desert Saints Magazine, February 2003