Parenting the Individual



I turned on the stairs as I headed down to see her steps above me, face red, hair tousled, eyes tired. 


“What is it honey?” I asked.


“I’m just afraid my teacher will be mad at me.”


A few minutes before I had removed from her bed the clipboard of missed schoolwork and homework assignments her siblings had brought home for her to complete. Over the course of the evening it became obvious that she wouldn’t be returning to school in the morning. She spent the day sleeping, watching movies, sleeping, drinking juice, snuggling, and sleeping, and now her temperature was back up to 104. But here she was, concerned her teacher may be upset that she didn’t get her work done. 


My heart broke for her a tiny bit and I reassured her that her recovery comes first, her schoolwork can wait until she’s feeling better, and her teacher would agree with me. And that was that.


Until this morning, when I left my sick girl home with Daddy while I kept a couple appointments. When I left home she was snuggled under her covers in her dark cave of a room, the air still heavy with sleep from a long twelve hour night. But I wasn’t ten minutes from home when my phone rang and I saw our home number pop up on my caller ID. My sick little girl.


“Mommy?” her small voice squeaked into the phone receiver. I had to strain to hear her above the road noise. “Mommy, did you call the school to tell them I won’t be there today?” I assured her that I had. I assured her that she didn’t have to worry about anything except getting better and I would make sure her school and teacher knew where she was and why she wasn’t there. I assured her that as her mommy I was on top of it.


And then I hung up the phone and thought about how wonderful and interesting and fascinating it is, that kids are all so unique. I thought about how this little one reminds me of myself—that even as a child I felt responsible for things that now I realize I surely didn’t need to worry about, but I did anyway because that was just the way of things. I took things on. She takes things on. Being responsible, being accountable, making sure she follows guidelines—these things matter to her. This is part of who she is. 


What a fascinating thing that is.


No two kids are the same. Even siblings, raised in the same home with the same parents and the same rules in the same environment will respond to it differently. As a mother of triplets I find this especially intriguing, as my kids are experiencing the same environment even at the same stages of development, and yet each of them is so completely unique, completely themselves. 


This is a big factor in why simple platitudes and “Six Steps to Stupendous Children” so rarely deliver the results we wish for. Because for every principle we try to follow as parents, how those principles will manifest and take root will look different not only within each family, but with each child. Wise parenting takes such finesse and wisdom. 


  • Will your child learn easily from the wisdom of others, or will they need to learn many of their lessons through personal trial and error? 
  • Does your child cringe at a stern word or do you need more drastic measures to get them to pay attention? 
  • How should you respond when your child shirks a responsibility, commits an offense, or displays an ugly attitude? 


The answer, perhaps both obviously and unhelpfully, is it depends. It depends on so many factors—personality, tendencies, current circumstances, past experiences—both your child’s and your own. That’s why it is so important to know our children well. Even if we all want to teach our children the value of honesty, the fact is that some children will learn it by example, others will learn it through storytelling, and others will learn it by practicing deceit and reaping its consequences. 


Study your children. Notice who they are, what they do, wonder about why they do it and talk about what makes them tic. Make a mental note when you see something distinct about them and file it away in your ever expanding database of knowledge. The better we know our kids, the more depth, breadth, and nuance our parenting will have, and the more prepared we will be to address individual challenges according to individual needs.