Parenting The Kids Who Are Not Like You

I have noticed things changing a bit this year. Is it third grade? Is it age nine? I’m not sure I’ll ever know, or if it really matters. Even so, I am curious.


I notice it perhaps more keenly because I have two girls. Two third grade girls, two nine year old girls. We like to think in categories: boys, girls, toddlers, grade schoolers, teens. But I have two in my household in the same broad categories—both girls, same age and grade, same ethnicity and family history. But they are not the same.


They are not the same. Which means I parent them differently. And even when I parent them the same, they respond to me differently. That’s not to say they are altogether consistent in their differences. Sometimes they are peas in a pod, giggling or bickering or towing the line side by side. But they are each unique, always unique, and as a mom I am feeling the difference in my relationship with each of them. 


How do you parent a child who is different from you? How do you empathize with a child who feels differently than you’ve ever felt, who struggles with impulses you never had, who hides things you never had the self-awareness to even notice? These are the questions I now ask. 


The other night my family went out to dinner. It was perfect. My husband and I were in love. The kids were happy. Conversation flowed, food was good, smiles abounded. While we waited for our meals my girls and I played hand clapping games they learned at school. My girls and I fumbled and laughed and had so much fun. 


I have thought about those moments for days now, wishing I could capture that feeling of joy in a jar and tuck it safe on my nightstand for safe keeping. Or, perhaps I’ve been reveling. Reveling in the fact that in a way I did capture it. Not in a jar, but in my heart, and now on the page, and I know that experience was the unwrapping of a gift, but the memory of it is a treasure I can open and reopen for the rest of my life. 


That dinner felt so wonderful because I am more aware than ever that not all moments are so easy and free. I am parenting one young girl in particular who is very dissimilar to me in some key ways, yet that doesn’t change my responsibility to parent her thoughtfully and effectively. To put it simply, it is my privilege to parent her well even when, even though, it may not come easily to me. 


That hits hard sometimes. It hits hard when she feels misunderstood by me, but I also feel misunderstood by her. It hits hard when I speak to her in ways that are effective and meaningful to me, but seem to fall on deaf ears. It hits hard when I find myself sometimes wondering if my girl really needs me because she seems so independent and sure of herself. 


I know she does need me. But this morning she got on the bus to go to school and she nearly forgot to say goodbye. When I called her name she turned sheepishly around and smiled, a quick sorry with her eyes. It was okay. I know a missed goodbye at a busy bus stop doesn’t mean I have lost her. Her growing independence is in fact a good thing; it is proper and appropriate. But a missed goodbye still means something, even if I convince myself the something can be good. And somethings can still hit hard.


Parenting is so much about letting go. It happens gradually over an entire childhood. Sending our kids off to college or to make their way in the world doesn’t happen all of a sudden. It happens goodbye by goodbye, hello by hello, through every kissed booboo and dried tear and cheer from the sidelines. Our kids start finding their way in the world from the moment they step foot into it. For me, finding the right way to parent for any given child, any given moment, any given circumstance is not such an easy task. I suppose in a lot of ways I am growing up too. This is my second childhood, full of challenge and wonder.