Parenting is always changing. As I’ve said here before, often it feels like once I get the hang of something, circumstances change.
I feel the same way about parenting three (or at times four, if you include our foreign exchange daughters of the past two years) children. We have always had basic rules and guidelines, but each child is so different from the others that we often have to modify our strategies.
Our youngest is such a people-pleaser. She just wants to do the right things and wants to help. She thrives on gaining acceptance and, consequently I compliment her on being a great helper. I also try to stress how much I love her because God made her just the way she is.
Yes, motivating her by praising her actions is convenient, but I also want to establish a strong foundation in her to gain her worth from our Father, not from her actions.
Our middle child is quintessentially middle child. He goes with the flow and flies under the radar. Every now and then he shows his deeply sensitive, caring side, and he gives the best hugs at bedtime. He reminds me that I cannot take his easy-going demeanor for granted and instead I need to make time for special moments with just him, listening and letting him know how thankful I am to have him as my son.
Our oldest is our deep thinker. He wants to understand things. Teaching him to do as told and not question authority has been a challenge… but we have seen great strides in the past few months. On one hand, I want him to do as told and not question, and yet on the other, I want him to be self-motivated and know why he is doing what he is required to do. More than once I’ve told him not to question me, to trust me and to just do as I have instructed and not argue or procrastinate. And then I think about my own relationship with our Father and wonder how many times God has thought the same thing about me.
And caring for someone else’s teenager in a foreign country (at least to them)… That is an entirely different ballgame! Especially when your own children are only in elementary school!
As I focus on building strong relationships with each of my children individually, as well as building a strong family bond, I am reminded of our Father. How in the world does He know just what blessings to put in our day to make each of us smile, and which lessons need to be taught in different ways? I only have a handful of personalities to figure out, yet he has billions. And he loves each and every one of us just the same… Even when we mess up. Amazing.
So how do I do it? What is the key to treating each child as an individual, yet still holding them all to the same family standards?
I certainly don’t have it figured out, but my husband and I try our best.
We make time for one-on-one time with our children. No, we don’t have an elaborate schedule, and no, it doesn’t always work out perfectly, but we try to find pockets of time where each of us can spend some alone time with just one child while the other does something with the other two.
We don’t always split things up by gender. It can be so easy to have my husband handle the boys while I do girl things with our daughter. Instead, we intentionally mix things up here and there to get new perspectives… and sometimes my husband even teaches me a thing or two about the girly stuff from his experiences with our daughter.
I pray over my children individually. I admit that sometimes, at the end of the day, it’s easier to just say a blanket prayer over our children. But the nights that I take the time to pray out loud over them while they listen, praying for their individual needs, are especially powerful.
Our standards for our family remain consistent with each child, yet we recognize the ways to reach those standards are different. Consequently we do have different expectations for each child for some elements, but the end goal is the same for everyone.
Finally, I try my best to remember to extend and also accept grace. Not even one of my children is perfect. And I am not perfect, either. I am not expected to be perfect and I, consequently, cannot expect them to be perfect, either. I can expect them to try, though. And I can expect them to show love. But I cannot expect perfection in every area all of the time.
And, back on that grace thing, I try to remember that I am doing my best, but I am not God. I am going to make mistakes. I just need to learn from them, ask for forgiveness (sometimes from our Father, sometimes from my children) and move on. He will see me though. And He will wash over my mistakes if I just ask.
What about you? If you have more than one child, how do you be sure to treat them as individuals and meet each one where he needs to be met? I’d love to learn from your ideas…
Amy is the Mom behind both Mom’s Toolbox and Mom’s Travel Tales. She is a world traveler — in heart, body, and prayer and enjoys sharing her experiences with others. She regularly hosts the Bible in 90 Days read-along. A mother of three young children, Amy writes to equip moms with tools for success whether at home, abroad or in between.