When you have multiple children, you quickly realize parenting siblings individually to a collective audience is one of the most challenging issues you face.
Each child is different and requires different types of attention, different resources and different parenting styles for maximum effectiveness. Even when you give it your best to be fair and equitable in parenting these different individuals, you realize that at times you simply come up short.
How often do your kids hit you with, “You let the other one do it!” or the classic, “That’s not fair!”? If you’re like me, these declarations are a consistent part of household conversations. But that begs the question: How do I, as a parent, effectively give the individualized attention necessary to each kid in the amount needed for their optimal growth and development without appearing to not be equitable in my approach?
This difficult question has baffled my wife and me for years. We are currently in the midst of trying to find legitimate solutions, mostly through trial and error. For starters, we’ve recently started using the phrase, “What’s special for you is special for you.” With that conversation, a whole different way of looking at the art of parenting opens up that revolves around the old “practicing what you preach” mantra.
Good modeling, clear explanations
“What’s special for you is special for you” only works when we as parents put this into practice. We all know kids don’t always do what they’re told, but most often they repeat what they see. Therefore, if mommy and daddy are constantly complaining about things not being fair or about what someone else has or has not accomplished, it’s no wonder their children adopt this type of commentary. We have to be mindful as parents, specifically as dads, to model actions we want repeated by our kids and not those that we don’t.
In the spirit of truly embodying the concept of “what’s special for you is special for you,” we have to model making the most of the opportunities at our disposal. We have to use unique opportunities to show the kids that differences aren’t a deficit. In fact, sometimes they are a unique superpower. We also have to show how differences in one circumstance may elevate some people while conversely making things more difficult for others. Then we should discuss how other situations or circumstance may turn the tables around for those same people.
One example of “what’s special for you is special for you” that bubbled up in our home recently revolved around one child having a birthday party to attend while the other one didn’t. When we pointed out that when the tables were turned, the other sibling experienced the same thing, the child crying “unfair” now clearly understood. An example of where a child might have harder time understanding that is when a situation revolves around one sibling needing more help and attention in an area where the other sibling may already be proficient. This requires us to work on finding tangible ways to make this point clear. What we ultimately want is for our children to understand that mommy and daddy strive to create an environment where everyone has the best opportunity to thrive.
Unity vs. uniformity
I think the best way to think about parenting siblings requires considering unity versus uniformity. By having unity in our direction as a family, we approach things from the standpoint working toward a common goal of success. Uniformity suggests we’re using the exact same cookie-cutter methodology with each child. As much as it would be easy to just “copy and paste” our methods and strategies from kid to kid, easy isn’t always the best policy.
That being said, we’re going to continue to navigate this parenting journey the best way we know how. We’ll continue instituting the “what’s special for you is special for you” perspective in our communication while we simultaneously model it to the kids. And as always, we’ll continuously be on the lookout for better methods to improve ourselves as parents. Having an individualized approach to the collective audience of multiple kids takes energy, patience and probably a bit of wine … but we’re up for the challenge!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Dorsey is an author, business entrepreneur, community organizer, speaker and podcaster. He aims to create a community for active and engaged black fathers. The Augusta, Ga., native hosts the Black Fathers, NOW! podcast and founded the apparel company Black Family Apparel, which celebrates positive imagery of the black family through messaged clothing. He has author two books: Dynamic Black Fatherhood Manifesto and ABE: Always Be Engaged — The 7 Keys to Living a Fit Urban Life. He can be reached via Instagram, Facebook or email.
Parenting siblings photo by © wavebreak3 / Adobe Stock.
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