Treating Your Children ”All the Same” is Not Good Parenting

Treating Your Children ”All the Same” is Not Good Parenting

About this Podcast:

A discussion of a common parenting mistake in which parents assert that they treat all their children equally when this ensures that children who work well with one style of parenting are given an advantage and children who need something different are functionally abandoned and then often blamed for their poor outcomes.

Episode Transcript:

Hi, everybody. I'm going to ramble a bit on this one, because this is something that I haven't thought through recently, but it comes up a lot, especially when I used to work a lot more with teens and young adults. And it is about parenting and something that was very common. In my parents' generation, my grandparents' generation, there are lots of parents who still make this statement. So I don't want you to feel judged. Only take this as information and know that 30, 40, 50 years ago, we just didn't have the subtlety and the complexity of understanding of raising children. So if you've made this mistake, that's fine. And I'm a parent and I will make many mistakes before I'm done. When a therapist has a parent come in whose having trouble with their adult child they're estranged from or a teen, and they make this statement, I don't know what's going wrong with them, with this particular child, we treat all our children the same, or we love all our children the same. So this is a big red flag for any therapist, and I'll explain to you why that really doesn't work and can do significant harm to one or more of your children. The first reason it doesn't work is that this completely ignores the complexity of a number of things, which I won't go through all of them, but let's just start with birth order. And I'll give you, for example, I have a five-year-old and I have a two-year-old. I promise you that my wife and I are, we have to constantly course correct and correct for something that's unfair to my oldest, my five-year-old. Developmentally, she is not at a stage when she has much impulse control. However, there's a lot more pressure being put on her just because mom and dad have a two-year-old who is a baby and is not really capable of managing anything. And so. A lot of times pressure gets put on my five-year-old daughter just because of birth order just because she's the oldest, and we need her help, and we need her not to pick on her brother and not to grab her brother's toys. And sometimes we speak impatiently, and it's really unfair. So that's just one example of birth order. Or for example, for the middle child, if you have four or five children, the middle child will often go completely unseen. You have to correct for this. Sometimes the oldest child will get a lot of attention. Sometimes the second child will be very people pleasing and pacifying if they saw a conflict with the parents. There's just a lot of complexity. That happens with birth order. That means that if you're applying one size fits all and just going well we're fair parents, and we treat all our kids the same. That the child that that parenting style really works for has a really unfair advantage and feels seen and feels loved. And the child for whom that is a complete disconnect feels completely unseen and is being treated very badly, often negligently, and sometimes mildly abusive. We're even talking, we're not even talking about abusive parents, just parents who think that they're doing the right thing. Another facet of this is that makes the, we treat all our children the same is personality. You have different personalities. Again, referring to my own, my two-year-old son is physically very, very active, emotionally very, very calm and doesn't take much personally. It's just the way he is. He's super, super loving and outgoing and just sort of tends to elicit love and affection and caregiving. And you can be a little rough. Or you can talk loudly, or you can just direct them and go, come over here or do this, or you can take a toy or whatever. And that's just his personality. And so that's okay. In the case of my daughter, she's extremely, extremely aware of social dynamics. She's incredibly tuned in. And she's very, very aware of what's going on with adults, with children. She's very, very empathetic. She's very sensitive to the social environment, but she's still just a child a little more than a baby. And you have to be really, really careful with how you talk to her. So if I were to say, well, I treat both my kids the same and I talk to her the way I talk to my son, that's, that's not nice parenting. That's not really healthy parenting. I'll give you one, for example. I had lost tons and tons of sleep for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks. When my son first came along and my daughter, who's just super, super cute and loves to draw things out and to make choices or whatever, I was standing there waiting for her to brush her teeth. And she lined up like three toothbrushes and started tapping her fingers on the counter going, hmm, trying to decide which toothbrush she was going to use. And it was so cute. And I was so tired and so silly that I started laughing. I thought it was just hilarious. It was so cute. And I just laughed harder and harder. The more she just stuck with her guns and just tapped her fingers until I realized that she was crying. At some point because she felt like her dad was making fun of her, that she was doing this very serious thing, this serious undertaking that was very important to her, that she was choosing this. And to this day, I feel sick to my stomach when I think about it. I was not intending to do that, but that's the sort of thing maybe I could do with my son, and he wouldn't think anything of it. And doing it with her is not fair because she's highly, highly perceptive, and she takes things to heart. So there are this personality, birth order, and there are many, many, many, many, many ways that humans, children from the same family, siblings, genetically, even twins, develop so differently and birth order is so different, personalities are so different that just making the blanket statement that you treat all the kids the same immediately tells me that you might be really helping one child and really hurting one or two other children just because they're not the same, and you have to pay attention, and you have to be present to who they are. The second reason, this is a statement that you should evaluate for yourself If you're making that statement, or when you hear someone else say it, or when therapists know that there's some issue there with parenting, is that no, you don't parent everyone the same. There's no such thing. Interpersonal dynamics are so complex. Just order is so complex. Again using the same example with my daughter being our first we were so hypersensitive about everything and about doing everything right and helicopter parented her and make sure she was safe and blah blah. And because my wife and I both work full-time jobs, and then we have her and then my son came along, he's growing up in this environment where there are unfair advantages. He gets to really, really explore and fall down and hurt himself and his knees are skinned all the time. And he's being treated differently even though our intentions are the same. Because it's impossible because you evolve as a parent. You evolve and circumstances evolve And so my aim here is not to criticize or to make parenting harder than it already is. My aim is to acknowledge that myself as a parent, my wife as a parent, both of us having worked in mental health and my wife worked with children when she was in college. You're going to screw it up. You just want to look for those big things. Like if you really believe that we treat all our kids the same, you really want to evaluate that and go back and look and go, wait, am I showing love and acknowledgement to this child according to what's true for them, for their personality? Am I constantly going back and revisiting and rebalancing and knowing that I'm always going to be going left or right and going off the guard rails? And that's okay. Parenting is really hard, but we do not want to apply a one size fits all style of parenting to kids because then that guarantees that some will be neglected, not just feel neglected, they will be neglected because if they're a completely different personality or style, they're going to require a different approach to feel seen and to receive the parenting and the emotional nutrition necessary. So that is the message for today. Thank you for hanging out if you made it this far, and I hope you guys have a great day. All right, take care.

Meet your hosts:

Jon Sorensen


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