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I knew that becoming a parent was going to present some challenges. I think it’s naïve to assume otherwise. Some of these challenges were completely expected in that obviously the larger your family the more money it costs to support them.
I wasn’t prepared for the random removal of diapers from toddlers. That kind of threw me, but I rolled with it. What has me kind of stymied now that we have four kids however is how you refer to the children in conversation.
Each child has their own unique story, they have their own personality, likes, dislikes, favorite shows, and foods and stories and toys, but there are four of them so when you share stories about them as individuals you sometimes have to refer to them. Now the obvious solution would be refer to them by name, but sometimes you want to share their story, but not their name. Maybe it’s just for the benefit of swapping stories about four or five year olds or teenagers and you want to specify their age, or like now where I am sharing something about fatherhood on a very public forum and I don’t want their names offered up to the internet for personal security reasons. It’s a dicey world after all.
The next obvious solution then would be birth order. My daughter is easy to call out in a story, because she’s the only girl…so when I say “my daughter” you know I’m talking about the girl. If I say “my youngest” you know immediately I’m talking about the baby of the family. When I say “my oldest” you can click immediately onto his role in the family. Then there is my second born son, or my second child, or the older middle child…you can start to see where it gets complicated for someone as neurotic as me. He’s the second-born middle son oldest little brother…we’ll call him Dino Boy because he likes dinosaurs. If you know my family personally you know exactly who I’m talking about.
So the issue with Dino Boy is that once we hit four kids, birth order titles kind of went out the window because they made things complicated. I grew up with two older sisters and if I was explaining something about my family to someone who didn’t know who’s who I’d have to detail “my second older sister.” Most of my stories about growing up usually involved her anyway, but you still need to define who it is that is being addressed.
Now this coincides with another problem with larger families. Just like I want to make sure Dino Boy is given his proper title, or something similar to such a thing, I want to make sure he gets his equal share of time with me. My wife and I were watching This Is Us and one of the many, many main characters, Jack Pearson (played by Milo Ventimiglia) is explaining something about large families (in this case having three kids). He says “Someone’s always in your blind spot.” That’s actually a very serious problem because everyone needs attention tailored to their specific personalities and issues and…there is no expert that helps you address this problem, and it is a serious problem because you don’t ever (or at least I don’t, I can’t speak for you) want to favor one child over the others, even accidentally.
I think the overarching goal of any parent is to raise all of your children to the best of your ability and, unfortunately you can’t devote 100 percent of your attention 100 percent of the time to 100 percent of the children. Someone is always going to be in the proverbial blind spot. The best I think anyone can do is being mindful of this.
Part of this came to a very clear picture for me this past weekend when we celebrated my daughter’s fourth birthday. My wife and I set up a pretty significant celebration of all things “girl,” meaning ponies and unicorns and princesses and glitter (so…so much glitter). Of course the three boys didn’t want anything to do with this party so I took the boys out to eat at a local place that highlights pancakes on its menu. The goal was simple, everyone gets the pancake platter and that’s it. The ONLY one who was on board with this plan was the youngest as he mauled his pancakes from his highchair. The other two were not enthusiastic and there-in lies the highlighting issue because now instead of three identical orders we have to play “guess what I want today daddy.” God bless that poor waiter, I know it’s his job but we weren’t an easy table as the order kept changing to avoid fits. It’s not like I could just throw down my menu and say, “That’s it, you get nothing.” We can’t crash my daughter’s birthday party because the boys want to be “extra.” The whole point of the excursion into the real world was so they got something special as well and didn’t feel like our little girl was getting 100 percent of the attention. Well that and avoiding glitter as much as possible. That last part should have been a secondary concern but we all have issues with that.
From my personal experience, all of parenting is a trial and error process and you have to figure out what works for you. What works for a family with one child may not (probably won’t) work for the family of four or more children. The important thing, from my perspective, is that you should at least try and that alone is enough to remind them that in your heart they aren’t just a birth order number or an arbitrary title, that they are someone special to you.
Thanks for reading.
You can check out This Is Us on NBC