Thursday, February 07, 2008

The myth of equality

Let's admit it, as much as we'd like our children to be treated equally, to have equal access to experiences, and to have the same opportunities for fun, learning, and growth, the lives of two siblings will be vastly different. It's not because we love one more the other or discipline unevenly, but because one was born first and the other was born second. It's as simple as that.

Clara was only seventeen months old when Kate was born, and, fairly or unfairly, almost immediately we began to treat her as older than she was. After all, there would be a baby in the house and Clara would have to be more careful and learn how to touch more gently and so forth. Around her sister, Clara didn't get to be a normal toddler. She had to be more responsible. And when in a moment of jealousy or just toddler roughhousing Clara bloodied Kate's face, I came down probably too hard on Clara, who didn't know what she was doing but couldn't be allowed to do that again. And so I forced her to be even more responsible, and overprotected the baby. In doing so, I probably affected Clara's development as a person.

Last Sunday Kate turned two and I was struck by how much younger she seemed on her second birthday than Clara did. The difference is that Kate has been allowed to act her age, having no one younger to be responsible for. Already I've seen her try to use her age to her advantage, initiating a quarrel with her sister but then looking to me when Clara fights back.

I know their differences will lessen the older they get, and though Clara will always get to experience first things such as sports, a grade in school, or an art or music class of some sort, their experiences will start to approach equality and there will come a time that they face new things hand in hand. But as a parent I find it hard and I know I will continue to find it hard to treat them equally, to expect the same kind of maturity from both of them, to not blame Clara only for the mistakes they make together, to allow Clara to be a little kid the way I allow Kate to be. It's something I know I have to continue to improve on - there's too much at stake not to.

Happy birthday, big brother.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a battle even with a larger age difference. If I hear crying/fighting and come into the room I automatically look to Davis for what happened. And, I'm afraid, all too often my tone is "what did YOU do to your BABY sister"? And don't think my little drama queen doesn't use that to her advantage! ;) I have to really make an effort to make sure I don't hold Davis accountable for everything just because of his age. Creating a good sibling relationship is one of the hardest things about parenting I think--and one of the most important too!

Have fun in FL!
-Traci

Joel Bittle said...

Traci,
Though I have seen the princess side of Elena, I've always thought you and Jim were great at treating your kids fairly. Since you're a few years ahead of us in this, I've learned a lot from watching you two parent.

Joel

Anonymous said...

Well, she informed us yesterday that she is NOT a princess....she is the QUEEN! She knows where the real power lies!

Thanks for the nice compliment about our parenting.
-Traci

Anonymous said...

Ain't that the truth! It's a bit easier with 4 years between Mia and
Jack. Mia can go off and do her kindergarten thing and we tend to
leave Jack behind with babysitters for some "big girl" things like a
trip to Disneyland, but there are times when she wants to go to the
park after school and we have to rush right home for Jack's nap. And
I probably rely on her more than I should to bring me things when I
have him in my hair or amuse him while I get dinner going.
Fortunately, she seems to adore her brother.

- Cindy

Joel Bittle said...

Cindy, I forgot to mention naps. Just when Clara was old enough to get out and start experiencing things, we were homebound because we had a little one who slept three times a day. That sucks for a toddler.

Sylvanna said...

Hi Joel and Megan,
Heard about your blog from Michelle Labrador and Ed Peistrup - And we were checking it out over the weekend. Just wanted to drop you a quick hello and tell you I really enjoyed reading your entries Joel. I can't believe how big the girls are now... I feel like they were just born. I have a two-year old daughter myself and will be looking to your blog for some tips and laughs! Take good care and sending you all much love.
Sylvanna

Chris said...

I can tell you from experience that it doesn't get any easier bro. Just wait til you give one of them a cell phone and send the other into hysterics. Equality is definitely a myth, but I give a ton of credit to our mother. She was dilligent in making sure we were treated as equal as possible, and I think it shows in the relationship that we have. Thanks mom.

There was a song that you sent me a while back and I think the lyrics fit well here...

"So much has changed
And so much has happened these years
But still I find that you
Are waiting here
We have a bond
That nothing can change
And still I find
A peace of mind
Whenever I hear your name

And if I seem too quiet now
There are no words to show you how
I love you"

-Brother by Toad the Wet Sprocket

I can see Clara having a wonderful relationship with Kate because you guys treat them as equally as possible and with respect. I always knew you guys were going to be great parents.

We love you!

-Chris

Anonymous said...

Joel,
As number 5 in my family I contend that it all works out in the end. Parenting more than one child may not always be equitable but if we are loving parents it will be just. I know that Annarose has gotten parenting advantages that the other two will never know. At the same time she has been gifted with "opportunities for growth" that her younger siblings will miss. Perhaps it is one of the ways that nature has to ensure our individuality! -- Rosemary

Joel Bittle said...

What a wonderful group of friends and family are gathered here. You can see why my brother and I have such a good relationship and why I'm so eager to help the girls develop a good relationship with each other. Just this morning Kate walked over to Clara and slid her arm under Clara's to give her a one armed hug.

Thanks for the lyrics, Chris. That was a nice gift to give back to me.

It's great to hear from you Sylvanna! We can't wait to show off the girls in person. Hope we get to see you soon.