I love my kids. Just not together.
Anyone who has two or more kids knows I am not exaggerating when I say my kids fight non-stop. Over who got a bigger cookie. Over whose turn it is to sit in the big red chair. Over who got a longer turn. It never, ever stops, ever. And I HATE IT.
The ironic part is that we had the second kid for the first kid. So she wouldn’t grow up alone. So she’d have a playmate, a confidante, someone to back her up when she decides it’s time to put her father and me in an old folks’ home. Kid #2 was supposed to be a gift for kid #1. Problem is, kid #1 doesn’t see it that way.
My husband took my older daughter away for a few days and I am alone with my 2-year-old. It is, in a word, heaven. I can let my toddler play with whatever toys she wants without worrying about her big sister becoming outraged. If she doesn’t want to get up at 7:30a.m., she doesn’t have to. I don’t have to rush her to get dressed, go to bed, now!, or hurry up and eat because it doesn’t matter when she gets dressed, goes to bed or eats. And we’re both pretty happy.
And when I’m alone with my 5-year-old, we are best pals. We do each others’ nails, pretend-gossip, make up crazy stories, sing at the tops of our lungs. I can give her my full attention and she responds by being interesting and funny and super fun to be with.
But when we’re all together, they fight, whine and generally make each other (and me) miserable.
One of the parenting books that really resonated with me is Magda Gerber’s “Caring for Infants with Respect.” The underlying principle is that your infant, toddler, preschooler is not just an infant, toddler or preschooler, she is a little person, with all the complex feeling and desires you and I have. The book suggests, for example, that if you want to pick your child up, ask her if it’s okay. (How would you like it if someone four feet taller than you swooped in behind you and grabbed you by your armpits?)
I find my children are much calmer and more loving when I am able to honor their wants and needs, a.k.a.: treat them with respect. But when you have a second kid whose wants and needs are different than the first’s, conflict is inevitable. I can’t respect my 2-year-old’s desire to stay in her crib all morning when I have to get the older one to school on time. And I can’t respect my 5-year-old’s desire to sit in the red chair if my 2-year-old’s already sitting in it. And so they fight.
And I become the rule-maker, the nay-sayer, the evil disciplinarian who’s always saying no to one so I can say yes to the other. It’s exhausting. And no fun. For any of us.
I don’t know how it is in more conservative parts of the country, but in earthy-crunchy Southern California, telling your kids to do what they’re told because they’re the kid and you’re the grown-up doesn’t really fly. There has been many a time I thought my kid deserved a smack – I certainly got my fair share. My brother and I never talked back to our parents. Our feelings were largely irrelevant. My parents didn’t care if we didn’t want to go somewhere, we went – because they were the parents and we were the kids. Period.
But times have changed. For better or worse, respecting children is “in.” And in principle I really like the idea. It’s just not working for me. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but having two kids feels as crazy impossble as having two husbands … how do you honor both of them with they both want the same thing from you at the same time!?
Yet plenty of parents who have 2 or more kids say that it’s nirvana. I wish I was one of them. Maybe someday I will be. In the meantime, I tell my friends who ask me, should I have another kid? “Mmmmm… One is pretty good.” That being said, I would step in front of a speeding train for either of my kids, they are equally amazing and I don’t regret either of them, I really and truly don’t.
But one is a hell of a lot easier.