I’m sure most people are familiar with the concept of birth order (although I’m sure less people have experienced anything close to an orderly birth). While it’s easy to find studies to support the theory that our personalities and predilections are prescribed largely by the order in which we exit the womb, it’s just as easy to find convincing scientific evidence to the contrary.
Whether you prescribe to the theory or not (I’m on the fence), it’s hard to deny that we parent differently depending on the birth order of our children. This is out of necessity, first and foremost, because most children are not carbon copies of each other and you learn very quickly that what worked for your firstborn (say, sleep training) will in no way, no how, it’ll-be-a-cold-day-in-hell work for your colicky second born.
It’s also out of natural progression. We get better at parenting. (Or, at least, we become less anxious.) With your firstborn, your body, mind and hormones are still vibrating from the trauma and upheaval of entering this new territory of terror and teething that you cannot possibly be a rational person. You’re not irrational all the time, but when binky falls on the sidewalk half-way through your very orchestrated afternoon walk, you will need a blow torch and a Hazmat suit before that thing is placed back into the mouth of your precious papoose. By baby number two, you just dust it off and plunk it in with little to no thought (unless someone is watching).
By baby number three, you don’t even realize your baby had a binky until you look down and see one in her mouth. Maybe that’s why that other baby was crying at Starbucks when you were waiting in line for your latte, extra hot, which you will now sip precariously over your soothed baby’s head while she sucks contently on her stolen goods in your loosely tied Moby wrap. Oh well. C’est la vie.
This is where we are with our third born. She’s now two, and I can already see the affects of our … relaxed … parenting style evolution. (I’m not sure if relaxed is the right word, as this implies that our blood pressure isn’t always sky-high. I guess you could call it wilted attentiveness.)
I couldn’t count the number of times she’s fallen down or the number of bruises she’s accumulated due to our wilted attentiveness. Up until the time she was 18 months, I had never lost a person before. (That’s a sentence to engrave on my parent-of-the-year trophy.) I feel the urge to explain myself, but really there’s no way to look good here. My husband and I actually lost sight of her on a soccer pitch last summer in a crowd of hundreds of people, while we were engrossed in a conversation with another parent about whether or not we’d ever have a fourth kid. (Luckily, our daughter was immediately found, unharmed and under the impression she had just kicked our butts at a hysterical game of tag.)
I’m sure in some ways she benefits from our hands-off approach. We’ve stretched ourselves too thin to muster up the same level of irrational worry for all of our kids. Now, all three are left very much to their own devices. We’ve learned that two of our children (our oldest and our youngest) thrive off of this independence. Which leaves us a little extra time to attend to our middle girl, who thrives very much off of cuddles and reassurance (like her mother).
I’m not sure what the right approach is, if there is one, and I can’t say for certain that our parenting style won’t evolve once more, or again and again. I’ve got plenty worry left in me for the tween and teenage years, and a few more for adulthood.
One thing I do look forward to, though, is seeing my daughters fret and frazzle over their own firstborns. While I stuff their children’s tummies with chocolate. Because that’s what grandmas are for.