The squeaky wheel gets the grease. AKA the loudest child gets the mom.
My baby is about to be five. FIVE Y’ALL! This is insanity! I feel like he was born yesterday. When I look past over the last 5 years it’s a big beautiful blur. You see, the thing about my baby, my youngest son, is that he’s the ‘easy’ child. He is by no means one of those mythical angel babies, but out of our two boys, he is significantly easier. And because of that, I feel like he gets screwed over. Because I am not a fair parent.
This post isn’t about his brother, but in order to understand my baby’s life, you need to at least know a little about his brother. His brother is amazing! But he is not your typical kid. He requires A LOT of attention, resources, and time. And because my baby is so much easier, sometimes he gets buried in the chaos. I try to be a fair parent, but it is not always possible.
Life isn’t fair. I am not a fair parent. Even though I want to be.
This is incredibly hard to write because it’s admitting that parenting isn’t always equal and fair. Sometimes my younger son gets snapped at for something that is totally age-appropriate because I have nothing left over to give him. I know ALL moms feel this way. But the special needs moms… you feel me here.
It’s not only my patience that runs out before he gets his fair share. There’s all the time we spend in the therapist’s waiting room, all the hours in the car going back and forth for his brother’s shit. And of course the money. It costs hundreds of dollars for the things his brother needs. Psych testing was thousands. How is it fair that we sometimes have to skip out on fun things to offset the cost of his brother’s needs? It isn’t.
I swore up and down growing up that NO MATTER WHAT I would never, ever, do something for one of my kids and not the other. But here I am doing it. Not by choice, and it’s not fun stuff, but his brother is getting more. More of me, more of my time, more of our money. Regardless of the many reasons why that’s shitty for my baby, it’s just plain not fair. I will never lie to him about this, or try to make it seem fair because it’s not.
Balancing it all: Is it possible to be a fair parent AND not insane?
So how do I make this better? When my cup is already so empty, how do I find more to give to my little boy? Because he deserves it! He truly does! And what about me? Remember, moms are people too. All the other parenting tips out there seem to forget this. We have needs too. Aside from throwing up my hands and playing the victim, how can I survive this?
First and foremost, I will not lie. Is it easier to lie sometimes? Yes. It would be so much easier to tell my baby ‘You get just as much as your brother.’ Because he doesn’t. Not the things that matter anyway. We can bury him in toys, TV shows, and video games but that’s not what really matters.
I can focus on the positive and remind him that, while his brother is getting more, it’s much harder for him. But all that does is marginalize how my baby feels and piss his brother off. Trying to force my kids to see the world in a rosy way doesn’t set them up for real life and it won’t make my baby feel any better when he thinks we’re not being fair. It’ll just teach him to be quiet about how he feels.
Enter brutal honesty. ‘I have to take your brother to therapy, so no, we cannot go to the playground. No, it’s not fair. Yes, you get to be mad.’ Can I try and make it up to him? Yup. But sometimes I’m also anxious and have a lot going on. So the dual pull of one kid’s therapy and the other’s desire to play leaves me mentally fatigued. Therapy is not something we get to skip just because. The playground is. It. Is. Not. Fair. Life is not fair. I am not a fair parent. I do the best I can. I give them everything I have until there is nothing left to give, and then it’s time to cut myself some slack. I will not invent excuses or force toxic positivity down his throat. It’s ok for things to suck sometimes.
My boys are just shy of 2 years apart. Their birthdays are 3 weeks from each other and in the dead of winter. It is a lot easier for me to have one giant party for both of them. This year, for the big 5, my baby will have his very own party for the first time in his life. I think the days of joint parties are behind me at this point, and I fully accept that. I also accept that I can’t sign them both up for the same activities anymore to keep it simple for our family’s schedule. They’re also in separate schools for the first time and are developing individual friendships.
They fight ALL THE TIME over stuff. But I no longer buy two of everything. I’m not asking my baby to take piano lessons just because his brother is. His brother doesn’t get to go to every party my baby is invited to. All of that. I am encouraging my baby to be his own person. And I do my very best not to compare them.
My little one will go to therapy. Having mental illness in the family affects us all. He has feelings, trauma, and plenty of issues of his own to work through. Not just because of his brother either! Life is hard! Therapy is invaluable anyway, but his life is just so UNFAIR sometimes. He’s going to need to be ahead of the curve with his coping skills. And have someone to talk to that is only considering HIM and not his brother.
Speak his love language
This kid is the only true extrovert in our family. He wants to be with people ALL. THE. TIME. He will run away from any screen immediately if it means playing a game with me. He likes to sit on me, talk to me, play with me, do ANYTHING with me. He gets his energy from being with people, while the rest of us need to be alone to recharge.
This is the hardest part. He deserves all of the time and attention he wants! But I just cannot do it. I play with him as much as I possibly can. I try to make waiting rooms fun by playing I spy, sneak in some Hungry Hungry Hippos while dinner cooks, or dance with him to Guns N’ Roses at full blast. I make every effort to save some special energy just for him. When his brother is screaming about something for hours on end I try to remind myself to let the tantrum happen and go cuddle my baby and talk about our day. His love language is quality time. No amount of toys, candy, or TV shows will trump 10 minutes with me 1:1. Ever.
Choices. All the choices.
In a world where my baby gets bounced around from activity to activity, has a strict bedtime, goes to school, has reading homework, and a special needs brother demanding so much I bet he can feel like a prisoner in his own life. I give him a choice whenever I possibly can. All kids struggle with the feeling of having no control, but his life is even more regimented due to his brother.
I’ve noticed that my baby is indecisive. He struggles to make a decision and stick with it. He draws things out by refusing to make a choice and stick with it. Probably because that time when he’s deciding is HIS time. All the focus is on him. I’d want to prolong it too if I were him!
Now that I have noticed this I let him choose everything I can. It might seem silly, but his clothes, his cup, what music we listen to in the car, the order of events, his food, etc. I can only imagine how powerless he feels so I’m trying my absolute best to give him as much control as I can. Life may not be fair, but he can at least make some of his own decisions. Again, this does not make me a fair parent, because his brother loses out on choices when I let my baby decide.
Life isn’t fair.
It is not easy to admit that one of my kids routinely gets shafted. It absolutely breaks my heart. It’s a harsh lesson for all of us, one that I have been preaching for years: Life is not fair. We cannot MAKE it fair. I do my absolute best to give my baby everything he needs, but I have to be somewhere in this equation too. So many parenting sites and articles miss this fact. The parents matter too. And that’s ok! The fact that I am willing to own up to the fact that my parenting isn’t fair and work to do everything I can to mitigate it is enough.
The real problems happen when people (In this case: parents) refuse to own up to harsh truths, assume it’ll never happen to them, think they can just power through, or that they can simply ‘fix it’. We can’t. All we can do is our best. Will my baby grow up to resent me because his brother always seemed to be the center of attention? Maybe. But he’ll at least know I tried, that I care, and love him deeply enough to admit that I am not perfect. He’ll also grow up seeing me, his mother, taking care of herself. After all, he doesn’t need a martyr. He needs a mother. He doesn’t need a fair parent, he just needs a parent who loves him.