Raising Max has been relatively straightforward.
He’s always been a happy go-lucky kid. The type of baby that falls over from laughing so hard. He can maintain an unhappy mood for about the length of time it takes a goldfish to swim around its tank.
This makes my job as a parent easier.
Don’t get me wrong – he’s also exhausting in a very physically draining way. He’s a whirlwind of neverending energy. But I never feel like I’m walking on eggshells around him for fear that I’ll set him off.
It’s easy for me to parent Max in that I don’t have to mince my words when setting limits. I don’t have to watch my tone of voice or my attitude. I’m probably more careless than I should be because, even if he’s upset with me, I know that one millisecond later, he’ll be back to his regular, exuberant self.
By the time Alexa came along, I thought I had the parenting gig down.
When you have a fairly good kid, you think you’re a fairly good parent. What else do you have to go by?
But, as any parent with more than one kid knows, every subsequent kid is the polar opposite of the other. It’s just the laws of nature.
Anyway, the end result of being a good parent to Max meant that I spent the past 20 months of Alexa’s life being a not-so-great parent to her.
You see, I basically treated her the same way I was treating Max. What worked so well for Max (he really is turning out to be an amazing kid) should work for her too, right?
I didn’t understand why, when I placed the same limits on Alexa, she would dissolve into a tantrum that seemed to devastate her soul.
I had very little patience when dealing with her capriciousness. This is a girl who, when all is peaceful and for no apparent reason, will look over, see something that displeases her (namely me or her brother next to her), and smack me/him in the face.
Anytime she is (easily) set off, she throws whatever she is holding in her hands. It could be her favorite food in the world, she won’t give a crap. But then she will get even more upset that she threw her favorite food on the floor and can’t eat it anymore. If her hands happen to be empty, she will make sure to grab something just so that she can chuck it.
And once she is mad, she can really hold a grudge. She’ll huff and puff and glare at the offender for quite some time.
I was truly at a loss. I chalked it up to her terrible temper. That she likely inherited from me. Which I inherited from my mother.
Case in point:
My mom loves telling me stories of how terrible my temper was as a child. We also had an intensely difficult relationship growing up which improved dramatically when I turned 21.
I was already counting down the years with Alexa. I figured that was just how things were meant to be and it was beyond my control.
It’s not easy to admit my apathy towards this situation. It certainly affected my bond with Alexa. I was not close with my mom growing up even though I never doubted how fiercely she loved me. In many ways, Alexa and I seemed destined for the same path.
But I was recently forced to face the truth of how little I tried to forge a strong relationship with Alexa. It was triggered when my husband and I started to entertain the idea of a third child. I had a moment of self-reflection and clarity. I realized that if I don’t form a stronger bond with Alexa now, I’ll have lost that opportunity after a third kid comes along.
She would be that middle child that gets lost. And that is the last thing I want.
What I’ve come to learn is that even though Alexa can be moodier and more sensitive, it’s not something that can’t be addressed with more patience and understanding on my end. I’ve learned that I have to be a lot more careful with my words and, especially, my tone. Most importantly, I can never infuse my frustration or impatience when setting limits.
The end result is that I found myself to be a calmer, more thoughtful parent when dealing with her. I still maintain the same limits that I did in the past but in a more sensitive way. And she has had far fewer soul-crushing meltdowns.
With my mentality shift, I’ve been able to dig deeper to get us through her tantrums. We ride out the storm together now with me as her anchor. And I am able to cherish the moments she wants me to do nothing more than to cradle her in my arms. (I rarely get these moments with Max because he’s like the energizer bunny.)
I guess the takeaway here (it seems like something that would be intuitive but it wasn’t to me!) is that every child is different and you have to cater to each child’s personality. There isn’t one formula or recipe that will work for all kids.
My bond did not come as easily with my daughter. But the best things in life are those that you have to work for. I’m able to appreciate my sweet & spicy daughter more for who she is now.
Thank you, my darling Alexa for teaching me to be a gentler, more patient mom. Well, if we’re being honest, there’s also really no other way to handle you.