Everyone knows you’re more lenient with your last kid.
It’s a running joke with just about everyone everywhere that parents are incredibly strict and hover-y with their first kid and excessively permissive and hands-off with their last. There are articles about birth order, memes about how youngest kids are spoiled, jokes about sterilizing dropped pacifiers vs. licking them off, tweets about how parents get tired and lazy over time, and guilt over thinking that we used to be great parents but now we totally suck.
We laugh at it, or we feel guilty about it, but do parents really get worse over time? It seems strange that the older, wiser, and more experienced a parent gets, the lazier they get. And if adding additional kids makes them more likely to give up, why the heck do some people keep on having them?
Because they haven’t given up.
They’ve gotten smart.
Think about it: since when is having more and more babies the lazy way to live your life? If laziness is your main goal, you are better off having no kids at all. But parents who want more children have to become more relaxed and lenient simply for survival. Once you’ve done that, you’re able to throw a few more into the mix as an insurance policy against being in a nursing home when you’re old (just kidding kids. Put me in a home. You’ll have enough to deal with without caring for my every old lady need).
So often I have people ask me how I handle having 5 kids. They ask how I get 5 kids ready for school every single day when they can barely handle one or two. The answer is: I don’t. First of all, having one kid is HARD. And second, I have 5 kids, but I don’t get them all ready for school. They mostly get themselves ready. The key to “handling it” (Which I’m not even doing, let’s be honest. I mean, look at my floor right now. I mopped two days ago so there’s no way I’m mopping again for another day at least, I don’t care HOW sticky the floor is on my toddler’s bare feet.
OK but don’t call CPS though. It’s only in one area and I promise I will mop tomorrow. By the way, what even IS that?)
OK, where was I? Oh yeah, the key to handling it is to give up control.
Controlling everything is too much pressure.
And it’s simply too much work. First-time parents have absolutely no clue what they are doing, and they hate that. So they read all the books and follow all the tips and control all the behavior and supervise all the time and yes, even clean all the things. And they think they have all the control.
Then they realize they don’t.
And that’s when your floor starts to look like mine (I’m sorry about that, I really am).
Most of the Eldest children I know have, fired off half-joking yet bitter complaints about how good the youngest kid had it and how mom and dad never let them buy that/do that/go there. It makes us feel better to think that our parents simply got lazy and so our siblings got spoiled. But in reality, maybe our parents just got wise and figured out how to NOT expend unwarranted energy. I read an article about how those “spoiled” youngest children are actually turning out to be amazing adults, and let’s not forget that the goal here is to eventually raise adults. Hopefully competent ones.
Parents who are in the midst of parenting their youngest child have finally had their resolve to control everything whittled down by the preceding children. They have realized what one of my college professors said many years ago: that giving up more and more control from the day they’re born until the day they move out is just how it works. I usually forget that when I am freaking out about letting my teenagers do this or that or fretting that my toddler hates being in his car seat most of the day while we run errands and drive carpool. But every once in awhile I actually remember this incredible truth. Babies do nothing on their own, toddlers do very little, and somewhere along the way they become adults who take complete care of themselves and others. It scares the crap out of me, but we have to learn to start letting go somewhere along the way, preferably gradually and early on.
I feel like I always need to add a disclaimer at this point and make it clear that I’m not advocating for overly permissive parenting and certainly not neglect. I’m just saying that we should trust our gut a bit more. In case you didn’t know (I didn’t until recently), your gut is not the incessant voice in your head saying, “Your kid is going to grow up to be a felon and it’s all your fault unless you intervene.” No, you’re gut is that little hunch in your core that says, “Hmm, let’s see how this plays out and if it gets bad then I’ll intervene.” I actually consider our family to be pretty strict and we have high expectations. But many of those expectations involve giving up that control and giving the kids more responsibilities.
It’s not easy to decide when to be strict and when to be lenient, or when to step in and when you’ll allow it. Making decisions like that are the hardest part of parenting for me. Parenting can be very complicated. But the more I make peace with letting go of a little more control, the more relaxed I am and the more I do that, the more energy I have for holding the line on the things I do need to control. Then I have more energy to maybe have another baby…just kidding!
(technically, he’s still “attended” in the “not a play area”)