RAISING OPPOSITES: WHEN YOUR CHILDREN ARE BORN DIFFERENT FROM YOU
While opposites may attract—at least initially—the strongest relationships tend to form between people who have much in common. That said, you can’t choose your relatives, and things can get particularly trying when nature dips into your gene pool and pulls out an offspring as assertive as you are shy, or as right-brained as you are left-brained.
Ditch “Right Way/Wrong Way” Thinking
Remember, you aren’t appointed to modify others’ behavior to your comfort zone. Never mind if you can’t imagine what anyone sees in gourmet cooking: if your child wants to learn, give him a flour sifter and measuring spoons. And avoid not only the “What’s wrong with you?” comments, but the stifled sighs and eye-rolling when you find him in the kitchen again. Just giving kids implicit permission to be themselves will prevent dozens of arguments and hurt feelings.
Show Some Interest
When a child leans toward an activity outside your interest range, you don’t have to choose between belittling it and forcing yourself to teach her. You can offer parental support by:
Get a Second Opinion
If you’re really worried that your child’s behavior or hobbies indicate a more serious problem than simple differences in temperament—or if you’re just at a loss trying to relate to him—talk with another adult whom your child respects and enjoys being with. (This may be the child’s other parent, another relative, a friend of the family, or a teacher.) An objective third party is a good source of new insights and ideas.
In the case of serious problems, find someone experienced in similar situations, perhaps a therapist, special-education teacher, or doctor. Just remember: the idea isn’t to “fix” your child, but to help the whole family learn to appreciate each other and be their own best selves.
Watch Out for Subconscious Favoritism
Be especially careful in a multi-child family where you have more in common with some of your offspring than with others. It’s easy to give one party more attention or approval without realizing it. And it’s just as bad to obsess over giving everyone the identical amount of time, gifts, or hugs, when kids also differ on how much of each they prefer.
To head off problems here, make sure all your children stay aware you love them and are always available to hear their concerns. If they trust you’ll listen and take them seriously, they can be your best alert system for stopping a slide into favoritism.
Far more important than the “exactly how” is that everyone feels appreciated and valued for whom they are. Make a point of getting to know your children as individuals, and of understanding that every individual has priceless contributions to make. Any family can become all-around close in its own way, regardless of differences between its members.