My kids are so different from each other. Some researchers have used birth order to describe some of these differences, but I tend to think that stress hormones during pregnancy and early childhood are more responsible. During my wife’s first pregnancy, we were living in a small, seven hundred square foot home in a lower income area of town. I lost my job several weeks before she was born, and was unemployed for three months after she came to us. In some respects, it was good to be around to help with the baby during those first couple months, but the stress of the firing didn’t help my wife relax.
Like all first-time parents, we didn’t know what we were doing. My wife worked in daycare when she was younger, and studied early childhood education when she was younger, so she has more experience dealing with kids that I do. Still, we fretted over sleeping arrangements, worried about SIDS and whether it was safe to co-sleep. My wife nursed, and the constantly re-evaluated whether to have a bassinet in the bedroom, keep the kid in her crib, or let her sleep in the bed. Her maternal instincts were often at odds with my sleep needs, and I was constantly trying to sleep train the kid.
After our daughter was old enough that we could start thinking about weaning, I ferberized our baby. This procedure, named after one Dr. Ferber, hypothesizes that the reasons young children have problems falling asleep is because they aren’t conditioned to do so on their own. Ferber’s method is to leave the child alone in their room for increasing lengths of time, five, ten, fifteen, and so on, until the child finally falls asleep on their own. I had no problem following this plan. Listening to my child cry for a few minutes in order for the promise of sweet, sweet, sleep for my wife and I was worth it. My wife, however, found it very difficult to bear.
The first night, it took me over forty-five minutes for my daughter to fall asleep, so it must have been when I set my timer for twenty minutes. After a few more nights of progressive success, our child was able to go to sleep without much fuss. Now my wife and I have differing accounts as to the ultimate success of my attempts, so whether she stayed asleep throughout the night or whether this is all a sleep-addled delusion on my part is very well up in the air.
We moved into a larger house before we decided to have our second child. The two girls are four years apart in age. I’ve been gainfully employed since our first was born, and my wife scheduled regular prenatal massages during her pregnancy. And the way we’ve handled our second daughter has been completely different that our first. First off, we were way less worried about SIDS, and my wife eventually began co-sleeping very early on, purchasing bed rails and special pillows to prevent any falls. We introduced daughter number two to solid foods very early, letting her gnaw on large pieces of vegetables long before she had teeth. And my attempts to sleep train her have been rebuffed by my wife.
I must have spent well over a year sleeping on the guest bed, giving my wife and younger daughter the master king size to themselves. My daughter had a tendency to sprawl horizontally across the mattress, pushing her feet or knees into my back. And she also wants to fall asleep with an arm or leg on top of me or her mother, and sometimes, if she finds that she’s not in contact with one of us, she’ll swing an arm across her body. I’ve gotten more than one hand across the face after coming to bed.
So she’s almost four now, and even when we get her to fall asleep after laying with her in her own bed. She always wakes up a few hours later, crying, before coming to find her mother. My oldest child has no problems falling asleep know.
All of this is just a long way of getting to the point about the differences between the these two during the rest of the day. Our oldest child is very difficult, mostly pessimistic, and very headstrong. My wife, taking the feminist perspective, says this latter quality means that she’s got leadership potential, but we both agree that she is extremely negative and unpleasant. I struggle with her behavior. My parenting style, inherited from my father, is rather authoritarian. She rebels, much as I did, and I’ve browsed books on child behavior with words like defiant and oppositional in the title.
Number two is like the sun to her sister’s moon. She usually cheery, happy, and helpful. This morning I was meditating while she was in the kitchen eating breakfast. She was having a conversation with herself and imaginary friends, singing songs, making up stories. It was all so rapid-fire, and it make me think about the so-called monkey mind that I meditate to quiet.
That’s not to say that daughter number one isn’t beautiful and fun to be around. I just wonder if we broke her somehow. I read once about childhood stresses causing changes in the amygdala, affecting behavior throughout life. It causes individuals to be very responsive to stressors and respond negatively. I would also describe it as a lack of resilience.
So she’s a challenge, as all children are. My boss has two girls who are both in their teens, and he listens to my stories and responds with a “you have no idea what you’re in for”. Perhaps not, but all I can do now is be the best dad that I can be, give my girls my love and do everything I can to make sure they have the skills to be kind to others and successful in life.