There’s something about the second kid – well, second in my case, but I guess what I really mean is the last kid – that just makes you want to baby them.
With my first, it was all about becoming a big girl and teaching her new things and looking ahead to what was next. But with the last kid, you already know what’s coming next; what’s coming next is a kid who needs you less and less, a kid who you can’t believe has gotten so big, a kid who isn’t a baby anymore and will never be again. Hence, the desire to keep them babies for as long as possible, to delay the inevitable, to make yourself feel like you still have a little one, even though you actually don’t.
My son is seven years old. He’s one of the tallest kids in his class and could easily pass for a nine year-old. He uses words like “cryptic” and “hostile” in conversation. And yet, I still put his shoes on for him every morning. I still make his bed. I still get snacks for him out of the cupboard, even though they’re in child-friendly containers at child-height. I didn’t do any of these things for my daughter when she was seven. When she turned seven, I got her an alarm clock and told her that she was old enough to get herself up and dressed every day. But my son, well, I still wake him up every morning with little baby kisses all over his head. I don’t dress him anymore, but I do put his clothes on his bed so he doesn’t have to get up and find them, and I put the toothpaste on his toothbrush for him.
Part of this is just a result of the fact that I have two very different children. My daughter is independent and strong-willed and has wanted to be sixteen since she was three. As a toddler, her favorite phrase was “my do it!” anytime I tried to do anything for her. When she was six, she asked for chores so that she could start earning an allowance. When she was eight, she took off for sleepaway camp. My son, however, is less interested in growing up. His favorite phrase has always been “you do it,” and he has no desire to earn an allowance. I have trouble even imagining a day when he would want to go away to camp.
I do realize, of course, that another part of this – perhaps a bigger part than I want to admit – is that by pushing my daughter I’ve caused her to be more independent, and by babying of my son I’ve made him feel like he’s less capable than he actually is. Which can’t be a good thing for him in the long run.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time for some tough love. It’s time for me to stop acting like he’s still three, and start treating him like the seven year-old he is. Not that I’m going to send him out to get a factory job or anything, but I think an alarm clock and a tie-your-own-shoes rule are definitely in order. I’m not going to like it, and he’s really not going to like it. But, I don’t think I have a choice. Because if I continue down this road with him, the only foreseeable outcome is that he ends up as a grown man who can’t take care of himself. And really, is there anything worse than that?