wasting time and musings on sibling favoritism

I’m supposed to be reading chapters 2 & 4 of Understanding Labor Law. But it’s an e-book, and I left my galaxy tab on all day and I haven’t charged my Nook since starting school in September. So I’ve got to wait for a device to charge.

I’m kinda bummed today because John and I had a little miscommunication. He thought when I suggested he take split days off and watch Kidling during one of the days I’m in school I meant he should split his days between both days I’m in school — ie, that none of our days off would be shared. That’s not what I meant. Unfortunately, since our schedules are so misaligned, we only get to see each other for about 3 hours a day, generally speaking. So we haven’t really had a chance to even address the fact there was a misunderstanding until he’d already arranged to take split days off for the days I’m in class.

I’m hoping we’ll be able to work it out and fix his schedule, because I pretty much push myself through the rest of the week looking forward to Sundays. I don’t know how I could handle all this without having that family day.

Anyway, I was a little short with Kidling right after I found that out, and then I felt bad for taking my bad mood out on him. So we spent the evening until his bedtime cuddling and watching YouTube videos. I helped him make another Ugly Dance (it’s a website, it’s kinda cute) and showed him how to attach pictures in an email. He wrote an email to his grandma with pictures of our last few family outings and a link to his Ugly Dance, and then he found an email she’d sent him a few weeks ago in his inbox. That got him pretty excited.

Right before he went to bed, he turned and looked at me and said, “I’m lucky to have parents like I do, and I’m really grateful for that.”

I was kind of surprised at this out of the blue compliment — especially considering I didn’t have the maturity to realize how much my parents did for me until I was about 22 — and I kind of smiled at him and said, “What do you mean?”

“Well,” he said, “Most parents don’t buy their kids all the cool stuff you guys do. I mean, my friends don’t have x-box live and a computer and a typewriter. And most of my friends don’t get to have special family days where they all go out to some kind of cool place, and stuff like that.”

I laughed a little and said, “Well, hon, I appreciate the compliment, but that’s less that we’re awesome parents and more that you’re an only child.”

He tilted his head and said, “Because more kids would cost more, right? Because you have to –” he wiggled his hand expressively “– feed them and stuff, right?”

“Yes,” I agreed. “You have to feed them, clothe them, buy them school supplies. But it’s more than just the necessities. It’s that when you have kids and you buy one kid one thing, you have to get something of equivalent worth for the other kid to be fair. It’s a balancing act. When I was little, if my parents gave me a doll for Christmas, they’d give my little sister one, too, but with different color hair. Or if they bought me a pink dress, they’d buy her a blue dress. They never treated one of us better than the other, and that’s good. Like, say you had a brother, right? And let’s say I bought your brother a nice brand-new bicycle, but I didn’t give you one. How would you feel?”

He thought about it for a minute and frowned. “Bad. Like, why does he get a bike and I don’t?”

“Right,” I said. “And how would you feel if I bought you both bikes, but I bought him a brand new one and I bought you one that was all broken down and sad?”

He shook his head, his frown growing. “I’d feel like you didn’t like me as much.”

“That’s right,” I said. “On top of that, look at your friends — Teddy doesn’t get along with his brother so well, does he?”

“No,” said Kidling. “They just fight all the time and they’re always stealing each others stuff and calling each other names.”

“Yep. But Remus and Romulus aren’t like that, are they?”

“No,” said Kidling. “They’re best friends.”

“Yeah, but you don’t know if your sibling is going to be someone you like and get along with and would want to be friends with whether or not you were related, or whether they’re just the person you share a gene pool with until later. And while you’re figuring all that out, you have to live together and share a home.”

“I’m really glad,” Kidling interrupted, “That you let me have a choice, because none of my friends got a choice. They just have brothers or sisters and it seems like most of them don’t even like their brothers, and I would feel really bad if I had a brother I didn’t like and you treated him nicer than me.”

“Well, what if you had a brother you did like, and we treated you nicer than him? How would you feel then?”

“Bad,” he said decisively. “You should be fair. If I had a brother I got along with and you made him mad at me because you were being nicer to me, that would be worse.”

“Yep,” I said. “So that’s part of it, too. We stopped with you because if we had more kids, we wouldn’t be able to spoil you like we do. It’s not right to get one kid better or more stuff than another kid; you have to be fair. And if we can’t afford a computer for each of you, or you don’t get along well enough to share a computer . . . well, then, obviously there wouldn’t be any computers for you then, would there?”

I guess he was tired of the heavy discussion at this point, because he fake-fainted to the floor and began dramatically death-twitching at the idea of not having a computer, so I tickle-monstered him until he fled to the bedroom.

I’ve often wondered how my parents did it. How they made fairness such an ingrained part of our lives that I didn’t even realize some parents treated their kids drastically differently until I was out in the world. When I tell Kidling these examples out loud, when I explain that my sister and I got similar gifts, it sounds so cookie cutter and cold. Like my parents just went out and bought two of everything, but that’s not it. They did buy us very different gifts, gifts that were tailored to our personalities and interests — but they never got us presents that outshone someone elses’ in worth.

I’m not talking about financial value or worth here, because there were plenty of times we got inexpensive or downright cheap gifts. I’m talking about emotional worth. Like the time my mom sewed an empire waist dress styled after one of Audrey Hepburn’s outfits in War and Peace, or the time my dad bought me one of those expensive library display dictionaries for my birthday. Those types of gifts were chosen with me in mind, with my interests and my appreciations at the forefront. Mom sewed a swing-style dress for my little sister another year, and my parents once bought a dresser for her and made it over in the shabby-chic style she liked. There are stories like that for each of the kids, of gifts that were hand-made, refurbished, or carefully selected with that specific child in mind.

My parents would never buy one kid a brand new, expensive something — stealing from the example above, a bike — and then buy the next kid a beat up piece of shit. They would either not buy any kid a bike, or buy all the kids used but reliable bikes, or do without themselves to make sure all the kids had brand new bikes. And again, it’s not the financial value of the gift that’s the big deal here — it’s what it says. It’s the message it sends, the message of either:

  1. All you kids are equally important to us, and we treasure each of your individual talents and worths, or 
  2. Hey, only this one kid is special to us, out of all of you. This one, that we buy all the nice stuff for, this is the one we like. You guys get used goods and leftovers because that’s what you’re worth to us. We won’t even put the time into getting you gifts that reflect your interests, because that’s a waste of our time.

And to be honest, that seems to be the norm. I look at other families and I see that way too often. I see parents lavishing presents and attention and financial aid on one child, and telling the ignored kid(s) that they’re selfish or jealous, and that they don’t deserve presents anyway because they can’t be trusted or they’ll break them or whatever.

I mean, parents (in the end) are only human. They’ve got personalities and biases and weakness and, yes, favorites — just like everyone else. I don’t know that I could have been as fair and as even-handed as my parents were, and I didn’t want to cause the hurt and psychological damage to my kid that I see in the unloved, unfavored kids I meet. It’s not right to break your own kid’s spirit like that.

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