Sunday, July 01, 2012

Parenting Kids of Vastly Different Ages

The photo below was taken several years ago. (Sorry about the quality ... the scanner doesn't like me much!) And, don't make me feel even worse than I already do that we haven't taken the time to have a professional, nice family photo since then ... life kinda gets in the way (as all you moms out there know all too well). And, besides ... we live in Michigan and the older two have been living in Arizona (for college) for quite some time ... one for almost four years and one for a year. So, that alone makes it a little difficult to get everyone together (aside from the hectic few days at Christmas when they're home) to schedule a professional photo session.

I met my husband in 1995. He had two children from a previous marriage ... they were five and three at the time. Christopher and Marah brought so much joy to my life (and still do!) ... and when the hubby and I married four years later, we were a family. Plain and simple. It has never mattered to me that they were not my biological children. In fact, I often refer to them as my "bonus kids." Loving them as my own has never been a hard task! 

What has posed a bit of a challenge, however, for us is the vast age-range between our kids. We didn't have our first child together (Allanah) until the older two were nine and seven. Then, we had another (Zayne) two years later. After thinking we were done and with our youngest (at the time) just two months away from entering kindergarten, we had our final child (Ayvah). So, we have children now that are twenty-two, twenty, thirteen, nine and five  That's a big span of stages and ages of the different kids to parent.

We learned early on that the same expectations and requirements would not fit every child. As we all know, it's fact enough that each child - no matter their closeness in age - has a different personality, a different way in which we deal with them and a different manner in which we parent them. That can be tricky enough.

But, parenting a toddler and a teenager (or an infant and a preteen) can take some planning, discipline (on our part as parents) and some clever ingenuity. We've had a newborn at the same time we've had a junior in high school! Obviously, the same rules don't apply.

But, what has been the challenging part is making time for each, guiding each in the developments of their own "person" ... and applying discipline and rewards fit for the appropriate stage of each one's life. Something we have tried hard to do is to allow each child to find their own interests and express their own personality. (This hasn't always been easy ... just ask our twenty-year old about the parent/child struggles during her dark period and all-black clothing phase!)   

But, we have tried to instill in each a sense of individuality and a sense of privilege based upon their age. We're dealing with one major hot-spot right now ... why the thirteen-year old can often stay up later on a school night than the almost ten-year old. We often hear, "it isn't fair that she gets to stay up later than I do!" But, we remind him that although his sister may get more flexibility in her privileges, she, also, has more on her plate and more responsibility. And, more importantly ... she is a great kid who exceeds (usually) our expectations and has EARNED these types of rewards.

Our kids have always had a chore chart or some type of planned-out, organized listing of what their expectations are in our home. Some stages of our parenting have meant a chart for the little ones on the fridge with star stickers for each task completed. Other times, it's been a poster in their rooms with their individual list of what is expected of them each day/week/month. The older ones who have more requirements earn more in not only allowance, but also, in terms of freedom and privilege.

We've always allowed and encouraged them to follow their passion ... sports, theater, band and school clubs. And, sometimes, that meant sticking it out even when they were bored of it in two weeks! They've never been allowed to quit. Never been allowed to go at it with a bad attitude ... those requirements are the same no matter the age or grade. 

And, along the way the younger ones have been able to watch the older ones ... and they learn from example. They idolize their big brothers and big sisters. We've always required that the older ones take time out of their sports schedules, their dating life and their sleeping-in-till-noon-on-the-weekend phases to spend quality time with their younger siblings.

And, therein lies the coolness of it ... now that the "younger ones" are becoming "older ones," too, they have been taught by not only our example as parents, but by the example of the kids that came before them in our household. And, when they complain sometimes about having to sit through another Dora The Explorer with their five-year old sister or play another game of Candy Land, we remind them of how much they loved the attention of their older siblings when they were that age. It's kinda neat to see. As much as possible (pending extra-curricular scheduling conflicts), we require that the older ones (who would much rather hang out with a friend or sit home in front of the t.v.) attend their younger siblings sports, band concerts, school plays and community theater events. The younger ones have had to sit through all of the older ones' activities throughout the years. So, it's only a fair show of support and respect that they do the same!

We've never been perfect ... just ask our kids! But, we've tried our hardest to parent them based on where they are at in their lives. Most of it is just following our instincts and our hearts. When our youngest was a baby, she wanted to be held constantly and didn't like napping for very long periods of time. After weeks of this, I felt like I was neglecting the older ones. But, I found a way to try to still make time for them ... even if it just meant listening to a story about their friends at school for ten minutes in the kitchen. Sometimes it meant my hubby or I staying home with the little ones while the other took the older ones to the go-cart track. Kids want your time and your attention ... and, that never changes no matter how old or grown up they become.
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