The apples didn't fall far from the trees, but it's fair to say they've rolled away a little. So as a parent, I often have to remind myself that my children—my own flesh and blood, the ones I've helped to nurture and raise—are people, just like anybody else.
They're real people, which means I have to work to relate to them just like I work to relate to others. Which means that the relating won't always feel like second nature.
Just like anybody else on the planet, each of my kids has a personality that I both enjoy and endure. They make choices I admire and argue about. They hold opinions that match and disagree with my own. Their attitudes I cheer for and despise.
Some things about each of them are easy for me to understand; others I can't begin to comprehend. Some days we get along just fine; others aren't so pretty.
Four kids, four different people. I have a God-given love for all of them—so fierce that I can't begin to explain it. Yet my relationships with each of them are distinct, because each one craves love in a vastly different way.
So it's one of those classic parental balancing acts: how do you care for and discipline and teach and cherish your kids differently without getting tricked by the differences?
How do you show the same love in different ways without things looking like favoritism? Without things turning into favoritism?
If parents take sides unfairly or show favoritism among their children, this often happens because the parent, whether they realize it or not, chooses an easy way out.
When love gets complicated, these moms and dads are partial to the child most like themselves. Rather than having to wrap their brain around a different way of thinking or a dissimilar personality type, they go with what they know instead.
So the dad who's introverted sides with the daughter who keeps to herself. The mom who was rebellious has extra sympathy for the son who doesn't follow the rules. The parents favor what's familiar, and in doing so they avoid having to do any extra work of adapting or understanding.
But if as parents we're not careful to step outside ourselves and seek what's best for our kids, we establish patterns that lead to jealousy and resentment in the family. We also miss the chance to become better ourselves.
Many times the children who are least like us are the best at helping to sharpen our skills at relationships. They force us to exercise our minds, to approach issues from new angles. As a result, we become more well-rounded people and more effective parents.
Our children are different and they're different from us—that's the strain and the beauty of it. And if we seek to love them based on love rather than based on ourselves, we'll find that the love is only better because of the differences.
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