One style doesn’t fit all

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One style doesn’t fit all

While raising multiple kids, a unique set of parental practices need to be undertaken for each one. It’s different strokes for different folks — and we are all the better for it

By Karen Ann Monsy

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Published: Fri 29 Jun 2012, 4:09 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 3:03 PM

It’s a river bend that mums and dads know instinctively to navigate, and however much some folks may deny it, the fact is: you just can’t raise two children exactly the same way. The more the number of kids under your roof, the more you will stumble upon newer parenting tactics for bringing up the babies in their own little diverse ways.

Even kids grow up to realise what they’d interpreted as partiality may just have been a different approach. But in the lovable, tantrum-throwing, ankle-clinging, sticky-fingered game of rearing kids, it seems approach may be everything.

‘Strictly’ speaking

As a single parent in the 80s, American expat Katie Foster reckons she must have been charged with playing favourites not less than four times, probably more. “When they were very young, each of my kids [two sons and two daughters] had at one time told me I loved one of the others more than them. I’d deny it, of course, but usually it was because they were being asked to do something they didn’t particularly want to do,” she notes.

Motherhood was a process of evolution — and Katie moved up the learning curve, one kid at a time. “I didn’t have a clue what I was doing with the first one,” she says. “I’d read all the books, of course, but it’s not the same as being hands-on. You get a little smarter each time though.”

Now a grandmother of six and a Dubai resident, Katie describes herself as a “strict mother… lovingly” but has a little confession to make: she admits she was “tougher on the girls” — perhaps because she found them easier to understand. “There were times when I had to sit down with the boys and say, ‘You need to tell me what’s going on here because I don’t get it.’ On the other hand, I could always tell what the girls were thinking or going through and why.”

So when her daughters started dating, Katie would often run the dates by her best friend (who happened to be dean of the girls’ school and therefore knew a bit about those ‘dates’) and ask her if she’d let her own daughter go out with a particular guy — something she didn’t do with her sons.

Her youngest son was four when she divorced. “By the time I had Tommy, I’d mellowed down… But even though we were ‘buddies’, he knew he had to behave…”

What Katie says she has learnt about parenting is that you never know what will work — and you won’t know it till your kids have kids of your own. “I think a parent has to just stay the course that they think is right, be fair and be concerned about the future of the children… but don’t be afraid to push them a little out of their comfort zone.”


English-born Kellie Whitehead couldn’t agree more. The owner of Mama Media, specialising in marketing for parenting and family-led lifestyle businesses, she feels, in parenting, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ formula. A “hands-off” mother to her own three kids, Kellie’s policy is to be aware of everything that’s happening with the kids’ schools and friends — but from a distance. “We’re all very pressured, kids and parents alike, to do what people think is the right thing to do. But happy moms make happy kids. So I think it’s quite important to find a parenting style that suits you and your family while keeping everybody safe, happy and loved,” she explains.

At the same time, she says, her three kids — Hermione (11), Charlie (6) and James (5) — are so different that it’s “impossible” to adopt a common approach while dealing with them. “Every parent is different and, more to the point, every kid is different.” Illustrating her point, Kellie tends to “take her eyes off Hermione a bit more” because she’s so independent. “I’m very conscious of spending time with her since her brothers take up so much of my time,” she says. “The boys have only 15 months between them but they’re very much a handful... So it’s a matter of managing their behaviour and needs as well — everything from making sure they try new foods and activities to keeping them from throttling each other.”

Does the youngest get a little more consideration? “No, he doesn’t because it’s usually him causing the trouble — though my daughter will tell you the boys get away with murder,” Kellie quips.

“Kiss one, quick, kiss the other!”

Stark differences in character are a factor even in identical twins, says British stay-at-home mum Sophie Tannous. As far as her own two-year-old twin boys are concerned though, she’s been very careful to be “equal” with them since the day they were born. “I treat my twins exactly the same but they are different in terms of their behaviour and preferences,” she explains. “Sebastian is quite a fussy eater whereas Ethan will try anything. Nevertheless they will have the same meals with individual preferences added to the meals. Ethan likes problem solving and puzzles while Sebastian loves reading books — but we will do both activities together. Probably as they get older, I will treat them differently...”

The boys’ emotional needs are also changing, she notes, which means she has to adapt accordingly. “One of my boys is going through a very clingy stage at the moment so I’m very mindful that the other shouldn’t feel left out. So right now, it’s sort of kiss one, quick, kiss the other!” she laughs.

Raising the boys together with her Lebanese husband, Sophie realises that “positive teaching rather than shouting and telling off” is what works with the twins so far. “Ethan sometimes takes Sebastian’s toys but I teach them both lessons in sharing. I find praising the one who’s being good works much better than reprimanding the one who’s taking the toys. In that way, I’m a very calm mum. Other parents of twins generally find it hard to believe that’s possible, but this is the most challenging, rewarding and fun job I’ve ever had!”

Changing times

While different approaches are all well and good, too much of a difference may well backfire. The oldest of four children (three girls and a boy) to Indian-Pakistani parents, 32-year-old Sarah Fatima Ahmed grew up in a home that emphasised equality among all the kids. “Mom and Dad never thought us [the girls] any less than our brother, although there was a lot of pressure from the family back home as to why they were spending so much on educating us at the best schools instead of saving for our weddings. Dad, however, insisted that what he’d do for his son, he’d do for his daughters too — something that makes me feel blessed to have such parents,” Sarah says.

Still, the family was not without its share of squabbles over matters like ‘favouritism’. “I’m my daddy’s darling daughter to date, which is probably where it all started,” Sarah feels. “I think because Mom felt Dad was supporting me all the time and ‘neglecting’ the second child, she had to support her more. My second sister is therefore my mom’s darling — though Mom keeps insisting she treated all of us the same.”

Sarah remembers the rules were not the same for all the kids. “Being the first child, both my parents were quite strict with me. I was allowed a driver’s licence after school, for example, but a car and mobile only after I was done with college and got my own job. My brother, on the other hand, is only 14 but he uses a BlackBerry! I think the first child is almost always the experimental child. It’s after the first one that parents tend to get more liberal.”

And that wouldn’t just be the case with her parents either. “I think I too will turn out to be just like that with my first daughter,” adds Sarah, who is mum to 20-month-old Zoya.

Being ‘allowed’

Coming from a family of six siblings, Australian Rashelle Terri Leahy has a defence if anyone complains she talks too fast. “It’s because when I was younger I knew that if I had to get my mum’s attention and tell her everything I wanted to in one go, I’d have to speak really fast because there were five others trying to interrupt!”

The 27-year-old can easily testify how parenting styles change with generations and time because her own family is a study in the subject. “Mum was easier on the older two, especially my older brother when he had leukaemia at 16. My folks were very strict with my twin sister, myself and the sister after us but I respect them for that. At the time I didn’t understand but now I do so, because I have two kids of my own and am pregnant with No. 3. That’s it though — I’m not going for six!” she jokes. “And now, my youngest sister is allowed to do whatever she wants. I think it’s because my mum is tired and because there were so many of us teenage girls, so she doesn’t want to argue anymore! I’m on my mum’s case about it all the time and she goes: ‘You just wait till you have teenage girls and then come talk to me!’”

With a difference of 16 years between her oldest and youngest siblings, there was also a noted difference in who was allowed what — something that can be fodder for argument even today. Rashelle takes the example of their schooling to illustrate. “My older brother and sister didn’t finish high school, the three of us after them did and my youngest sister hasn’t finished grade 10. So it’s very different as to who was ‘allowed’. In my mind, we were not even to consider not finishing Grade 12. I argue with my mother constantly about that because I see how not having a university degree has limited me extensively in the job sector.”

But Rashelle admits her own approach with her kids is quite different as well. “With my first child Mia, I was a stay-at-home mum so I was stricter on her when she was young. I’ve been back at work since my second child was six months old, so I’m probably easier on her because I feel guilty for not being able to spend as much time with her.”

Raising kids well can be done in many ways and is a job that’s part joy, part guerrilla warfare — but one with no losers either way.

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