Writer: LESLIE HARRISON / Small Town Kids / Summer 2016
Our three children are each spaced 2.35 years apart. The age gap between my oldest and youngest is approximately five years. When they were younger, this resulted in the following pattern: racing to the eldest’s activity, keeping the middle child from getting into mischief and feeding-changing-rocking the baby.
The challenges then were more physical, like wrestling kids into car seats, sitting them down, getting them up, fetching what their little hands couldn’t reach and tending to their every injury (real or imagined).
Fast forward to the present. I now share space with two teenagers, a pre-teen and a world of hormones! Now, I’m tasked with giving our children the room they need in order to become their own person, while simultaneously being there to catch them if they fall, ask for help or need unsolicited advice.
My oldest has his wings spread and is ready to take that big leap on his own while my sweet little girl is just peering over the edge of the nest.
Their ages dictate their privileges and responsibilities
I’m a middle child. I totally relate to “you’re too young” to do such-and-such and the “you’re too old” to be doing this-and-that. My older sibling is eight years my senior so I was usually lumped into activities with my sister who is three years younger than me. It really bothered me that my little sister was allowed to do the same things, but at a younger age, that I did. The experience shapes my parenting philosophy today.
Here’s a perfect example. My oldest child received a cell phone when he was in the sixth grade. Two years later my middle child received a cell phone when he was in the sixth grade. Two years later, and right on schedule, my youngest received a phone at the same point in her life. Although virtually all of the other kids in her grade already had a phone, the age when cell phone privileges start in our family had already been determined.
It was important, out of fairness as much as pragmatic thinking, that our children understood that privileges are sometimes based on age.
The older they become, the more I expect of them and the more responsibility I place on their shoulders. And they face greater consequences for not following through.
Every day I’m acutely aware that I have little time left to train my oldest child before he leaves for college. I shudder that he doesn’t know basics such as making sure not to drive with the car trunk open (true story) and that stocking a bathroom with toilet paper is not optional.
He is assigned adult chores and gets less of a pass if they aren’t completed timely or to my satisfaction. I expect more of him than I do of my younger kids and I’m constantly thinking about how I can help him figure out things so he can deal with life when he is on his own.
The age differences between our children are especially challenging during family getaways. When they were younger, my husband and I usually split the kids up. He usually had the older two and I kept the youngest. We then approached our separate activities in an age-appropriate manner.
While vacationing in Banff, Canada, the boys hopped into a canoe with my husband and paddled around a beautiful lake. In my canoe, we really didn’t do much paddling. My daughter enjoyed dropping her paddle overboard and watching me fetch it. Seeing her adorable face peeking over a life vest that practically enveloped her made the arduous task worth it.
During a more recent vacation to Mexico, my husband and one of our sons went riding on personal watercrafts while my daughter and I placed our feet in tanks filled with Garra Rufa fish who “nibbled” on our skin. We liked the tickling sensation of the fish so much that we went back later.
Raising children of different ages and stages of development is challenging. Being conscious of their personalities, capabilities and maturity levels is important. Rising to the occasion with patience, fairness and understanding makes the road (and road trip) much more pleasant and will create experiences your family will fondly remember.