The One Crucial Reason I Adjust My Parenting Style with Each Child

It's easier and more intuitive than you think.

mom looking at teen daughter

Photo by Dana Tezarr/Getty Images

Photo by Dana Tezarr/Getty Images

Before I had kids, I knew exactly how to parent. I would look at toddlers throwing fits in restaurants and think “can’t those parents control them? I would never allow that.”

I would never was a common thought in my head. Before you have kids it’s easy to say how you will do it, until you are in the thick of colic, kids who say “no” to you no matter how many times you say that’s not okay, and the mind-of-their-own tween and teen years.

When I experienced those kid milestones, the I-would-never statements become I’m-so-sorry statements to any parent I ever judged. I had no idea! It’s easy to judge or get set in your ways in your parenting philosophies, until it’s your turn to follow through with them.

The twist is when you have several children, and they are each behave so very differently. What “works” with one child often doesn’t with another. My oldest was [fill the blank] so I thought [fill the blank] would work with the second. Boy was I wrong! Have you ever had that conversation with your friends? I sure have.

The Old Way Isn’t the Only Way

Why do we feel like the way we were taught to parent or whatever formed our philosophy is the end all be all, and we stick to it even if it negatively impacts our kids? If that philosophy was great for your sister and her kids, but isn’t working for yours, it’s OK. They have a different set of genes, and they are people, and people—no matter how small—have emotions and ways of handling situations.

Different Parenting Style for Each Kid? How?

I heard it said that if you have multiple children, each one grows up with different parents. What does that mean? Well physically, they are the same, and the core values of the family are the same, but each child feels love differently, hears things differently, and relates to their parents differently, and the parent should act accordingly.

One child could feel washed in love while the other doesn’t feel love at all—not because the parent isn’t showing love, but because they are only showing it one way. The problem is only one child feels loved in that way, and another doesn’t.

Focus on the Unique Relationship First

So now you’re probably feeling like me, overwhelmed and thinking, “Parenting is hard enough! Now you are telling me I should raise each child differently?!” To that I say try to be OK with getting to know your child as an individual, and understanding how to correct, guide, and love them will come more naturally.

It’s about having a specific, unique relationship with each child, and being OK with it evolving and changing throughout the years (just like we grow and change). Not only will your parenting be specific to each child, but it will also ebb and flow with time.

What I’ve Learned with My Four Kids

I have four unique children. My oldest isn’t even my blood (he’s my stepson, but we don’t say “step”), but I have always thought of him as mine. It makes it trickier for me to know how to parent him at times, especially now that he is almost 18. We went through a few rough years, and I am the first to admit that I don’t think we made all the right choices in discipline, rules, or handling certain teen-like situations. I often feel the “I wish” emotion coming on (better known as guilt).

The thing I have to remember is that I was doing my best, and what I felt was right then. I wouldn’t necessarily do it the same now, but that’s a part of life.

Learning, growing, changing and that’s also what parenting is. My oldest and I have great conversations, and I am open with him about my life and challenges. That’s something my mom was not with me. I kept secrets from her because she wasn’t open with me and that made me feel awkward telling her about my life. Teens, by nature, keep secrets from their parents. Knowing that we are real people that are evolving can help them feel more comfortable to come to us when needed.   

How to Evolve & Deal with Pressures from Others

I am continually working to be a better mom, including learning from the changes in life and the “bummer I reacted that way” moments. I am working on the ways I respond to my kids, the way I put down my screens and look into their eyes, the way I lead by example and the way I ask for forgiveness when I hurt their feelings or do something wrong.

Whatever pressure you may be feeling from family, community, or other source, ask yourself if you are helping or hindering each child. If one of your kids needs something different than the other, that’s OK, and if it is contrary to the expectation that’s OK, too. If the family’s core values stay the same, the implementation and delivery can change

Remember: You’ve got this! Enjoy your individual beautiful gifts.

Kacee Bree Jensen is the founder of Let's Talk Teens, a place parents and teens can go to find resources and tools to navigate the modern world we are living in. Kacee is a youth advocate, speaker, contributor, parenting coach, and mom of four including a teen, who has spent the last 16 years helping families, schools, and communities across the country navigate the ups and downs of the teen years.