Monday, September 01, 2008

Answering Reader Mail

My friend Ben, a recent (but not so recent anymore, darn, how time flies) parent, wrote me a question, to which I have several kinds of answers. First, the quick one.

Do you think having a second child has made you a better parent…


… to the first?


Now, the more considered answer. Um. Uh. Well. Hmmm. I guess I’d say, “Yes, but not in the ways the first might understand.”
See, in general I think that more experience is a good thing and makes you better at what you do. But it only works in a straightforward way when you have complete-able projects. As in, the second time you make an omelet you’ll be better at it than the first. But this is more like starting a second banquet after serving the appetizer in the first. And the question is, how does the first meal fare in this process?
Any analogy, though, falls short of the mark, because the question centers around being a good or better parent, and who is to be the judge of that? Child one, child two, partner, self, outsiders? No idea.
Also, there are so many odd factors that are hard to take into account, the major one being the health of family members, which now has an(other) added element of surprise.
But I think the one think I can semi-safely say, in a more or less hedgy way, is that having another child makes you more of a unit. What adjective you use is up to you: self-contained or hermit-like. What I’ve observed in ourselves and others is that a single child is far more likely to be dragged into adult activities because adults outnumber him or her by two to one (or, in the case of a single parent, the numbers are even). And those damn “What to Expect” books play a very authoritarian role.
With a second child, the parental guidebooks remain unread and are seen from a deepened perspective. And the kids now dictate more of the family’s activities.

Anyway, back to my answer. Yes, it makes you a better parent (as I see parenting) to the first because you are more likely to make the first more independent and responsible and allow him or her a bigger voice in what happens in the family. But whether the first a) sees this and b) sees this as a plus, remains doubtful.

So go ahead and have another kid (if that's where your question is headed) so you can finally use all those other great names you came up with but had to discard.

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