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The Contrarian

My son gets it honestly. He comes from a long line of contrarians. I'm a contrarian. His grandfathers are contrarians. Their fathers before them were grumpy, opinionated men known to swear oaths against feel-good holidays, policy matters, or even just generally out the window at other drivers. It's in his blood.

I'm trying to cut him some slack. Every day he comes home from school exhausted, hungry, and wanting to relax. Inevitably, there is conflict with his sister. Over toys. Over the tv. Over sharing time with me. Which is understandable because I barely get to see him. He's on the bus within an hour of waking up and is often back in bed within 3 hours of arriving home. Being a kindergartener is a full-time job.

The shift in parenting situation is altering my views though--which doesn't necessarily make me happy. It's altering my opinion about the duties the school system owes in taking care of our children. It's altering my opinions about the quality time parents spend with their kids. And it's altering my views about the personalities of them. I'm not saying my daughter is a perfect little princess when her brother isn't around, but we have long periods of uninterrupted conversation, she's less moody, better behaved, and the time with her is fantastic. It's tough dropping a kid. I sometimes feel like I'm parenting an only child and when I do have two kids around it can be unpleasant. Which is totally unfair that I now have all this time to bond with my youngest and find my oldest a burden due to the crazy all-day academic schedule we throw at him. It makes me feel guilty--which is natural but still uncomfortable. It's gotten bad enough that I took a book out of the library the other day...the parenting "expert" genre is not something I usually go for...but a book about solving sibling conflict seemed to be speaking to me from the bookshelves. (I'll possibly review that in a future post.)

We run a fairly democratic home. So, on most matters, a majority simply wins and that's all there is to it. 3 votes in favor of something and you're just going to have to suck it up and go along. But it seems silly to drag an unwilling 5 year old to the grocery when they don't want to go. Despite being outvoted they can make life miserable for the family majority.

Last weekend, while their mom was away for the day, I volunteered to walk them up the street to the movie theater to see a kid film. Complete with popcorn, lemonade, it sounded like a fun outing. Not for my son. He wanted to ride the train somewhere. For what? It was cold and rainy and the park he'd requested was out. He suggested a restaurant. But I felt trapped and we ended up doing nothing. (Well, actually, we baked cookies instead and it went great.) 2 of us wanted to go to the movies, but I wasn't going to drag him kicking and screaming to ruin it for us. My daughter took it like a champ and I promised to take only her another time. She's really (despite some tantrums otherwise) quite reasonable when you talk to her, I'm finding. I've noticed that times where the family conversation breaks down in shouting are less likely to happen when it's just her. But let's also chalk that up to us knowing what presses her buttons and that she loves attention. You have to speak her language--and that's harder when her brother is present. A brother who, by the way, has his own "language" you have to know. It's like the two-headed monster in the back of the family car.

It was the same yesterday when I asked whether they wanted to walk to the train station on a beautiful, sunny day to pick their mom up from work. My daughter gave an enthusiastic "yes." Her brother was a miserable-sounding "no." Which is perfectly fine when you're tired after school. But, going forward, we're going to have to come up with some better ground rules about the situation.

At school, they've really been hammering home to the kids that a "growth mindset" is important. If you have a negative outlook you'll never try anything new, you'll never get better, you'll never grow. My son is never quite sure what to call it--he refers to it as "the opposite of that"--but he understands the value behind wanting to grow as a person. Perhaps a taste of his own medicine is needed? It's a fine line between teaching your children to "go along to get along" and to stand up for themselves and what they believe in.

Right now, we're a little too naturally heavy on the being ok with being The Contrarian.