When my daughters participated in a soccer—I prefer to call it football—program that came to their daycare centre, I was the proud mother of children who played soccer. Now that we have entered the Age of Activities, I am a bona fide soccer mom, shuttling M and J to soccer practice and games. Well, I would shuttle them to games if I could find the elusive soccer field, which I did not do this past Saturday. That was a rather epic soccer mom failure on my part. The coach assures me it will be okay as I long as I get them to their second match.
My overachieving 6-year-olds are also taking piano lessons after school, which thankfully requires no driving on my part. The group lessons are held at their school. They continue to take dance lessons, ballet and tap this year, in contrast to last year’s ballet and jazz dance. The dance school is within walking distance of my house, so driving the girls is optional, although accompanying them is not.
When J came home with a note from school about Girl Scouts last week and begged to join, my immediate reaction was to yell, “Are you kidding me?” but I suppressed that response.
J has her moments, certainly, but she has been nothing but helpful when it comes to getting to her activities. She packs her bag when appropriate, gets dressed without a fuss, and even lets me put her hair into a ponytail for soccer and dance. I know she would much rather wear a headband, but she understands the need to pull her hair out of her face. The only time she’s made us late for something, it was because she had an unanticipated bathroom crisis.
M, on the other hand, has been angry a lot recently, for reasons I’ll get into another day. She hasn’t been quite as cooperative as I would like her to be. On Saturday morning, for instance, she flailed her arms and legs and screamed that she hated me because, in my efforts to help her into her soccer uniform, I had allowed her shorts to touch her belly button for the briefest instant. I confess that after that, being unable to find the soccer game sent me calling my mother-in-law in tears, sitting in my car with the girls in an empty parking lot next to where I thought the game was to be.
My mother-in-law told me that like me, she loved M, but was well aware that her temper can get the better of her. She warned me not to let the consequences of M’s decisions negatively impact J. Her advice firmed up an idea I’d been playing with.
Tonight, at the Girl Scout roundup hosted at our school, I signed J up for Girl Scouts. I didn’t sign M up. I told M that, if she could get ready for dance, soccer and piano without a fuss through the end of the month, we would revisit her participation in Girl Scouts. For now, I thought she had as many activities as she could handle. She needed to handle them well before we could consider adding any more.
M was a little disappointed, but handled this consequence of her actions with grace. She repeated back to me the terms under which she could join the Girl Scouts. Clearly, Mommy and Grammy’s point had made an impression. We’ll see whether that impression lasts.
For years, I have been careful to treat my girls equally, trying to evenly divide my time, my attention, treats, punishments and all the little things that go into a child’s life. The fact is, though, that they’re different people, with different personalities and different incentives. While I don’t intend to let go of the ideal of equality any time soon, I also need to take a more nuanced approach to parenting than one-size-fits-both.
How do you handle it when your children have differing discipline needs?
Sadia is habitually late to soccer practice and other activities in Central Texas, where her 6-year-old identical twin daughters run her ragged. She escapes the soccer mom treadmill to her job as a business analyst.