I sometimes wish I was with a different child.  I sometimes wish I was with one of my other kids!

This confession requires me to be courageously honest, and I’ve found great freedom in being courageously honest.

When I am doing something with one of my kids, I often have the feeling that I wish I were with one of my other children. The activity we are sharing is not really connecting with me and neither is the child. I’m desperately trying to be “present” – whatever that means! – but my heart is just not in it. I have three incredible children, whom I love equally – but I also have favourite activities to do with my limited time off and, because of personality mixes, a favourite child to do them with.

Why is this?

You don’t need to know much about people to realise that human character and personality traits vary enormously, and that some of them mix more easily than others. And what is true of adults is true of kids.

In our family, if we are going somewhere new, I know which of my three kids I want with me – the one who embraces newness and adventure as if they born reading Sir Ralph Fiennes’ autobiography! One of the others, however, reacts to newness like they were born reading a copy of the Health and Safety Guidelines for New Situations. This child’s caution is admirable, but their seemingly endless stream of sensible and practical questions drains any sense of spontaneity from new experiences. On the other hand, this child is a joy to go round a museum or science event with. They hunger for information, taking their time to soak it all in, whilst my adventurer who thrives in new situations doesn’t want to slow down and enjoy what is in front of them – meaning I can’t either!

Terrible myth

There is a terrible parenting myth that we have to enjoy being with all of our children equally, that we have to feel the same passion towards each of them in every situation. But this simply isn’t right – nor is it realistic. And if we’re honest, isn’t this true of the whole of life? – including with our partners? We enjoy doing certain activities with certain people. I dearly love my wife, but watching rugby with her is not something either of us would particularly enjoy!

It helps remove the guilt and the shame of feeling that somehow I am not doing this parenting job right by being honest about the fact that my children and I are different, with varying interests and personalities. Here are some quick questions we can ask to help us understand the uniqueness of the precious children in our lives. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but understanding things like this can help us understand why we may find it easier to be around one child than another in certain situations.

  • Do they like regular or irregular schedules?
  • Do they stress out or thrive in the face of change?
  • Are they shy or confident around new people?
  • When upset, do they go quiet or loudly express their feelings?
  • Are they indoor or outdoor types?
  • Is their cup always half full or half empty?
  • Does lots of information reassure or overwhelm them?
  • Do they like help with tasks or do they like to do things their own way?

It’s not wrong to be pleased that you have one of your kids with you, rather than another, when you are in a context where your personality and theirs mean the experience is going to be more fun. Of course, our love for each child should remain constant, even if our enjoyment in a given situation does not. The context may affect how I feel about hanging out with them, but the context does not affect my love for them.

Some practical tips for enjoying time together and celebrating everyone’s uniqueness:

  • Don’t feel guilty having different enjoyment levels with each child – but make your time together about them. Even if you are not enjoying it, help them to enjoy what you are doing.
  • Do something you like with each child and be open to learning to enjoy new activities with each child.
  • Spend the same amount time with each child!
  • Include them all. Even if you think one of your children will not enjoy the next activity you’ve planned…still, offer to include them. Don’t assume they don’t want to join in.
  • Don’t use labels or nicknames, saying things like, “Here comes my sporty girl,” or “Here is my book worm”. Children don’t need roles or labels – they can mean they feel like they have to play that role and can be really limiting to their self-esteem.
  • Praise their uniqueness, and be comfortable about yours, so that you make them feel great for being them.  

Being a parent is not easy, so I offer you a warm invitation to join me sign up for my weekly newsletter. In which I share a weekly parenting ‘fail’ and ‘success’ and a number of questions and activity to help you be a courageously, honest parent.