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Sunday, July 12, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ask Mr. Dad: Two kids, night and day

Armin Brott

Dear Mr. Dad: We have two sons, almost exactly three years apart. The oldest was a dream child in almost every way, but his little brother is pretty much the exact opposite. My husband and I find this surprising, since we tried to do everything with our youngest exactly the same as we did for our oldest. Why are they so different?

A: What you’re saying seems perfectly logical, but, unfortunately, there’s very little that’s logical when it comes to kids. The reality is that, just like fingerprints, snowflakes, and zebra stripes, no two children are ever going to be exactly the same – even if they’re raised by the same mom and dad in the same house. While you may believe that your younger child has grown up in the exact circumstances as his older brother, he really hasn’t. And if you think about this, it’ll start to make sense.

To start with, you and your husband are hardly the same as you were when your first baby was born. If you were like most brand new parents, you may have felt completely overwhelmed, afraid of making mistakes, panicking about every little thing, and generally not sure what to do with your baby. You probably read a ton of books and magazine articles, asked all your more experienced friends and family for their advice, and made more than a few middle-of-the-night phone calls to your pediatrician’s 24-hour advice line. But, ultimately, what got you through that first year or so was making mistakes (and you made plenty of them, just like we all do) and, more important, learning from them.

Three years later, when baby number two arrived, you were a very different – and much more confident – parent. From day one, you instinctively applied the lessons you learned from raising your oldest and you make a lot fewer mistakes (or at least different ones). You already knew what to do to sooth your baby, it didn’t take you nearly as long to decipher his cries and his behavior, you knew whose advice to take and whose to disregard, you could already change a diaper in the dark, and you may have taken the pediatrician off of speed dial. The same applies to your husband.

Even though you may be living in the same physical structure as when you were first-time parents, it’s a very different home – one where two children now live. That doesn’t sound like a big change, but your oldest spent his first three years as an only child, while your youngest has always had a sibling. Since first-borns are the center of mom’s and dad’s universe, that’s whom they model themselves after. They tend to adopt their parents’ adult mannerisms, speech patterns, and tastes. Younger kids, however, instinctively gravitate towards their older siblings and tend to take their cues about how to act, speak, and play from them.

And then, of course, there’s the issue of time. Taking care of two kids takes a lot more work and, unless you’ve managed to clone yourself, your youngest will never be able to get as much one-on-one attention from mom and dad as your oldest did. That may explain why so many parents report that their oldest children are calmer and more peaceful than subsequent ones. Younger kids learn very quickly that they have to be louder and more aggressive to get anyone to pay attention to them.

Given all that, how could your kids avoid being different? That doesn’t mean better or worse; just not the same.

Read Armin Brott’s blog at, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad.

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