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Challenge: Perfectly Imperfect Parenting

Pancake Parenting

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My husband and I have just stumbled through a minor parenting hiccup that is probably common in the land of those with multiple children. It’s one of those hiccups that doesn’t define itself until your child points it out and, after you scoff a bit, you think Oh, shoot, I think I may have flubbed here.

In this case, it was the lesson where we had compared one sibling to another just one time too many and were then reminded, quite firmly, that the two were very different people.

And, of course, we know that.

Truthfully, I wouldn’t even say we were so much comparing our two children as we were verbalizing how we were really going to nail the whole parenting thing this time around. I suppose that sometimes it is easier to compare one child’s rearing to the next in terms of the child, rather than in terms of how we have grown as parents. It almost feels like a failure to admit that, yes, we are getting better at parenting from child to child.

It’s not news, right? That those in the parenting circuit get better at parenting as we add more children to the fray? There is nothing wrong with admitting that. We are not failures because we are better today than we were in our first chapter of parenting. Isn’t it quite normal, after all, to get better at something with experience? I bake a much better cake than I did the first time. I haven’t turned an entire load of laundry light red in years. I no longer stare off into space while trying to crack the code on clean bedrooms. Now, I mostly just shut the doors to those bedrooms and carry on with my day.

We get better the more times we do something, including raising our children.

There are noted differences between a first-born child, a last-born child, and any in-betweeners. Ask any psychologist and they will likely tell you that firstborns are pleasers, last-borns have the longest leashes, and middle children are basically a crapshoot. Firstborns feel pressure for perfection, perhaps sensing their new parents’ by-the-book approach. Last-borns are more free-spirited as the book has long since been tossed. Middle children stress about where they actually do fit in, with no title of “oldest” or “youngest.” The firsts tend to be trailblazers. The middles tend to hold more anxiety as they move from the coveted “baby of the family” status. The lasts are born to seek attention as if they can sense that they did not arrive with that brand-new baby smell.

Years ago, when I first heard the term Pancake Child, I thought it was funny in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. The reference is to that primary pancake poured onto a griddle as a test run to see if all is in working order. Is the griddle hot enough? Is the batter too thin? Has enough butter been used to prevent sticking? What’s the right time to wait before flipping? That first pancake, in our home, is often reserved for our four-legged friends who are happy to down a tester that may be crispy on the outside and raw on the inside.

The Pancake Child? First-borns.

The child who gets to experience all the test runs of we've never done this before, is this right?

The child who will be the first to figure out that his or her parents are really in one lifelong, self-guided parenting workshop that started with the best intentions and over-confidence.

The child who be the first to realize that parents spend most of their time second-guessing themselves. Did we come in too hot with the boundaries? Should there have been more outdoor time? Less focus on vegetables? Were our consequences pointless? Did we worry too much about grades/manners/cleanliness and not enough about social groups/family time/spontaneity?

The second-guessing is never-ending. It’s okay if you do it. We all do.

No, we do not throw those Pancake Children away but … still … we do learn so much barreling down that path of raising them.

We are a two-child home. Our second child has just provided us with a lesson that our first child could not: Do not admit to improved parenting “this time around.”

Truthfully, we thought we were being witty. As our second child reached baby adulthood and began to question our updated guidelines, we would reply with a simple, “Well, yeah, we’re doing this whole thing differently with you.” Each time there was a balk at a new direction, “We are much smarter now than we were with your sister.”

And so we went until this child bravely (and firmly) informed us that he and his sister were not the same people at all.

Oh, dear. He was right.

We weren’t witty. We weren’t cool. Our openness was not received in the “hey, we’re all in this together” vibe that we thought it was being presented in. Instead, we realized we were displaying our own parenting tweaks as an admittance of failure and that it was okay because, well, that was our Pancake Child.

We are, in fact, excellent parents. We are excellent parents to both of our children who are each so different from the other. Yet there we were, canceling out those differences by pointing to stumbles during our first trek up that parenting mountain. It was easier to land there than remember just how different our two children are, despite being sourced from the same gene pool. It was easier to tweak based on things that could have been better in round one than to really pay attention to what was needed in round two.

As our eldest zips through her second year of college, her maturity is blossoming. It is stunning in all of the most amazing ways. Suddenly, all of the angst we felt in watching her with a microscope has evaporated - replaced with looks of awe. We are in awe of what she has accomplished this year and we are in awe of our own, suddenly exposed, success as parents. That she is thriving as a young adult is confirmation that, well, we did it!

No need to source those tweaks to our parenting style to her upbringing as her upbringing gave her this perfect start to her young adult life. She may be the Pancake Child, but my goodness - no need to second guess ourselves anymore.

And so, we won’t second guess ourselves on the second child anymore, either.

Instead, we will tweak as needed, roll our eyes when necessary, and wait for his successes to start pouring out as well.


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