Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I Had It Easy Thanks to My Brothers

I had it easy as a kid. Oh, I had my full share of challenges. But when it came to dealing with my parents I had it pretty easy.

You see, I was the middle child; the third of five boys. Why is that important? Because my two older brothers took the brunt of the process my parents underwent as they learned to be parents. My older brothers were the guinea pigs. May they be blessed forever for reducing the heat on the rest of us.

My oldest brother is the chief operating officer of a multinational company. He was always the chief executive among us boys. He was decisive, focused, and determined. He prodigiously grasped statistics at a far younger age than is common. Brother #2 is a great salesman that somehow morphed into an executive. He could be very focused and could always accomplish what was important to him. But he approached everything else in life with a devil-give-a-care attitude. He could always have fun.

Mom and Dad said that they could send the two oldest boys outside to play and end up with two very different outcomes. Brother #1 would return three hours later with his clothes perfectly in order and no sign of dirt on his hands. But 15 minutes after Brother #2 went out he would return scraped up, covered with dirt, and with his clothes in tatters. But he was happy. He's still the only guy I know that has managed to break four pairs of skis in a single season.

As these two boys progressed through the ranks of boyhood, Mom and Dad got to experience opposite ends of the parenting spectrum. They expressed disappointment that Brother #1 sometimes failed to perform as well in school as they knew he was capable of doing. They were just happy that Brother #2 came home from school alive. His grades were a mess in subjects that he didn't think were important, but nothing Mom and Dad did seemed to be effective in changing that.

This worked out very well for me. By the time I hit the various stations of life that my bothers had already passed, Mom and Dad were numb. Before the numbness wore off another baby (now an architectural engineer) came along. Sometime later another baby (now a VP of marketing) joined our family. Since babies require a lot of attention and my parents were still breaking ground with my older brothers, I was often able to cruise under the parental radar.

This likely caused my parents to develop a distorted view of my rectitude. At my missionary farewell my mom said that of all of her boys I was most like Nephi, the righteous son of Lehi. She quickly added with faint praise, "Not that the older two were like Laman and Lemuel."

Having five children myself, I have seen my own parenting style change over the years. I too have learned much from my older children and have modified my approach with the younger children—sometimes to the chagrin of the older children who occasionally complain about my comparative leniency.

The fact is that I now know better which battles are worth fighting. And I'm older. And more tired (lazy?). And, by golly, it turns out that each of those five children requires a customized approach. Each is an individual. Some have special needs. And one is a girl who teaches me that my attempts to always treat her like one of the boys simply won't do.

My wife and I agree that our middle child, Son #3 is a genuinely good soul that just seems to want to do the right thing. He's very smart (he can do higher math) and talented (his piano skills far exceed mine), but he still sometimes struggles with grades. And he is still directionally challenged, as has been the case since he was tiny. But he is a good boy. Or could it be that my wife and I suffer from the same child #3 perception issue as my parents?

Yes, I know that Sons #1 and #2 had to do the rough work of breaking in my wife and me as parents and that our younger children are their beneficiaries. I understand this better than my children realize, thanks to my brothers who reduced my parents' focus on me so that I could constantly be thought of as a good boy.

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