Temperamental Parenting

Jenny Uebbing

My second born, my sweet little John Paul Francis, he just has the most wonderful cheeks.

He is my snuggler, the child ever in search of comforting arms and soothing words and a soft lap to land on. He also lets me kiss those soft cheeks over and over again, never once pushing me away or fighting the snuggle. He's never done hugging; he never pulls away first.

Not coincidentally, he was also my only "overdue" baby, preferring to hang out for an entire month longer than his 37 week big brother and a good 3 weeks past his 38 week old little sis.

I'm telling you, this kid is devoted to me.

It's taken me a few years to come to appreciate how deep his little soul is. He thinks about crazy things, and hours later he's still thinking about them, reflecting on joys and ruminating on perceived injustices alike. I can't parent him the same way I parent the other two, which shouldn't be surprising but somehow is, anyway. I have a word for him now though: melancholic. I'll explain later.

It's surprising that each kid requires an entirely unique set of parenting parameters within which to operate, to some extent.

It's surprising to me that my kids don't think and act like I do. Never more so than, say, when I'm frantically herding sleep drunken cats out the door for preschool pickup (late! again!) and somebody is distraught because he didn't get to select his preferred pair of superhero briefs and oh the injustice of somebody else selecting and then helping you into your underwear.

(Honestly, when I write it out like that, it does seem rather troubling.)

And if I were the planning ahead type, I'd take note and cut my nap time tap tapping short a good 10 minutes early each afternoon rather than burning it down to the wire, choleric style, and then expecting everyone else to jump when I bark "go!"

Yes, that's exactly what I'd do. I'd note my melancholic son's tendency to wake up slow and snuggly and in need of some time to ponder and recalibrate to the waking world, and I'd gently rouse him and rub his little back, waiting patiently for his conscious brain to come back online while not at all thinking about the load of laundry I could be finishing or the dishwasher I could be loading or the emails I could be sending.

Then we'd calmly collect his sister from her nursery, process to the minivan in an orderly fashion, and drive at or near the speed limit all the way across town to collect our 4th musketeer.

Maybe tomorrow. Maybe after a good night's sleep and some careful reflection on the children I've actually been entrusted with and not the tiny clones of me that I was expecting to receive...maybe then I can manage a more humane afternoon routine.

I'm really glad they're all so different, even if it is at times completely confounding. And I'm dying to see what the latest addition's makeup will have to offer. So far we have, as near as I can tell, a choleric sanguine who is an impossible 100% extroverted, a mild mannered melancholic introvert, and a phlegmatic sanguine who seems fairly ambidextrous in terms of social preference. Happy in her room alone, happy in a crowd.

I love figuring out what each of my kids "are," temperamentally, and trying to learn ways to better engage them through understanding their unique set of strengths and weaknesses. My choleric sanguine eldest son is my biggest challenge by a long shot, and mostly because his need for human interaction is very literally limitless.

I explained to him the concept of introversion versus extroversion a couple months ago in language a 4 year old could appreciate, and he actually started to cry when I expounded on the traits of an introvert. Tears. I guess of disappointment? Disbelief that anyone could or would need downtime? (mommy raises hand to the ceiling).

Whatever the case, that moment crystalized for me the stark contrast between us, and the lifelong struggle I'll be engaged with (at least while he's under our roof) trying to balance my sanity, which is tenuous in the best of times, with his constant craving for companionship. God was so smart to put us together; I can't think of another relationship that has required more from me in terms of giving of self. Truly. And the days I won't give? Our worst. Hands down.

So all this long winded soliloquizing to say: read this book. I'm not much for parenting books because they all tend to contradict each other, know what I mean? But this isn't really a parenting book. It's more like a code cracking manual, or an instruction booklet (but the good kind, not the IKEA kind).

And if you happen to look up in disbelief at your polar opposite offspring sitting across from you at the breakfast table in a sudden rush of understanding when you're finished...well, you're welcome.

Topics: Book reviews , Parenting , Personal Growth

Jenny Uebbing is the content director of our marriage and family life channel, where her blog Mama Needs Coffee will be permanently hosted. She lives in Denver, CO with her family, where she writes and speaks on Church teachings on marriage, contraception, NFP and bioethics.


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