Nobody prepared me for the vast differences I would find in two offspring who were raised in the same household, with the same morals, values, ethics and religious background. My kids are both in their mid-twenties now, and exhibit totally different personalities. We had a simple philosophy of parenting. First we ask; then we tell; then we yell. Neither of them liked it when we yelled.
It started fairly early, I imagine. My son was pliable and easy to reason with all along. The first time we had any kind of discord with him was when we caught him trying to sneak out of the house with a miniature pocket knife, when he was told to leave it at home. I think he was five. He swore up and down that he had nothing on him. After being told to empty his pockets, there it was. He apologized for lying, and took his punishment for doing so like a champ. My son accepted our parenting well, and when we said no, we meant no, from that day on.
I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think he ever lied again (other than the little white lies kids tell). Even at fifteen when we caught him with a girl in a compromising situation, he told the truth. His demeanor was that he respected us.
My daughter, however, was more mischievous and had a mind of her own from the very start. We knew she was extremely willful from the very beginning, when she balked at breast-feeding. This was not because she wasn’t conditioned to it. It was because she preferred one side to the other.
Not only was she willful, but she was persuasive. When she was three, a few days before I was preparing for a dinner party, she spotted the after-dinner mints on the counter. She asked for one. I said no. She said, “Please.” I said, “They’re for the party.” She said, “Just one?” I said, “If I open them today for just one, they won’t be fresh for the party.” She cocked her head to the side and came back with, “Just one pink one?” I gave in. Her demeanor was to see what she could get away with.
With regard to the dinner table, everyone was asked to taste everything that was served. Just a taste. It didn’t matter if they didn’t like it the last time; they still had to “taste” it again. As a result, both of them grew up eating almost everything. (My son still doesn’t care for ripe tomatoes and asparagus, and my daughter doesn’t have much of an affinity for Brussels sprouts.). My daughter went through many different dietary changes in her life, the last of which I’ll discuss later. My son, while he learned to eat everything, has also changed his diet for different reasons. Again, though, my son did as he was told. My daughter, we found out much later, (as she sat next to the kitchen garbage can) had figured out a way to dispose of anything and everything that she didn’t care for. I imagine that if we had a garbage disposal or a powder (which is what I used when I was young) she wouldn’t have learned to be so devious.
Even the way they approached school was different. Academics came relatively easy to my son. He excelled without having to put in much effort; natural born scholar. He sat on the couch watching television through ninth grade, until he actually had to open a book. My daughter had to work very hard to maintain that elusive 4.0 GPA. which would later garner her a multitude of scholarships. He would start an assignment a day before it was due and get an A. She would start it the assignment the day it was assigned, in order to achieve perfection, and earn the same letter grade.
Several years ago, my husband and I got a good dose of how different the kids really were, by how they think. A stock broker by trade, he managed accounts for each one of the children, populated with funds they received at birth and other special occasions along the way. After 911, when the markets took a severe tumble, he got two phone calls. Our son called and asked, “Dad, should I be selling and getting out of the market?” A few minutes later, our daughter called and asked, “Dad, are there any bargains I should be buying?”
I’ve written a lot about ethics and values. Our family is Jewish. My husband was raised in Louisville, Kentucky, in an Orthodox Shul. I am from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where we belonged to a very relaxed Reform Congregation (which, by the way, my grandfather referred to as “the church.” When we came together and started a family, we took a middle-of-the-road approach, and joined a conservative temple. We raised our children with our Jewish values of family, charity and good deeds, and taught them to lead a righteous life. In the end, my daughter chose to pursue an orthodox lifestyle, and my son will ultimately marry a girl who is not Jewish, but who shares similar values. I wonder how much Kosher food gets tossed in the trash can?