My husband and I left our kids behind last weekend, and it was divine. I tried hard not to give our family caregivers too many rules to follow, but rather just a few "keys" to getting my children. When I leave my kids, I'm so grateful to the willing adults that I hardly care what they are fed or when they go to sleep. My philosophy is that if I want flexible kids, it's best for them to experience other environments without the long arm of our household law controlling that environment. Kids get to learn that things can be done differently, and it's just fine.
But I was talking recently, with a grandparent, about family care and overnights when he brought up the rules, as in, the rules the parents give the grandparents about their kid that the grandparents must follow. Like, no ice cream. No screen time. "That's a first kid rule," someone said. I laughed. We discussed at what point the grandparents get to bend the rules. A wise parent pointed out that grandparents' time is at least three times more exhausting than parents' time with kids, as parents must — and do — learn to ignore their child at necessary points in the day or over the course of a week. Whereas the grandparents are all in, all hands on. A day with a grandparent could be equal to a week or more of parent time in terms of intensive interaction. Thus we established that it is a grandparent's right, when necessary, to ignore the rules. Especially if the visit is an overnight or a weekend.
The conversation made me realize, though, that there are a lot of rules that the first kid inherits, that the next child, or the third child, never even encounters. With your first baby, you are actually in control, and your rules tend to reflect that. You think on the regular, "I'll never buy 'x' for my kid. Or, "I'd never do that." But the control parent's rules aren't nearly so easy to manage when there are two babies in the house. For example:
- Baby foods: First kid eats tons of homemade baby food. No pouches. Second kid eats pouches. And a lot more crackers. And cookies and cake.
- Dessert after dinner: First kid does not know what dessert is. Second kid has dessert every night from six months on.
- No ice cream, no sugared yogurt before a year: Abided by for first kid, dropped for second kid.
- Cloth diapers: used for first, not so much for second. The piles of laundry are daunting enough.
- Screen time under age 2: None for first kid. Second kid exposed to screens as a byproduct of first kid being over age 2. Second kid refers to "my phone."
- Bibs and buckles: first kid wore bibs and was always properly secured into strollers and carriers. Second kid has a lot of stained shirts . . .
- Playground rules: First kid is not allowed to do dangerous things on the playground. Second kid lives dangerously on swings and slides and eats other people's snacks found on the ground.
- Naps: First kid always napped at home. Second kid naps . . . wherever she can.
- Bedtime: First kid was not kept up late. Ever. For any reason. Second kid is often seen screaming on the sidelines of evening soccer games or getting her dance on at summer concerts, after bedtime.