"I can't believe we could have two children who are so different," writes a Fredericksburg, Va., mother.
"I call my 4-year-old Adolph Hitler and the two-year-old Suzy Sunshine. In cold print that sounds like my son is some kind of monster, but I don't mean he pulls the wings off butterflies. He just does outrageous things and being 4 seems to make it worse.
"One day when he was 2 and the baby was 3 months old he told me she was his toy. And the next thing I knew, she wasn't in her cradle. When I panicked he took me to his wicker toy box and proudly lifted the lid. There she was, lying on top of all those blocks and trucks and stuffed animals and not even crying.
"While he doesn't do such dangerous things now I do wonder if he'll ever slow down. Have I made him this way?"
A. No matter how much we try to rear our children with the same evenhandedness, every child has a different set of parents, because parents are always growing and changing too.
Even if you were static, you couldn't treat each child the same, since no two children are alike.
Each one was conceived with a unique set of genes that have never been duplicated before, and will never be duplicated again. And then: Each child spent nine months in the womb, soaking up whatever tensions, exhilarations and serenity you felt in that pregnancy -- emotions that would never be exactly the same from one pregnancy to the next. This is one more miracle of parenthood.
The sex of your children plays a major role too.
While today both men and women take care of the next and bring in the food, it is almost always the woman who feels she has to get up in the night with a sick child, whether her husband does or not, and it is the man who feels the burden of supporting the family, no matter how much his wife makes.
Despite all our efforts for equal laws and equal pay, people are still too primitive to shake off these basic imprints. And let us tell you, no one is as primitive as a Two and a Four.
Now the personalities are unfolding, without all the gloss that civilization brings.
The medievalists believed that children were born to be phlegmatic, sanguine, melancholic or choleric -- wonderful names -- but whether they can be categorized or not, the personalities of children are set before birth.
The behavior, however, is not. This depends on their environment.
Unless we accept the character of our children, we may guide them to act in ways so foreign to their inclinations that serious inner conflicts will be set up later. We also can intensify their natural behavior so much that what seems amusing now will be mighty hard to live with as time goes by.
That's what you may be doing. Even though you'll never let your children hear you call them Adolph and Suzy, it still colors your attitude toward them and they're going to get the message.
If you expect your child to drop a teacup, you're going to tense when he carries it into the living room, whether you say, "Don't drop the teacup" or not. And the more tense you are, the more likely that teacup is going to drop.
Now is the time to treat your son more like a savior than a sinner and to expect Miss Suzy to be a little less good. By modifying your own attitude, you'll be giving each child permission to grow up as they were meant to, not like an Adolph or a Suzy.