Cheez-its for breakfast: Parenting and the fourth child

I would never claim to be the super-mom type. I have never made my own baby food, or fretted much about the material of my children’s play-things. Probably more fundamental: I have no illusions that the children are extensions of me. From the beginning, I have assumed that they are their own little people, and my parenting, such as it is, can get them to brush their teeth and use their manners, but ultimately they are who they are. Who they are is not who other people are. My first, for instance, has never needed much sleep. I would hear, with great interest, of babies who went to sleep by 7 p.m. after taking long naps during the day. My kid did not need this. I could put him to bed at 8 p.m. and he would play in his crib until 10 p.m. He would sleep and wake up at a normal baby time and be none the worse for the wear. He stopped taking a nap before the other children in daycare did. Last night he was up until close to 11 and was up shortly after 7, on his own. My 2nd and 3rd kids, on the other hand, have always been much bigger fans of sleep. If the 7-year-old winds up staying up with the 10-year-old, he will sleep very late in the morning. The 5-year-old likewise is a big fan of sleep, and as a baby would go down pretty easily in the evening. By 7:30 p.m.!

Kids are different. Same family, same general environment, different people.

Anyway, this brings me to my fourth kid, who has a mind of his own. He has taken a long time to settle into a sleep routine, and still wakes up in the middle of the night more frequently than I’d like. He also tends to wake up early — this morning at 5:15 after fussing until 9:15 last night. He will not eat what he doesn’t want to eat, and it’s not just a “no.” There’s a lot of throwing food. He seems to make a point of getting into trouble. The other day, I was in the basement with him. I was reading something, and noticed it was quiet. I went and found him, and saw that he had pulled a chair over to the high cupboard where we’d hidden the paint, had pulled it out, and spilled it all over the counter and the sink. He hits, and bites. This can be quite frustrating as, say, the adult who is changing his diaper. If he becomes mad about it, he will (and has) reached out and punched me in the face.

So, sometimes, the days with him feel like just hanging on. We let him watch a lot of TV, because it’s time when he’s not throwing paint on the counters. We have let him eat Cheez-its for breakfast after he’s thrown every other option on the floor.

I realized the other day that if he had been my first child, I might have found all of this depressing. Was I doing something wrong? If you read parenting books, you come across a lot of suggestions like “create a sticker chart!” What do you do if your kid doesn’t care if he gets or doesn’t get stickers? Other parents talk of their children eating spinach frittatas for breakfast. Their kids don’t bite. They don’t fall asleep on the floor in front of the door every night after howling to be let out of their bedrooms. The good thing about him being my fourth is that I am pretty sure I didn’t do anything differently, or “wrong.” He is who he is. He will grow out of some of it, and he will likely always be a stubborn person. He may never want to go to bed, but as an adult he will learn to deal with the consequences of staying up until 2 a.m. watching a movie, and then having your boss expect you at an 8 a.m. meeting. Maybe he will continue to eat Cheez-its for breakfast, or he will discover that the digestive consequences are so not worth it. He can also be tremendously sweet sometimes, and his ability to express himself is incredible. So, he’s smart and determined — I suppose there could be worse combinations in life.

Photo: Little guy against the world

19 thoughts on “Cheez-its for breakfast: Parenting and the fourth child

  1. Thank you so much for this…. One of the things I love so much about parenting is watching the individual emerge- their preferences, interests, dislikes, habits, etc.
    I often tell my daughter ‘I can’t make you do anything’ which is a lesson I learned very early on about parenting. She sounds very much like your youngest. In fact she was my first- and I have felt very much overwhelmed and unfit for parenting. She’s 6. I am just now realizing that she is in fact one of those ‘highly sensitive children’. I thought I was crazy when I considered it a few years ago. Normal rules don’t apply to her and the biggest and best lesson I’ve learned is really to trust my gut as a parent. Which is SO hard. The hardest part in listening to my gut is the huge amount of self doubt. Which I also realize is something I carry in all parts of my life, not just parenting. I see many women struggle with the same thing….

    1. @Angela – a quick look around the world would find that some adults are more challenging than others, so it’s not really surprising that some kids are more challenging than others too! Do what works for your family. What works for other people is their business.

      1. Agreed. prior to being a parent I probably would have thought a lot of challenging adults had bad parents, lol. Oh, the naivete of being a non-parent.

    2. Angela, what a good mom you are for loving to watch the individual emerge, seeing that your daughter is highly sensitive, and treating her with respect for her choices! I am in awe of how you pay attention to her details. All the best!

  2. Even with 2 it’s interesting to see the differences. A thought the concept of a clock telling her when it was ‘okay to wake’ was ridiculous, and C patiently will wait and come out announcing “It’s Green!”.
    He asked for ice cream for breakfast today. I said no. Thankfully he did not push further. He ended up eating an apple which he also was rolling on the floor between bites, and the ‘jam’ part of one of those 2-compartment yogurts. Seemed like a reasonable enough combo to me 🙂

    1. Ooh and I admit sometimes I’ve made the (probably erroneous) conclusion that some of the differences are gender related so it will be super interesting to see if #3 is more similar to A or not!

      1. I don’t believe gender has anything to do with it. My two most difficult kids were my firstborn (male), who has grown into an awesome, intelligent young man, and my 5th child (girl), who challenges me constantly and makes parenting very unfun at times… but I have little doubt she’ll also grow up to be an incredible young lady who does amazing things with her life.

  3. Your experience sounds so familiar to me! Maybe if my very similar little boy had been my fourth not my second I might have been able to stay as calm as you and spare myself the pointless self-doubt. It doesn’t help.
    Unfortunately those years of 5.30 am starts, and the regular public tantrums when he slapped, kicked and punched me really did wear me down.
    He is now a charming, well-mannered, funny 9 year old who is unusually sensitive to how other people are feeling. Goodness only knows what it was that his brain needed to work through during those toddler years, just part of his unique journey to his own personality, as you say.
    My daughter had been a dream. I used to say he was sent to stop me becoming one of those smug parents (it worked!). Hang on in there!

  4. Spinach frittata for breakfast… ha! More power to them, if that is how the parents roll.

    With issues around food I think in two general principles. 1. How can we keep the common denominator of dinnertime that we, more often than not, enjoy it? Forcing certain foods, kids cleaning their plates, etc generally doesn’t lend itself to looking forward to a family meal, so those are not battles I fight. Also 2. I know exactly ONE adult who still insists on eating (almost exclusively) hamburgers and macaroni and cheese, and will turn up his nose at vegetables. One. The odds are in all of our favor that our kids will, eventually, learn to appreciate a variety of foods- just as we all have.

    My friend Mary characterized having four as “running out of the energy to care what people thought of her kids”. I concur. Most days I just don’t have it in me.

  5. Haha, your little guy sounds like my 2nd child. I wonder if your first was such a rebel…how many kids would you have now? I actually have 2 challenging kids, and while I logically believe it is NOT my parenting, its hard not to think that in the day to day.

  6. My youngest was sent to humble me. I was smug and self assured–a parenting genius. Then he came along. All parent teacher meetings start with, “He’s so different than his brother and sister…”

  7. I doubt that Cheez-its are nutritionally much different than the average kids’ cereal. At least that’s what I tell myself when I let my kids have pretzels, graham crackers, etc. for breakfast…

    My “tough” kid is my first – NONE of the advice in parenting books works for him – so it was a relief to have a second that has done everything he was “supposed to” basically automatically. It will be interesting to see how #3 turns out…

    1. Lol. I once got grief from a “perfect mom” because my kid likes to eat popcorn for breakfast. I was like, “Your kid is eating fruit loops. Really?!”

  8. In other words, genetics matters. People who do a lot of reading about the nature versus nurture question realize that the science is firmly in the camp of nature. Explains a whole lot about family life and about society at large.

  9. Reading this is sobering. I am about to have my second baby, another girl, about 2 years apart. Sometimes I can only imagine her as being exactly like her sister. Other time, I wish that she’d be the exact opposite in one way or another. I suppose it is out of my hands in either case!

    1. @Pamela- I am reminded of the saying from preschool: “You get what you get and you don’t get upset!” That’s kind of how it is with the kids. And, of course, I do know things could be much, much worse.

  10. Laura, thanks so much for sharing this! My fourth kid is almost 1 and he is definitely his own person as well. He has been a sweet baby but has suddenly gotten quite opinionated and picky about things like food. You’re right, it is so reassuring with the fourth kid that it’s just them and that you parent how you parent and then you see each kids’ personality. I hope his next phase is less ornery, lol.

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