The Difference Between My Boys


Wizards DuelMy oldest child got in the car last week after school, his entire frame drooping. “The boys made fun of me,” he said.

Knowing my children’s capacity for drama, I probed for more details. But the more I heard, the more I hurt inside. Because as best I could tell, it actually was as bad as he said.

I often say I’m not a very good “girl.” I don’t understand how it’s possible, let alone desirable, to spend two hours getting ready for any occasion. I don’t carry a purse. I find shopping tedious and women’s shoes ridiculous.

Likewise, Alex isn’t a very good “boy.” He’s far too sensitive and creative-minded. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s all empathy and thoughtfulness.

In a decade or two, these qualities will make him a stellar catch for some lucky girl, but for now it just makes him…well, kind of a target.

That night as I did dishes, I was listening to Nicholas as he monologued. “I’m a good helper, Mommy. Wasn’t that a good job I did? I’m so good at ____.” This from the child who had had his movie privileges revoked for two days because he went up to his baby brother and smacked him, then turned around and shoved him to the ground.

As I reflected, I had to marvel at the contrast between my older two boys. Like his brother, Nicholas is highly imaginative and intelligent. Unlike Alex, he’s not particularly empathetic. In part, that’s the age difference, but the fact is that Alex has always had a soft heart and a less-than-atmospheric opinion of his own worth–two things that go hand in hand. After all, if you are able to empathize with others, you are also less susceptible to blanket judgments, because you’re more thoughtful about how your own opinions fit into the big picture.

Nicholas does not suffer from any such moderation. He’s the one who’s willing to cut off his hand to spite his foot. It’s all about him and what he’s feeling right now, with no regard for the future. He says he wants to give up bedtime book to play in the tub, but when it comes bedtime he’ll throw a tantrum because you make good on the deal. He wants the toy he wants, and it doesn’t matter if someone else had it first.

And it occurred to me that in four years, Nicholas might be those boys who make fun of dreamy, less-physically-coordinated peers.

There are two sets of thoughts here, one for each boy. The problem of how to teach Nicholas to respect and empathize with others is one whose solution, if there is one, is not going to fit into a paragraph. I’m puzzling over that now and probably will continue to do so as long as he lives under my roof.

More profound to me is the implications for Alex. I realize that as painful as it is for him, this feeling of being a misfit will form his character toward the good. Being made fun of will sensitize him even more toward the feelings and needs of others, and in the end, both the pain and the sensitivity will make him a better human being.

In the meantime, we have to teach him how to stand up for himself appropriately. Which is at least as big a puzzle as the one we’re facing with Nicholas.

6 thoughts on “The Difference Between My Boys

  1. I feel like I’m reading a post I could possibly write in about 4 years! My Dominic is so empathetic and sensitive and loving. And Vincent — well, he just isn’t — even at age 2 I can see it.

    It has been difficult to watch my oldest daughter go through middle school thus far because she doesn’t “fit in” with all the girls at school and has suffered her share of ridicule. Knowing it will make her better in the long run really does nothing to help me as I watch her hurt, though. Same with my 2nd daughter. She’s just fortunate that there are 18 girls in her class, so there’s no way the bullies can get to everyone and she’s got her best-friend-since-Pre-K to hang out with and they keep to themselves.

    My heart goes out to Alex. It’s tough. It’s tough on Mom and Dad, too, though, I know. Hang in there.

  2. My kids are all so different. Since my oldest is autistic, it is pretty easy not to compare him to his sisters; the contrast is just too great and the explanation so clear. But my girls…
    The middle child is very bright and has always been very popular, yet managed to escape (to the best of my knowledge) the meanness that can accompany that in many girls. Everyone has always liked her, she has seemingly effortlessly navigated the middle/high school social scene. While there are few kids to whom she was close when she started at her middle/high school with whom she was close at graduation, she didn’t hate the old friends, it was more a matter of life moving on. I never heard about people picking on her and anyone who has ever said anything to me about her has been complimentary.

    The baby… well, let’s just say that the same sitter kept both the girls, who looked very much alike. Periodically, the little one would say the sitter would call her by her sister’s name. One day, when the baby was still in arms, I walked into the sitter’s house and she said “this one looks just like her sister, but she is NOT her sister; this one has a temper”. and so it began…

    The youngest attends a small (1 class per grade, about 25 kids per grade) Catholic school. About half the kids have been there since K, the other half has been somewhat fluid. Many of the kids’ parents are long-time friends. I don’t fit in the crowd. I’m 15-20 years older than most of the moms, and I’m one who has always had trouble making friends, probably because I often prefer my own company. There is one girl from school who we have had any success in inviting over here to play, and another who used to go to school there. We’ve invited other kids but nothing ever comes of it. In Girl Scouts she tends to hang with the kids from other schools. She comes home complaining that this one did this or that one said that. I’ve talked to folks at school and expressed my concern but they tell me they don’t see any problems. I know that neither of my older kids were really normal when it came to peer interactions; so maybe this is just normal but I’m concerned, but I don’t want to make a problem where none exists either. On the other hand, I don’t want her to end up having no friends either and if she is doing something or acting in a way that makes the kids not want to be friends with her, I want to get her help to change.

    • In some ways that situation is even harder. I think that is what I’ll be dealing with when Nicholas gets a little older. Then again, he can be such a charmer, who knows?

      FWIW, I never had more than one close friend at a time, my whole life. That’s still true, actually. The hardest part is when there’s a transition between one and the next.

  3. I have one of each in those ‘categories’ too. Both sides are hard to parent. Toby is my sensitive (dramatic) one, who wears his heart on his sleeve and does get teased for it. I hate the advice that I need to ‘toughen him up’, because his empathy and sensitivity is rare in this world. It certainly makes things harder for him, though.

  4. I hate the heavy feeling I get in my heart when one of my boys is having a tough time with other kids. It colors your entire being for the moment. We all just wish we could protect them from every hurt. Ah, the impossible.

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