SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

February 2023

Why You Shouldn’t Treat All Your Children Equally – A Common Parenting Mistake

“But why not? Aren’t we supposed to love all our children equally and not show favouritism?” asked a fellow mum. Because equality and equity achieve completely different goals, I reply. The blanket statement, “I love you both/all just as much,” doesn’t address a child’s inner need to be seen, heard, or celebrated as an individual.

(See also: What’s your Child’s Ideal Career Path based on their Chinese Zodiac sign?)

Equality Isn’t Enough

Parents who make the mistake of using the convenient maxim usually follow up with actions promoting equality. For example, every child gets the same treat — and treatment — to avoid accusations of ‘you love him/her more’.

If you want to raise secure, antifragile young adults, never tell your children you love all of them the same. Tell them you love each of them differently.

While equality marks a shift away from centuries of gender prejudice and gender discrimination, there is more to be done. Sameness gives everyone the same thing — rights, opportunities, and rewards. Yet true change goes beyond these tangibles into healing the psyche of an individual, and the collective consciousness of society.

The painful reminders of being ‘less than my brother’ results in lifelong consequences where women hold back, invalidate their emotions, dutifully play their gender roles, or swing the extreme opposite in feminist movements. No matter the varied outward behaviours, the same inner longing screams out: See me for who I am. Love me as I am. Honour me. Please!

(See also: Sibling Rivalry Across Two Generations)

Celebrate Differences Instead

In the long march to acknowledge women as equals, the International Women’s Day movement embraces equity this year. It’s the perfect conversation to elevate the identity of women as unique individuals against the backdrop of centuries of biases.

Equity recognises the different starting points of each person, including personality, learning ability, and family circumstances. Let’s look at three ways to start practising equity at home.

1. Invest Quality Time

Probably the scarcest resource for most Singapore parents is time. Yet, there is no shortcut because any meaningful relationship is developed over time. In the unhurried space where each discovers the other is where you forge intimate connections.

With five children to juggle, I had to come up with a structure that works. My method is to alternate between weekly one-on-one dates and an exclusive 15-minute daily check-in with each child.

Quality time means that we engage in different activities on our longer dates, customised to their individual needs. I may play netball with one child, lunch at McDonald’s with another, and enjoy a shopping walk-a-talk with my eldest. We schedule these dates in advance and design them around their interests and needs of the season. What’s your ‘thing’ with each child?

Weekday 15-minute check-in sessions are when we both set aside exclusive time for each other. While I may give one a massage or take another downstairs for ice cream, we mostly spend this time talking.

mother practising developmental equity with daughter

2. Train Empathetic Listening

Or rather, they spend the time talking, while I train myself to listen. I tune in with my eyes, fully focused on their body language and micro expressions. I pay attention to the specific words they use, their emotions — with no judgements. My goal is to discover.

When we first started, I was constantly interrupting with advice, ideas, and stories of my own. Over the years, I have honed my listening skills to absorb what they are describing. I may prompt with questions to urge them to find their own answers, but by and large, I guard this sacred space where they have full freedom to express themselves without repercussions.

This is where I make mental notes of where each child is at. A written list helps me prioritise my actions. Is building their confidence through memorising times-tables something to work on or is self-regulation more urgent? Can we both commit to eating healthier or exercising together? I schedule one area for each child and spend two to four weeks actively building it into their lives.

(See also: 10 Ways to Help Your Child Transit to Tween-hood)

3. Activate Developmental Equity

By now, it is clear that I am under little pressure to conform to parental/societal norms because my actions come from an intimate knowledge of each child. While the competitive academic landscape includes tuition or enrichment classes for most children, my confidence comes from a structure intentionally created and customised to who they are and where they’re at.

The best time to nurture a child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development is during recreational time, whether via (limited) screen time, board games, or outdoor exercise together. Would intentionally scheduling more playtime serve your child better because learning life’s lessons often happen outside of the classroom?

We just returned from a 5-hour trip to the mall, where I taught my younger kids how to pump their bicycle tyres. Because of a heavy downpour, we found different routes, dashing from shelter to shelter, as we inched our way home. While physically spent from the 5-km ride and jog (for the older teenagers), our hearts are full from conversations. Self-confidence in their sense of direction also took a leap because they took the lead at every junction.

Understanding and supporting who they are — not just their achievements — is the goal of developmental equity. A shift away from that report card towards positive human development becomes a priority, because quantitative educational data does not reflect qualitative measures of success.

Don’t Neglect Study-Life Balance

mother practising developmental equity with children

In our myopic pursuit of academic success, have we neglected the real indicators of success? Core human abilities that propel one to succeed in life include resilience, resourcefulness, integrity, and self-awareness. When children enjoy supportive relationships, experiences, and environments, they thrive in life.

Parents often mistakenly believe that the more assessment books completed, the better. So, we pile on their workload. Yet, research shows that high test scores don’t correlate to a healthy development. The next time your child fails a test, declares that they hate a subject, or we observe that they are tired from studying, why not surprise them with a beaming hug and acknowledge their efforts? Confess that you may have been lopsided in their education journey and start to bring balance to their overall development as a human being.

(See also: “How Do You Motivate Your Child? It’s PSLE Next Year and Mine Doesn’t Seem to Care!”)

Adjusting for a positive family culture that encourages instead of berates can increase a child’s self-esteem and motivation for learning. Even if their test scores aren’t celebrated by society’s standards, victory can be measured through the observables of a confident, delightful, contributing member of society.

Invest time laughing, playing, and building from where each child is at. Here are some ideas for quality time while practising empathetic listening and developmental equity:

  • Make physical fitness through weekly parent-child exercise sessions your ‘thing’.
  • Create a weekly routine of family meals at different eateries with discussions about the food.
  • Have movie nights at home, where comments on the plot, actors, and values become topics for discussion.
  • Teach them just one household chore every week.
  • Plan an indoor rock-climbing family experience.
  • Have a spontaneous outdoor picnic with frisbee and sandcastles.

Spend the weekends away from academics to develop life skills because we have entered an era where the antifragile will thrive!

As we parent our young ones, let’s take time to develop life skills as we celebrate their diverse personalities, aptitudes, dreams, and even their limitations. Let’s not cookie-cut them into pre-set stereotypes but truly take time to listen and integrate developmental equity into our parenting.

Author of “The Naked Parent”, founder of Mum Space, and mother to five amazing children, Junia is a respected thought-leader in the parenting space. Recognised for empowering parents and kids with her 21st-century parenting model for over a decade, she now brings her ‘Modern Asian Mother’ expertise and experience to this exclusive SingaporeMotherhood column.

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Why You Shouldn’t Treat All Your Children Equally – A Common Parenting Mistake