The difference from one child to the next was a parenting reality that I somehow missed the memo on. Here’s what I’ve discovered.
When I found out I was pregnant with a second boy, I couldn’t have been more confident that I had this in the bag. Naturally, my body would hit copy-paste to produce this baby; there’s no way I was ill-prepared. My second, Oliver, would arrive as a prototype of my first, Henry, and that was that.
In terms of their looks, sure — they could now pass for twins, and sometimes get asked if they are. But otherwise? Hahaha. Not even close.
I was so very wrong, in fact, that as I think back on it, I hear a snarky voice utter “Sucker!” in my head.
I’m not sure what inspired me to full-on ignore a little thing called “individuality” when it came to my second child growing inside me. Even my pregnancy with Ollie was night and day compared to carrying Henry, from the cravings to the discomforts and everything in between.
With Henry, all I wanted was blueberries and relief from my heartburn. With Ollie, it was all citrus and back pain. In retrospect, these early differences were a sign — but I didn’t recognize it at the time.
And then Ollie arrived, and slowly shattered every misconception I had about who he’d be before he was here. Ollie was — and still is — 5 years later — the polar opposite of his big bro in almost every way. Let me explain.
From the start, Ollie gave us regular sleep stretches and routinely napped. Henry had been as irregular as they come, and there was certainly no such thing as a “sleep stretch” until 6 months (at least!).
Ollie was never all that interested in eating much, but Henry happily gobbled up whatever he was handed. Ollie hated that same, sweet baby swing his brother Henry had lived in that first year. Ollie began cutting teeth 2 months sooner than Henry had, started crawling at 6 months old (whereas Henry never did at all), and was full-on walking by 10 months.
I know that some parts of this can be attributed to the fact that Ollie was watching Henry’s every move from the day he arrived home from the hospital. Being a younger sibling definitely gives you a competitive edge in terms of catching on sooner and growing up faster.
But in his first year, Ollie had this unspeakable motivation I never saw in baby Henry, who took his sweet time doing anything and everything.
That was when I fully embraced I’d been mistaken. My preconceived notions of who this child would be evaporated as he expressed his unique personality and established his own timeline. He was his own person, that was for darn sure. And he’d continue to be.
Henry grew from a needy baby to a fearless toddler and now, a confident kid. Now in second grade, he’s the type you can put in any situation and know he’ll thrive. He is kind, verbose, and book smart. Henry has an abundance of energy and an extroverted spirit that helps him make friends and steal hearts anywhere he goes.
The bold, strong-willed baby that was Ollie turned into a timid toddler who was most comfortable at home, with close family and friends. He is silly and sweet, thoughtful and creative, and has turned into quite the snuggler. Ollie suffered from serious separation anxiety. Approaching 5 years old, he was slowly gaining confidence, but we knew he’d benefit from one more year of pre-K than his brother had before heading off to kindergarten.
Yes, my kids look the same. But their journeys are vastly different, and so is my journey mothering each of them. Their hobbies, interests, preferences, and personalities are their own. They find them as they make their way in the world in a way that works for them.
It doesn’t matter that they have the same parents, home, and rules, because they also have individual strengths, challenges, and dreams.
Watching my newborn sons become boys — and eventually, men (I’m not crying, you’re crying) — is a profound experience that humbles me to no end. I realize now, and continue to realize all the time, that it’s my job to help them feel comfortable and supported to be who they are. Not who the world wants them to be. Not who I expect they will be. But who they are.
Fellow parents, I urge you to ditch your preconceived notions and prepare to be schooled by children that are uniquely themselves. No matter how many kids you have, or how similar they are in appearance, remember they’re the first and only version of themselves — and prepare to be amazed at who they become.
Kate Brierley is a senior writer, freelancer, and resident boy mom of Henry and Ollie. A Rhode Island Press Association Editorial Award winner, she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in library and information studies from the University of Rhode Island. She is a lover of rescue pets, family beach days, and handwritten notes.