Chicago dad: How to divide attention equally among all your children

Parenting multiple children is a gift that keeps on giving.

One of those gifts is a low-grade fear about all the ways you are ruining your kids. Is my 2-year-old eating too much or not enough kale? Does my 8-month-old need a walking coach? Should my 5-year-old be potty trained or am I forcing an expectation on him that will drive a wedge between us? Almost every minute of every day, you ask yourself a new question. Hopefully not out loud. But it’s probably out loud.

First-borns have an advantage, in that they’re usually the oldest. They receive the lion’s share of parental anxiety which, studies show, affects parental brains in much the same way smart phones do: we become conditioned to respond with frantic breathlessness to their every beep and blink and push notification. (The phones, not the kids. I should have reconsidered this metaphor.)

As a result, subsequent children, once they reach a certain age — say, 1 — end up fending for themselves. You would think this would relieve the previously mentioned fear of ruining your children, since you’re basically stepping out of it. It’s a style of parenting inspired by the federal government and its practice of plausible deniability. “Hey,” you can say, years later, “I had nothing to do with this.” You will be right enough to avoid indictment.

Surprisingly though, this just raises a new anxiety. Am I giving enough of myself to each of my children? I am here to tell you one thing that will make you feel better. Here it is: Of course you aren’t. Because you can’t.

That’s a weight off your shoulders right there. You’re. Welcome.

Because the truth is, every single one of your kids wants your attention all the time. I’m no mathematician, but say you have three kids like I do. If they each want all your attention, then that’s at least 245 percent of your brain and energy. That’s impossible to provide, no matter how many times you hear the word, “Dad,” before you respond. My personal record is 27. Beat that, chumps.

What we’ve done in our house is similar to the Group Date on The Bachelor. We plan a lot of all-family activities. This way, everyone gets a little bit of time together and leaves feeling fundamentally disappointed. We’re trying to prove that old idiom, about childhood being fun and games. It’s a game, all right. 

And they need to compete and scheme and plot to figure out how to get one-on-one time with me.

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