I sent my 8-year-old and 10-year-old to their bedroom.
"Sort through all your clothes," I told them. "Make a pile of all the clothes that don't fit or aren't cool and a pile of all the ones that fit and that you like."
Though Phillip and Andrew are almost two years apart, they have been the same size most of their lives. People have been asking if they are twins since they were both old enough to sit in a grocery cart.
Size is the only feature these two have in common. Their personalities are like night and day -- all the way down to their clothes.
Twenty minutes after I sent them to their room to complete the clothes sorting task, I checked on them.
I was greeted with looks of exasperation by both boys. When I saw the two piles of clothes on the floor, my look resembled theirs.
"This is the pile we don't want," Phillip said, painfully pointing to a very large pile of clothes.
"And these are the clothes we do want," Andrew said, equally as disturbed. The pile he pointed to was quite small, maybe half a dozen items.
I looked at the pitiful "want" pile -- a few shirts, one pair of pants on their last leg.
I began searching through the "unwanted" pile.
"Andrew, this is your favorite pair of blue jeans," I said, holding them up.
"I know," he said, tears starting to run down his cheeks. "But Phillip doesn't like them so they had to go in that pile."
The story was the same with several of Phillip's favorite clothes.
What was cool to one was not to the other.
Andrew is a jeans and T-shirt child. Phillip is all Dockers and polo shirts.
Immediately, I wished I had monitored the clothes sorting project. Yet, right there on the floor was a symbol to both boys of how different they are.
It was a reminder for me as well.
Effect on personalities
As the boys grow and develop, I need to remember not only the differences in their likes and dislikes but how those differences affect their personalities.
Each child must be parented differently.
When Phillip does something wrong, my stern words will bring him to tears. I have learned to watch my tone with him because his sensitivity is so great. Simply using a stern voice to make a point can cause him to feel like he is being punished.
Andrew, on the other hand, does not even hear my stern words. Andrew understands pain. Pain used to be inflicted with spankings. Now, pain is inflicted by depriving him of video games, television or his bike.
Phillip takes great pride in his schoolwork, carefully and slowly completing assignments.
Andrew takes great pride in completing his schoolwork -- first. There is a bell in his head that he is always trying to beat.
When they are sent to their room to read before bedtime, Phillip chooses chapter books about sports heroes or mysteries.
Andrew chooses "Calvin and Hobbes."
It is these differences that make parenting so difficult. What works for one may be completely ineffective for the other.
Getting a response
Some of my most frustrating moments as a parent have been caused by trying to reprimand or motivate a child in a way his personality is not made to respond.
Reprimanding Phillip by depriving him of video games is no punishment to him. Sending him to his room with a stern talking-to is the worst discipline.
Motivating Andrew to take time on his schoolwork so he can get straight A's and go to a good college will fall on deaf ears. A new "Calvin and Hobbes" book for improved schoolwork turns off the bell in his head.
The way one child acts and responds is not better than the other and must not be compared.
They are simply different, created for different purposes -- as different as blue jeans and Dockers.