The Myth of Equal Time

How can a parent possibly give all the children equal time when an intense child takes the lion's share of one's parenting efforts? Here are some tips...
Updated Jul 31, 2009
The Myth of Equal Time

Once again I stood over my son, working with him for hours on a task that would have taken a mere 20 minutes for any of my other children. And once again, my daughter dutifully picked up her books, completed her work all on her own, and basically took care of herself. With a sideways glance, I saw her quietly withdrawing through the door while I poured my energies into my son. Just then my youngest skipped in and gingerly asked if now, maybe I might have time to enjoy that tea party we've been putting off for days. I sighed. Not now.

What was God thinking? Why would He put such a time consuming, labor absorbing, emotionally intense child in the same family as my other compliant, quiet and reserved children? It just wasn't fair. So often his siblings were overwhelmed by him, his needs, his intensity, his incessant desire for interaction. (Not to mention the amount of time they spent dodging the small desk supplies he would catapult at them by balancing them on the handle of a spoon and whacking the other end.) How can this be a good thing? And how can I possibly give them equal time when this intense child takes the lion's share of my parenting efforts? I'm often exhausted just getting him started on schooling in the morning.

This struggle to provide equal time to all my children was my constant companion for years. But my "aha" moment came when I attended my state's homeschool conference and observed a panel of moms with special needs kids. These moms had children with serious issues. Deafness, blindness, Spina Bifida. Their lives were far more full and challenging than my own. Doctor visits, diet restrictions, severe allergic reactions, nebulizers, wheelchairs and frequent injections were a part of their daily lives. But as I watched them, I sensed that these moms weren't living the frenzied life that reigned in my home. You could just tell by looking at them. Nor did they go about wearing the lovely guilt accessories I seemed to carry everywhere.  

The microphone was passed around and finally there came the question that I had waited for. "How do you give equal time to your other children when this one child takes so much of your resources?"

Everyone's ears perked up, including my own. The woman who answered this question said two great things in response. First, she told us that question comes up every time there is a meeting such as this. (Whew! At least I'm not alone in this boat.) Second (my favorite part), she said "You don't. You don't give equal time to all your children. You can't. You have to let go of the notion. It's not realistic or" (get ready for this one) "even desirable."

You don't? What? It's not even desirable? I couldn't quite take it in. I had so fiercely held to this concept, assuming it was a sacred cow like looking both ways before crossing streets or never mixing laundry colors. I just took for granted that it was a noble goal and that everybody else must be achieving it. Since it wasn't occurring in my house, clearly I just needed to work harder. Just make it happen. Just don't get any sleep. But here were these women saying it isn't so. They were also saying that they were at peace with the concept. Not only at peace with it, as in "resigned to it"—they were really at peace with it, as in believing that it wasn't even desirable. It took awhile (quite awhile in fact ), but eventually I learned to unfold the truths that were buried deep in those words.


For me it really became an act of faith. Does God know what He's doing? Can I truly trust that our family is by design and not by default? Can I honestly rely on the One who knew each family member before they were formed in their mother's womb and then selected them, one at a time, for membership in my family? I began with the assumption that I could. I could trust that God has plans for each of us that are for good, not evil. I could actually stretch out and recline back into the arms of that trust. With that as my premise, I began looking for the good that I knew had to be there—the good that I had been missing in my driven but misguided efforts to mete myself out in equal portions.

What good did I find? Plenty.

  • My other children were developing an awareness of reality and others' needs that went beyond their own skin. Early on, they found empathy and compassion. Early on, they discovered ways in which life wasn't fair and that they had actually received more than others. Early on, they found gratitude that their lives were far easier in many ways than was their brother's. God is good.
  • One child was able to assist in Sunday School in reining in a child whose behavior was much like her brother's. Her sense of service and even competence was grown by this experience. Yep, God is good again.
  • One daughter is incredibly shy, but with this very intense and highly physical brother to deal with, she toughened up and developed skills she might never have found if all her siblings had been calm and compliant. God is still good.
  • My children had to learn to entertain themselves. I have discovered over the years that this is a profound gift for them, one often missing in other families. My children do not believe that it is my job to keep life interesting or entertaining. They have learned to do this for themselves. They have learned contentment. God is all about contentment.
  • Siblings of a special needs child are simply not as judgmental when they meet folks who don't fit a preconceived mold. They are more comfortable in a variety of scenarios that leave others feeling awkward. They've had plenty of experience in reading the faces of those who are taken aback by their sibling. And they've learned to respond in ways that bring ease to uncomfortable situations. What a skill. God is empowering.
  • In many families, children have developed an interest in a medical career, counseling position or other service-based occupation because their heart has been touched by the unique needs of a much loved but challenging sibling. Some children choose careers that allow them to impact the laws that protect and care for those unable to advocate for themselves. God has plans for all our children.

In the end, I have come to believe that God has placed these siblings in this arrangement because He has a plan for them that will require skills that are developed by this family makeup. It wasn't a mistake. It's not even an issue of simply learning to tolerate it. You can rejoice in the good that will come of the mix and blend in your family. Look for the blessings. Look for the good. But don't keep it to yourself. Point it out to your children so they too learn to recline into the arms of a God who put together a great family with them in it and a great plan with their name on it.

*This article first published on September 3, 2007.


Carol Barnier is a delightful speaker, entertaining author, adequate wife and a pitiful housekeeper ... and oh yes, a fellow homeschooler. Her book, If I'm Diapering a Watermelon, Then Where'd I Leave The Baby? is a survivor's manual for life in the distractible lane. Contact Carol at [email protected]

This article was originally published in the July/Aug '07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more details, visit 


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