“Mom, can we have chicken for dinner?”

“No, I hate chicken! Let’;s have spaghetti.”

“Can we go swimming?”

“No, let’;s go to the arcade.”

“I want to see the new Harry Potter movie.”

“I want to go to the planetarium.”

“EZ’;s!”

“Cheesy Jane’;s!”

“Operation!”

“Battleship!”

Big sigh.

I’ve heard it on good authority that there are actually siblings out there that enjoy doing the same things. I once heard a mother say that whatever gift she bought for one child, she had to buy the exact same gift for the other child because they always wanted to play together. I admit; I was skeptical. Siblings with similar interests? Children who want to do the exact same activity at the exact same time? It seemed impossible to believe, an anomaly I have never experienced in my tenure as a mother.

In our house, agreeing on an activity – any activity – often requires a supreme act of God, not to mention bribery, threats or a full-blown temper tantrum by yours truly, complete with tears and foot stomping. As the mother of two boys, ages 10 and 12, I am often caught in the middle of two very different personalities with opposing interests and ideas of what is fun. One child loves the computer and video games, one loves reading science fiction and collecting Civil War figures. One is a basketball fanatic with a constant desire to be surrounded by friends, the other can spend hours alone in his room building with Legos and doing science experiments. Throw in Dad with his passion for marathons and NASCAR, Mom (yes, Mom has interests, too!) who loves needlepoint and browsing antique stores, not to mention a baby sister on the way, and you have all the makings of a Saturday afternoon spent arguing over what to do!

Mothers often find themselves caught in the middle of the fray, the consummate referee, umpire, tiebreaker and peacekeeper. Sure, it would be easier to let everyone do their own thing, never crossing out of their comfort zones or venturing into the unknown territory that is the interest of another, but that would be the easy way out, and we mothers aren’;t keen on taking the easy way out. Oh, no! We like to use words likefamily time, compromise and taking turns. We love to teach lessons about being patient and showing respect for others – at least we tell ourselves we love it. We take our role as mother seriously, and that often involves making unpopular decisions for the greater good of the family. After all, we’;re striving to raise bright, sensitive, well-rounded children, right? And we aim to attain that elusive perfect family where everyone gets along and enjoys being together.

Another big sigh.

It would be simpler if we were all fishing fanatics or bird enthusiasts. Perhaps if we were more like the Partridge family, traveling around the country in a van making music together, life would be easier. But that’;s just not the case. And to be honest, I’;m thankful for it. The family diversity that is often the bane of a mother’;s existence can also be a blessing. Some of the most important life lessons come as the result of being part of a vastly diverse family where varied opinions and opposing interests are part of the day-to-day life. Family diversity doesn’;t have to be the factor that pulls a family in opposing directions. Family diversity can be the connecting link that allows us to grow closer together while expanding individual interests.

Compromise: How often do I hear the words, “But I don’;t want to do that.” My basketball star never wants to sit and build a Deathstar out of Legos, nor does my Civil War buff have any interest in playing a game of one-on-one with his brother. But when family time is on the line, someone’;s gotta give. Ah, the power of negotiation. The heady thrill of learning the power behind a simple compromise: I’;ll play a video game with you if you’;ll watch Mythbusters with me. It can be a revelation. I have absolutely no desire to turn my history guru into a world-class athlete, or vice-versa. However, the child who learns the importance of give and take is much better equipped to handle life’;s challenges than the child who grows up believing it’;s my way or the highway, dude.

Respect: Respecting each other’;s interests and hobbies is non-negotiable in our house. You may not love it, you may not even like it, but you will respect it because it is of interest to someone that you love. By participating in an activity that a sibling or family member chooses, a child not only learns to build up and encourage that sibling, he learns the time-honored lesson of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. By showing support and interest for another, kids learn the best way to earn respect for themselves and for their own individual interests. And there is nothing that builds self-esteem more than validation from a parent or sibling.

Expanding horizons: Kids can get in a rut. Come to think of it, parents can, too. When we find something we like, we stick to it. And there’;s nothing wrong with that. But by encouraging children to participate in activities that may not be No. 1 on their own personal list, we help them to grow as individuals. And there is so much out there: music, drama, sports, creative writing, hiking, biking, history … and yes, even NASCAR! Parents, you don’;t have to take your kids abroad to develop well-rounded children. Build them right in your own backyard. By encouraging family activities that honor all family members’; interests, you build healthy family relationships and strong self-esteem in individuals. It’;s what my mother called a win-win situation.

So, this summer, plan some fun family activities together. Visit the San Antonio Museum of Art, picnic or hike the trails in McAllister Park, see a magic show, visit the Alamo, or spend a rainy Saturday locked in battle in front of the Playstation. Nothing is off limits, and everyone’;s idea counts. Who knows? You may wind up a family of bird enthusiasts after all!