"The things that make me different are the things that make me."
~ A.A. Milne (Piglet)
Perhaps one of my favorite characters in children's literature is Piglet. I often think of this quote when encouraging my three to be themselves — which admittedly is not always forefront in my mommy mind because somewhere in the back I am usually comparing them to each other — or worse yet, friends' children!
The natural inclination is to compare your child to other children. So is it bad to compare one child to another? Whether you're likening that one child to another of your own or a friend's, it’s okay to compare as long as you celebrate that their individuality too. We must be cognizant that every child has a unique set of strengths — and weaknesses. Recognizing them is one thing — parenting accordingly is another. I have certainly tried my hardest to parent accordingly, but throughout the years have had (and still have) momentary lapses.
As a parent — especially as a parent of twins — I can't tell you the number of times I heard, "Don't compare your children to one another or anyone else's kids." I heard it from my mom, my husband's grandmother, and on one mortifying occasion, my pediatrician actually scolded me for comparing Matty and Meggie's growth charts at a wellness visit! I never quite understood this. After all, it's human nature to compare things! We compare products we're thinking of purchasing, people we know to other people, clothes based on how they look on us, roads for the quickest route — I think it's safe to say that as human beings we compare things hundreds of times a day. So why then are we advised to resist the temptation to compare our children to other children? I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing if we occasionally do so — that's how we benchmark.
The logical temptation from the day Matty and Meggie were born was for me to compare them to each other — especially for developmental progress — expecting that they would do things in synchronicity. After all, they were conceived at the same time and born the same time — wouldn't this mean they would start walking at the same time and talking at the same time and reading at the same time? The answer was, "Definitely not; they're different beings!" First of all, obviously Matty is a boy, and Meggie is a girl, so from the moment they were born, the obvious differences were — well — obvious! Beyond that, just the way each moved in their incubator at the hospital was different. Meggie with her little fingers stretched out and flowing movements, as graceful as if she were a tiny ballerina dancing her way across a stage. Matty, on the other hand, fists clenched as tight as tight could be punching into the air as if he were a prizefighter ready to enter the ring at any moment! There were apparent differences between the twins immediately. And then Mikee came along 18 months later, and he was much more laid back, an entirely different baby from the first two. You see — how can you not compare? It seems a perfectly natural thing to compare my three children to one another.
I suspect that the well-meaning persons giving parents the advice to 'not compare' are confusing the ideas of comparison and judgment — understandably so because it's a fine line that separates the two. It's important to clarify that you can compare things without judging them; however, it would be much harder to judge something without comparing it to something else. Furthermore, when you judge, you are making comparisons to deem one thing either more worthy or less worthy than the thing to which you are comparing it. If you take the 'better than' and 'worse than' out of that equation, what's left is a simple comparison — an inherent part of human nature and perfectly harmless!
So, Meggie walked and read before Matty; but, Matty spoke his first word, "Dada," before Meggie. Mikee, being a third child, started walking, talking, and reading way ahead of when both Matty and Meggie did! My point is that I can compare all three of my children to one another without making a judgment that one of them did something better (or worse) than the other two.
Now, on the flip side, when Matty was slower to begin reading than Meggie, had I said to him, "Meggie seems to be reading at a higher level than you, perhaps you should try reading some of the books that she reads, instead of Captain Underpants." That would have been taking the comparison beyond the point of comparison, and using it to make the judgment that Meggie's choice of Little House on the Prairie was some how better than Matty's reading selection of Captain Underpants. The implication would be that Matthew should adjust himself to be more like his sister.
Oh! And by the way, we'd be ever so grateful if you'd...
I think, as parents, it's important to be conscious of when we are comparing our children to others and to understand why we are comparing. Are we doing it with good intentions — simply for comparison's sake? Or do we have ulterior motives to use the comparison in judgment, ultimately to change the child's behavior?
The first scenario — simply for comparison's sake — as I said before is relatively harmless and provides us benchmarks. Also in actuality, comparing children and noting their unique differences can be a very positive thing for the psyche of a developing mind, as long as you present it correctly. Whether you intend or not — when you take it further, make a judgment, and attempt to change something about your child — you run the risk of diminishing that child's sense of self-worth by seeking to invoke the more desired traits of another upon them. The surest way to make any human being feel bad and invoke passive-aggressive behavior is to infer that they should be more like someone else. Think about it — how would you feel if your husband said there was something he thought was better about his best friend's wife and that he'd prefer you to be more like her? I guarantee that would fly like a lead balloon.
Parents run into problems comparing when judgment follows, and in the process, someone ends up feeling less worthy than another. By all means, I am not the perfect parent, and in the interest of full disclosure, I have done this myself and on more than just the Captain Underpants occasion. But for the sake of discussion, in that particular instance, I made Matty feel less worthy because he chose to read Captain Underpants and not Little House on the Prairie. I said what I did with all good intentions — to help him improve his reading skills — I just presented it in the wrong way. By judging Matty based on his sister's reading ability I had conveyed the message that I thought Meggie was in some way better because of the books she was reading. I apologized to him for being such a bad mommy and took him to the library so that he could check out some challenging adventure books, which are the kind of books Matty needed to get excited about reading — not Little House on the Prairie.
Back to your friends’ children for a moment: It's reasonable to find yourself wishing your little ones were a little more like someone else's. I would just recommend not sharing that thought with your own. Although, having said that, I do find it a bit ironic that we parents need to hold our tongues! Given the shoe on the other foot — undoubtedly, when someone else's parents are way cooler than me, my children don't hesitate one New York minute pointing it out! The other thing about that green grass on the other side of the fence (so to speak), is that we must remember that most children, outside the comfort zone of their home, will behave better around people other than their parents. So, in other words, chances are those children do some of the same things that yours do and drive their parents just as batty when they’re home! As a matter of fact, I’d be willing to guarantee that those parents wish their children were more like yours. Funny how that is!
This parenting thing isn't always easy, but the bottom line on comparing your child to other children is:
• Go ahead and compare — it's the nature of being human!
• Don't be judgemental — that's when feelings get hurt!
• If feelings do get hurt — by all means, a sincere apology fixes everything!
• And try to remember Piglet's wise words when you are comparing — "The things that make me different are the things that make me."
What are your thoughts on comparing one child to another? Feel free to comment below!