If My Perfectly Imperfect Mom Life has taught me anything, it’s that you’re not doing yourself (or your kid) any favors when you’re always measuring them against someone else.
We do a lot of comparing as humans. It’s just in our nature — especially these days living in such a weird, weird world with not a lot to do but look around at how other people are living.
And as parents, well, comparing ourselves to the other parents in the room is inevitable as we try to raise our own kids.
And even though we know deep down that it’s toxic to measure ourselves and our own self-worth against other people, we still do it. Often. Because we’re human, and sometimes as humans we just can’t help ourselves.
Right now, though, more than ever, we need to resist that urge to compare ourselves (and our kids) to the people around us because no one else can do our life better than us.
The truth is, we’ve all intentionally (and unintentionally) measured our children against their brothers or sisters or the other kids in our world because we’re forever curious about how kids grow and how other people parent.
Especially, when our children are little little, it’s normal to be dialed into how other kids are growing and maturing and progressing because we all want to ensure that our own kids are staying with the pack.
And yeah, on some level, we’re also a little competitive, though few of us want to say that out loud.
Too many of today’s parents are so hyper-focused on making sure that their kid excels at everything that it’s often tricky to know when to pull back and let them grow at their own pace and when to push. And that leaves a lot of us in knots, because no one wants to watch their kid get lapped by everyone around them.
As a result, parents everywhere are micromanaging their kids and putting too much pressure on them to outperform their peers, whether the kids are up for it or not.
With so many different developmental boxes to check off, both in and out of school, a lot of parents are ignoring where their kids are developmentally and focusing instead on where they think they ought to be to measure up.
I mean, how many times have you said to yourself, Why is my kid the only one throwing a tantrum in the checkout line at Whole Foods? Why isn’t my daughter talking as well as my neighbor’s kid? How come my son won’t sleep through the night when everyone else’s kids knock off the second they hit the pillow?
Trust me, I get it, because I’ve been that mom, thinking those exact same thoughts. It’s impossible not to.
But while those thoughts are normal, what we absolutely should never allow ourselves to become is the parent who makes our kid feel less-than for not being as fast or as smart or as strong as all the other kids. That’s like the cardinal sin of parenting. And that’s what I’m here to remind you.
Once we put our child in the mix with a whole bunch of other kids, that natural inclination to compare kicks in. So, do yourself a favor and don’t be too freaked out if you’re doing it, because we all do it to some degree. Just check yourself before you pass on those comparisons to your child.
Because being aware and in tune with your kid’s development is just good parenting. It’s what we’re supposed to do. But talking negatively about our kids, especially in front of them, is totally not okay.
Negative comparisons send a very clear-cut message to your child that it’s not okay for them to develop at a speed that’s comfortable for them. And that just kicks them directly in the bull’s-eye of their self-esteem by telling them that they’re just not measuring up.
Look, we all want the best for our kids. Obviously. We want them to succeed and thrive and excel, but they’re not going to do that according to someone else’s pace. They’re only going to do it when they’re ready.
And to set unfair expectations according to how other children are developing is just unrealistic and sets an awful precedent. Which is exactly why we need to embrace our kids exactly where they are.
We need to let them feel our support and our patience, because when they know they have that — that’s when they start blossoming.
Of course the flip side is that when they think they don’t have our support and acceptance, that’s when they wilt. It’s when they start paying too much attention to what everyone around them is doing that the big-time inferiority complex usually surfaces. And if you’re already doing it, then they’re copying you for sure.
So the bottom line here is, don’t be that parent. You know, the one who’s hung up on your kid hitting those developmental milestones better or faster than their peers. Because if you have been doing that, now’s the time to stop.
The reality is, some kids jump straight to walking and never crawl. Some kids sleep through the night, some don’t. Some kids will respond to their name, while others don’t.
But they get where they’re meant to be in their own time. And since the pace that they get there is already imprinted on their DNA from day one, we need to quit comparing and start embracing.
So, as you head into the uncertainty of the fall, just let yourself relax a little. Love your kid for who and where they are right here and now regardless of what’s happening around you.
Here are a few tips for how to avoid falling into the comparison trap:
- Focus your attention on your child and remember that kids don’t all learn how to sit up or walk or talk on the same day. Every child hits these milestones at different times and that’s OK.
- Limit your time on social media because all that scrolling on other people’s feeds leads to toxic comparisons of yourself and your child. So make a concerted effort to put down your phone and pay more attention to what’s happening under your own roof.
- Dial into what your child can do and celebrate those accomplishments and milestones.
- Keep track of your self-talk and remember to be kind to yourself and treat yourself with compassion and patience. Because you are enough.
Lisa Sugarman is a parenting author, columnist, and radio show host living just north of Boston with her husband and two grown daughters. She writes the nationally syndicated opinion column “It Is What It Is” and is the author of “How to Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids And Be Ok With It,” “Untying Parent Anxiety,” and “LIFE: It Is What It Is.” Lisa is also the co-host of the weekend talk show LIFE UNfiltered on Northshore 104.9FM, a regular contributor on GrownAndFlown, Thrive Global, Care.com, LittleThings, More Content Now, and Today.com. Visit her at lisasugarman.com.