As mothers, we start comparing our little ones, the very minute we conceive them. Understandably so, because as moms, we want to know whether we are on the right track, doing the right thing. And if we experience any sort of deviation from the normal, we start or continue to compare even more. Why? If you are anything like I am, its because I want to ace it… give it my best, be the best (or at least the closest possible to the best). Thankfully so far, I am not comparing my child to any other because I personally don’t like being compared to anyone. I don’t like that feeling and I’m grateful that my mom didn’t do that while raising me. However, coming from a culture where comparison and competition is still common, I did experience it nevertheless. But as a mom, I try my best to refrain from the tendency to compare my child to any other.
Having said that, I don’t live in a bubble. Sure, I am in touch with the world and its expectations. Instead of competing and comparing, I learn from my experiences and from the people around me. Although I don’t feel right about making direct comparisons, I do, however, use benchmarks and milestones. I have learnt to not obsess over them anymore because we are all unique and we need to value that about ourselves. EG: I remember my baby was not showing any interest in rolling over, scooting or crawling like other babies her age did but then she skipped a couple of milestones and started to stand and even walk in no time. That’s when I knew that my child is capable of knowing what she wants and focuses all her energy on achieving that goal. Ignorance is bliss for babies. Now, just because I don’t compare my child doesn’t mean that I believe in “lazy parenting”. (I’m not judging parents here but that term is a legitimate style of parenting now and I respect that). There’s nothing lazy about lazy parenting style but its not my style. I am a borderline helicopter parent who is trying hard to stay with the positives of that style of parenting. I do have great expectations from my child and those I have based on my knowledge and experience as an early childhood educator. And in my 12 years of experience in the field, I have consciously refrained from comparing my young students too. I, however, find ways to turn around those statements of comparisons.
So here’s how I do it and why:
When saying “Why can’t you be more like XYZ?”, we are blatantly telling our child, that he/she is not good enough. Instead, I can turn it around by looking into that specific trait or skill that XYZ exhibits. And if that is something I feel my child can benefit from, I will introduce that trait or skill to her. I would focus on the process of becoming, rather than the outcome and be a part of her learning journey. Play a responsible and equal part in that process rather than isolate her to reach the outcome and find a way to be like XYZ.
Every time we habitually or even casually praise someone else and then immediately follow it up by criticising our own child, we are making a direct comparison. On purpose or not, while doing so, we are not only damaging the bond we share with them but also the relationship they might have with the XYZ. This might lead to some passive aggression that gets projected toward the person criticising and also the person being praised. And this could cause some deep set emotional and social bruises for life where the child as an adult might have trouble appreciating the good in others because somewhere its gotten linked to their own self worth.
I would like my daughter to see the good around her and make her own decision of whether or not to imbibe that as a part of her individuality. When I say, “Did you see how XYZ did that? Would you like to do that?”, she learns that just because someone is good at something, doesn’t mean that she is not. And if she chooses to, she can do it too. That’s when I, as her mom, am all in, for setting her up for success. This is a positive mindset at work and I would like her to internalise this mindset to function and succeed in the competitive jungle out there. Praising someone doesn’t need to have a toxic effect on her personality. In fact, when I praise someone else, I am bringing her to notice the good around, making suggestions, and even sharing my personal preferences about what I like and what I don’t. Now as she’s turning 4 soon, there are times, I even highlight the not-so-good things around and gently guide her to make the right choices. Most of the times, she does get the difference between good and bad choices.
And when she makes her choices, I would like her to make it for herself, because she finds it right. Not because she wants to please me or anyone else. We tend to make comparisons because we want to motivate our children to succeed and be like or better than an XYZ. But somewhere this teaches the child to follow a herd rather than be their own uniquely productive self. Following a herd mentality also teaches a child that we have to be a part of the group, come what may. So, what happens when my daughter encounters a group of people making poor choices together? Does that make it right? That’s why I like to emphasise to her that just because someone is making poor choices, we don’t have to join in, even if it’s a friend we like or a lot of friends we might want to be liked by. We need to use our own beautiful mind to make good choices because we find it right. And its amazing how she’s able to make those choices… again, most of the times.
Children are much more capable than we think they are. We need to give them more credit for that, at least I do. Their minds absorb like sponge…the way we speak to them and speak about them gets internalised in them overtime and we should choose to look at that as a big plus point.
Speaking of capability, my child has her own interests and abilities which I, as her mom, need to encourage and facilitate. I try really hard not to enforce my own interests on her. I also try hard not to make her take up a skill just because everyone is doing it. Again, following the herd mentality can be counter productive. I not only respect her personal interests but also keep the expectations realistic. Let’s face it, trying to achieve something that one isn’t interested in and is not capable of, can only lead to frustration and stress. She rather be frustrated and stressed learning something that she actually wants to be good at. That kind of stress is good because those frustrations and mistakes only make one better.
This brings me to the aspect that’s so very important when my daughter is succeeding or even failing forward : LOVE, unconditional love, at all times. I always make it a point to appreciate her choices, her efforts and her struggles, however big or small. That doesn’t mean I don’t get disappointed when she makes poor choices. And I rightfully express that disappointment to her by saying “I love you a lot and I always will. I am feeling sad right now because I am disappointed in your choices. I know that you can do better than that! How can we make this better?” Right there, was love that’s unconditional, real feelings that are momentary consequences, faith in her abilities which didn’t reflect in her current choice, a confident resolve to fix it as a team. This routine keeps her more grounded and motivated to be her best, than me having to make comparisons. This is about her, and only her. We talk about her choices and their consequences while speaking of her and her only. She learns that she is capable of making better choices, by herself and for herself . This is a personal growth mindset that focuses on her and her alone.
Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And that line has stayed with me for years. Comparison does take away the fun of learning to discover and be the best version of ourselves. If we do have to compare, let’s compare us to ourselves as we challenge ourselves to learn and grow for life!