If you’re anything like me, the tendency to compare your children to others is a trap hard to avoid; whether it be a comparison with siblings, of other children their age, or of yourself at the same age. With every stage of childhood development, there is the temptation to look sideways at what others are doing to validate and confirm that you as a parent are doing a good job and that your child is as well. While there are times when looking outward is helpful in assessing what is a good benchmark or goal to work towards, comparison can become a snare in loving your children for who they are. Instead, we begin to wish they were different; more like their peers; more like yourself.
From the moment of birth, the comparison game begins. “My baby sleeps through the night.” “My child didn’t say a word until he was 2!” “My kid starting reading at 5 years.” Eating, sleeping, walking, talking…there are milestones at every age. For some reason, parents put their children into an unspoken race; a race to reach a milestone first. If a child seems ‘slow’ to get there, (whoever determined an exacting age) we worry they might never. When we meet a parent whose child is similar, we feel connected, having an understanding of the other person’s experience. This somehow makes us feel better about ourselves, and potentially more accepting of our child; discovering that our child isn’t the only one, and we are not alone. However, what happens when we meet parents who have a different experience to us; whose child is doing things, we wish our child were doing? Our feelings can be the opposite.
It is easy in these moments to feel discouraged, thinking of our child in terms of, “Oh I wish they would…” “What if they never…” “If only they were more like…” Unfortunately, this hazardous internal dialogue can cause us to parent out of fear and discontent; fear that our child will remain unchanged; never meeting our expectations. Discontent that they are not who we wish them to be. Instead of accepting and loving them for who they are, it can become a relationship fraught with frustration, manipulation and discouragement. We become ensnared in the foolish belief that if we reach that hoped for goal, then our relationship with our child will return to a happier place of love and acceptance.
You may ask, “How do I shake off these uncomfortable thoughts of comparison?” “I want to accept and love my child for who they are, how can I parent them in such a way that is unaffected by what others are doing?” There lies the challenge: to not allow these comparisons to translate into placing unrealistic expectations on our children. Expecting they will be and behave in ways that conform to our hopes or their peers progress. We need to accept them for who they are and for the stage that they are at. To foster positive growth in the areas of weakness and challenge, whilst encouraging the aspects of their persons in which they naturally excel. In our current culture that celebrates diversity, it would be a shame to wish our children to all be alike. Rather than focusing all our efforts into changing those parts which we don’t like, we need to celebrate their uniqueness (accepting the beautiful blend of strengths and weaknesses that they have been given).
When I was a young Mum, facing the daily challenge of 2 small, strong-willed toddlers, I often wished they were different. I remember coming home from playgroup many a time, mourning the fact that my child was the only one not to participate in the singing time, (being fearful and shy in group settings). My children weren’t interested in sitting quietly on the mat to eat morning tea, but would get up repeatedly to pinch other kids food, or run off and play. Every outing with them seemed to highlight differences that I struggled to accept.
Now that I have teens, I have fallen prey again to comparison. The dialogue is more along the lines of, “When I was your age I was doing…” While the milestones are different to the toddler years, they are still developmental markers of maturity that I wish my children were achieving. Indeed, I think many parents desire their teenage children to show increasing amounts of maturity, as the fast approaching age of 18 looms large, pronouncing them ‘adult’ and therefore possessing all that that word means. Again, an unrealistic expectation that they are bound to fail in. (Who has ever been fully mature at 18?)
My mother encouraged me, when I was a young Mum to think on Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer, and I come back to it again. The prayer begins, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Whist thinking on this, I was reminded of David’s words in Psalm 16 vs 5, in the Bible which say, “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” One of my repeated prayers has become, “Lord, help me to love my children for who they are, not who I wish them to be.”
I do believe, in God’s wisdom and kindness, he entrusted four very different, unique, beautiful children, for me and my husband to raise. It is no accident who they are, and in God’s perfect plan and timing they are growing up. To be envious of another person’s lot, is to grumble at God, believing his gift isn’t good or that it wasn’t what I’d asked for. To love and accept the children given to you is trusting in God’s sovereignty and goodness. Living in light of this helps grow my love for my children and who they are.
As to a child’s progress and development: All of us are on a journey of growth. Whether we are 3, or 13, or 33 and beyond, each one of us has a unique, personal growing-up story.
Photo by: kennysarmy