The following is the second of four excerpts from Lisa Sugarman’s latest book, How To Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids And Be OK With It: Real Tips & Strategies for Parents of Today’s Gen Z Kids in bookstores everywhere September 1st.
Survival Tip 2: Don’t Get Caught in the Comparing Trap
Our kids don’t all learn how to ride a bike on the same day, but they do figure it out eventually.
As parents, we do a lot of comparing of our kids, both to their own siblings (if they have them) and to the kids around them. Especially once they hit school age. We intentionally and unintentionally measure them against their brothers or sisters and other kids because we just can’t help ourselves. We’re curious about how other kids are growing and maturing and adapting, and we want to ensure that our own kids are staying on track with the kids around them. And yeah, on some level, we’re also a little competitive. Can’t be havin’ Jen’s kid swimming without a swim bubble before my kid!
Because today’s parents are so hyper-focused on making sure that their kids excel at everything, it’s tricky to know when to pull back and let them grow at their own pace and when to push. And that’s got 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 microman¬aging their kids and putting too much pressure on them to outperform their peers, whether our kids are up for it or not. With so many different developmental milestones 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 isn’t my kid reading yet? How can the Smith kid possibly be reading chapter books already?! Why can’t my daughter ride a two-wheeler yet? How come my son can’t throw to first base? Why isn’t my kid as tall as the other kids in his class? I get it, because I’ve been that mom, thinking those exact same thoughts. It’s impossible not to. And anyone who says they haven’t is flat-out lying. But what we absolutely should never become is the mom or dad who calls our kid out to her face for not being as fast or as smart or as strong as all the other kids. That’s like a cardinal sin of parenting.
Avoid comparing siblings at all costs, it will cause your kids to develop an inferior/superior dynamic, and that’s dangerous territory.
Once we put our kid 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.
It’s one thing to talk privately to our husband or wife about concerns we have about our son or daughter’s social or emotional or academic issues, that’s cool. Being aware and in tune with our kid’s development is just good parenting. It’s what we’re supposed to do. But talking smack about our kids, in front of them, is totally not okay. Then you’re sending 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. Then you’re kicking them directly in the bull’s-eye of their self-esteem, which says that they’re not measuring up.
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. Trying to force it only creates animosity between you and them. To set unfair expectations according to how other kids develop 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. And when they think they don’t have our support and acceptance, that’s when they wilt. It’s when they start perfectly imperfect kids paying too much attention to what everyone around them is doing that the big-time inferiority complex usually surfaces.
We need to let them feel our support and our patience, because when they know they have that, that’s when they start blossoming.