Why We Should Stop Comparing Our Children
I am always disappointed when after only a few days of school, the first thing my kids’ teachers have to say is, “your son is finally breaking out of his shell.” What does that mean anyway? Does it mean that they didn’t work hard the first two weeks of school? That they didn’t complete their assignments, show pride for their work, or respect their teachers and classmates? What were my sons doing that brought such relief to the teachers to see them “breaking out of their shell?” I know what my sons were doing – they were being quiet. But I also know what their teachers were doing – they were comparing.
Why can’t we stop comparing our children to others and instead start appreciating them for who they are? A quiet child has great advantages in a world that can’t stop talking. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; they innovate and create; they dislike self-promotion and they enjoy working on their own. It is quiet people like Rosa Parks and Abraham Lincoln to whom we owe so many of our societal achievements. On the flip side, an extroverted child is just as valuable. They are the ones who push ideas, fight for the weak, organize big campaigns and lead with conviction. It is loud people like Martin Luther King and Margaret Thatcher whose attention-seeking personalities have changed the world.
Parents compare their children because they cannot help to do so. They compare because there are certain characteristics that their children might have that are somewhat glorified in our culture, such as playing team sports, being outspoken, leading group projects and drawing a crowd of friends. So in response to our pre-conceived ides of how a child should behave, we choose to compare them to others. When we compare our children and value one characteristic over another, we force them to become people they are not and, in so doing, not only do we damage their ego but also harm society by causing an imbalance in the world as a whole. Society needs children that play sports, but it also needs artists and poets. A society is better off when it has a brain, a heart, and strength. We need all kinds of people.
Some comparison is natural and helpful, especially when we are looking at milestones. But we go into panic mode early on in their lives when other babies hit a milestone before ours do; forgetting to account for their temperament and genetic disposition. We compare to motivate, oblivious to the fact that what to us is motivation to our children is a recipe for resentment. Judging, grading, and labeling hinder our children’s ability to reach their full potential.
Every child under your roof is special. One might be able to recite the Greek alphabet by the time he turns two; but the other one might smile often and makes people happy with her sense of humor. As a parent, I want to take in those moments when each one of my children reacts differently to a situation. I want to love them for their individuality. I want to think that one may become the Eleanor Roosevelt of the world, quiet but determined to help and love the lowly; while the other might become the Franklin Roosevelt of history, forceful and gregarious with influence to make big changes.
But how do we learn to rest from the need to compare? By replacing it with unconditional love. Love will help our children find a secure place in our homes. A child that’s loved does not need to be compared to help him/her figure out how to make their mark in the world. If they are loved, we have freed them from all that anxiety of having to measure up. We have given them the opportunity to become who they are meant to be. We have given them the choice to stay inside their nooks and crannies or to come out of their shell as each situation demands it.