We're excited to share this post from our partners at BabyCenter! Every week, we will be bringing you the best parenting and lifestyle stories from the experts at BabyCenter, including this post from Evonne Lack about avoiding the dangerous trap of competitive parenting.
The comparison game is one new moms know well. Even when we try to avoid the "does your baby do this yet?" questions, it's pretty impossible not to notice when, say, a friend's 5-week-old is smiling and yours isn't. As mom Heather Cianciolo says, "Doesn't every mother compare her kids?"
Blame it on our survival instincts, says Kathy Seal, coauthor of Pressured Parents, Stressed-out Kids: Dealing With Competition While Raising a Successful Child.
"We're hardwired to push our kids to compete. After all, our ancestors' children had to be strong enough to get that last piece of meat or outrun that dangerous animal," Seal says. "It's also natural to want our kids to acquire skills, so we compare for reassurance."
Normal as it is, comparing can be a recipe for stress. It can also prevent us from fully appreciating what our kids are accomplishing. Here are some common comparison traps — and how to sidestep them.
Milestone & Developmental Comparisons
Babies vary widely when it comes to hitting milestones like sitting up, crawling, and walking, which makes this comparison trap a particularly easy one to fall into.
"I remember sitting in music class, watching a 10-month-old demonstrate physical milestones that my 19-month-old was just getting around to. It was hard," says Cianciolo.
As moms, we're encouraged to watch for any development problems or delays and to get help right away with anything we notice. So it's no wonder we're constantly wondering what's normal and what's not.
Sidestep the trap: Research shows that as long as your child is reaching milestones within the normal range, how quickly he reaches them has no bearing on his later skills.
So if your 18-month-old says only one or two words compared to your same-age nephew's dozen, it doesn't mean your child won't eventually gab your ears off.
"Milestone development has very little to do with a child's future potential, so I encourage parents not to worry if their children are late bloomers or seem to be at the outer limits of normal," says Darshak Sanghavi, a pediatrician who's also an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and author of A Map of the Child: A Pediatrician's Tour of the Body. "It's tempting to think that what a child does when he's young is going to control his destiny, but everyday experiences don't bear this out. We can't determine a child's destiny based on what month they started walking," Sanghavi says. Enjoying your child's current skills and tricks can help ground you in the present and prevent you from fretting about the future.
"It's hard to hear my 15-month-old niece saying more than my 2-year-old daughter. But it helps to focus on the special things my daughter does — like when we get ready to read, she gets the blanket and pillow and sets it all up, which really makes my heart melt," says Kim Lybrand.
Finally, remind yourself that while we can certainly help our children learn new things, we can't force them to reach milestones before they're ready. When we attribute our kids' development to our superior parenting skills, it can come back to bite us.
"When others noticed how well my son got around, I felt like we must have done something great to facilitate his excellent gross motor skills," remembers Jennifer Parker. "But then I'd hear other children speak so clearly, while my son wasn't yet talking at all, and I'd feel like such a bad mom."