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."
More on no-competition motherhood after the break.
Put two new parents together and the question is bound to come up: "Does he sleep through the night?" Unfortunately, the deck isn't stacked fairly — some babies sleep like a dream, while others fight bedtime with every ounce of vigor in their little bodies.
It's very difficult to handle this disparity gracefully. "When your baby isn't sleeping, and your friend brags that her baby is sleeping through the night, you want to kill her, or at least maim her," jokes Jenna McCarthy, author of The Parent Trip.
Sidestep the trap: Like milestones, sleep styles vary. What works for one child can bomb for another. "You might politely ask your friend how she gets her child to sleep, but this will only depress you further when you realize you're doing the same things and they are not working," says McCarthy.
Instead of dwelling on all the super sleepers out there, focus on finding a solution so that you can get some sleep. If your baby's ready, you can try sleep training — either a cry-it-out or no-tears method.
If your baby's too young for sleep training, you still have options. Ask a friend, relative, or babysitter to watch your baby so that you can take a nap, share middle-of-the-night feedings with your partner, or try these other strategies for sleep-deprived parents.
When the sleep comparison game starts, tune out or change the subject. And remember, this too shall pass.
Our children may "belong" to us, but we don't own their temperaments. Like eye color, many personality traits are inborn. Still, it's hard not to shrink in shame when our kids tear hysterically around the library or refuse to meet new people.
For mom Amy Spizzo, taking her sons to restaurants triggered the negative comparisons. "Other children sat quietly in their highchairs, but my two boys behaved liked trapped raccoons. How could other kids be so content to scribble with crayons while mine were more intrigued by seeing how far they could throw theirs?" she says.
Sidestep the trap: For all you know, the calm, beribboned little girl at story time may have had a monster meltdown that very morning. "I've seen children who behave perfectly in public but throw huge fits in their own houses. So I just keep reminding myself that things are not always as they appear," says Amy Oztan of the Selfish Mom blog.
Of course, you should use discipline or gentle correction when your child does something purposefully destructive, unpleasant, or dangerous.
But when it comes to your child's personality, plain and simple acceptance is key. If you're a social butterfly and your baby's a shrinking violet, or if you love sports but your little one shies away from anything to do with a ball, you may have some stretching to do as you learn to understand and appreciate his particular individuality. Yet this is one of the best gifts you can give your child.
"I came to the realization that it wouldn't benefit my daughter if I spent my time comparing her to other children. I want her to grow up with the self-confidence that she is unique," says Shelley Hasenohrl.
A new baby can be a huge strain on a relationship, and having a friend with a "perfect spouse" doesn't make things any easier.
"Not once has my husband let me sleep in. Meanwhile, my girlfriend's partner insists she sleep in on the weekends while he takes care of the baby, cleans the house, does the laundry, and then wakes her up with a delicious breakfast in bed. How frustrating is that?" says Beth Beauchemin.
Sidestep the trap: First, remember that unless you live with the other couple, you don't know the whole story. They may be dealing with challenges that you're completely unaware of.
Second, focus on appreciating what your partner does contribute.
"It took some self-reflection to realize that if I could forgive myself my imperfections compared to other moms, then I could extend the same consideration to my husband. Sure, some people have partners who clean the house and come home early — but they don't have my husband and all his wonderful qualities," Beauchemin says.
If your partner isn't helping as much as you need him to, you certainly don't have to just suck it up. But yelling, "Why can't you be like her husband?" probably won't help. For alternatives, check out our article on avoiding fights with your partner.
Your mommy friend's house is clean, she makes her own baby food, and her clothes are never wrinkled. Meanwhile, your house is a wreck and you haven't taken a shower in three days. "Why can't I be like her?" you wonder.
Sidestep the trap: Negatively comparing yourself to a "super-mom" will only make you feel defeated and drained. Instead, spend some time focusing on your own parenting strengths when the green-eyed monster strikes. What are you most proud of?
This doesn't mean that you can't improve in certain areas, if that's what you want. In that case, let your envy serve as a source of inspiration rather than bitterness.
"Learn from those moms," says McCarthy. "Ask their advice and copy their smarter moves." And who knows? You're probably inspiring other parents in ways you don't even know about.
More great reads from BabyCenter:
Getting a flu shot during pregnancy can raise your baby's birth weight
Kids coming out of the closet as early as elementary school
Questions to ask yourself before you start trying to conceive
The biggest car seat safety mistakes that parents make
New dad jealousy, and how to get over it