I remember it like it was yesterday. We were at a birthday party at one of those trendy, boutique-y group play spots. Max was around 2 at the time, the perfect age to powwow around the enormous ball pit and rope-climbing tunnel. When it was time for a snack, we headed over to the food table and grabbed a PB&J; sandwich and a few animal crackers. That’s when she sat down next to us. She being the mother of a little girl around Max’s age.
“Is that your little boy? He’s a cutie.”
I thanked her and offered something similar about her adorably freckle-faced daughter. She continued.
“He’s about, what, 2?”
Giving Max’s plate the once-over, she made an observation.
“Not a fruit-and-vegetable eater, I see. Tiffany’s obsessed. I can’t get her to put the berries down.”
I smiled dismissively. Then, as if she couldn’t help herself …
“How many words does he have?”
At this point, I wanted Max to swallow his PB&J; whole so we could politely excuse ourselves and get back to the 2-story curly slide. Instead, I simply shrugged.
“Note sure. I never really counted.”
“My Tiffany has over a hundred. And she speaks in full sentences.”
“Wow, very impressive,” I feigned.
After what seemed like an eternity – but was really just 90 seconds or so – Max finished his sandwich and pulled me away towards the teepee. Then, just when I thought we lost them, little Tiffany popped her head in: “Come on, let’s play.” Max ran away with her. And the second I walked out of the teepee, you guessed it, judge-y mom was all up in my grill.
“Tiffany is so outgoing. She’ll play with just about anyone.”
Was that a not-so-subtle dig? Just as I was thinking I hope Tiffany inherits more of her father’s traits, the brag-bombing continued.
“Is he potty-trained?”
And before I had the chance to answer,
“Tiffany is. She started piddling in the toilet as soon as she turned one. But don’t feel bad, Tiffany’s very advanced for her age.”
And then I said something bad and totally out of character.
“Too bad Tiffany’s mom has a huge ass.”
As soon as I walked away, I regretted it. It just came out, sorta like Tiffany’s toilet piddle at the age of 1. I felt awful. But damn, woman, get a grip.
Hours later, I couldn’t get Tiffany’s mom out of my head. And not in the catchy-pop-song kind of way. I kept thinking about all the things Tiffany does that Max doesn’t. The 100 words. The complete sentences. The berries! I even brought it up that night with Alex.
“Do you think Max is behind the other kids in communicating?”
“How many grown-ups do you know who can’t talk? It’ll happen. Relax.”
But from that moment on, I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t help but compare my kid to other kids. At the park, at the mall, at California Pizza Kitchen, at the play gym, in line at the bank and at the Farmer’s Market petting zoo. Before I knew it, I became that prying mom with the big ass — looking for validation wherever I could find it. (Though unlike her, I kept the comparisons to myself.)
I think for me, this goes a little deeper. I’ve spent most of my life comparing myself to others. At first it was school and sports and the popular kids. But as I got older, I began comparing other topics: job title, income level, house size and worldly successes. Shoot, I’d even Zillow homes after leaving a dinner party. Seriously. But after becoming a father and interacting with people like Tiffany’s mom, my comparing obsession started to go a little too far.
My low point came when I was at our local park with Max. I saw a little boy bite another boy and it made me happy. I felt I was a better parent than Fang Boy’s parents.
I know. Look at what I’ve become. I soon realized how ridiculous kid-comparing was. I eventually learned to laugh off my competitive impulses, because I realized they’re normal and natural. It’s acting on them that gets you in trouble – I’m talking to you, Tiffany’s mom!
Part of being a parent is always asking yourself those daunting questions: Is he happy? Does he feel good about himself? Do the other kids accept him? Does he know how loved he is? The answer to these questions probably won’t be answered for years to come. I eventually learned not to let my happiness depend on these answers, otherwise I’d be waiting a long time. And I’d miss out on a lot of great milestones that I don’t have to wait for.
The fact is, kids develop at different rates. Some are early developers and some are late bloomers, so comparing them is pointless; instead, it makes more sense to use your child’s results as the benchmark for his or her own development. For example, instead of “all the other kids your age use the potty,” try something like, “Yay! You tried sitting on the potty three times today – that’s two more times than yesterday! ”
If you’re anything like me, and have found yourself comparing your kid to others, here are a few pointers that might help:
- Trust pediatricians over know-it-all parents in the preschool drop-off line. Put in those imaginary earplugs when discussing children with other parents at the park. You’re better off focusing on what your pediatrician or teachers tell you about your child’s individual development.
- Look at books for what they are, reference materials, guides to prepare you for what may be coming up next in your child’s development. But the information is not one-size-fits-all, so don’t end up competing with the book.
- Whatever you do, don’t let your child ever hear you comparing him or her to others. Comparing your children to someone else’s implies that you wish yours were different. And if they know that, it’ll hurt their feelings.
- Every child is into different things. Just as we adults have our own hobbies and interests, so do our little ones. Children will probably spend more effort on the things they enjoy. So while Tiffany munchies on her berries, I’m certain Max can teach her a thing or two about garbage trucks.
So what have we learned here? Like a Jennifer Lopez relationship, comparing your child to other children will not end well. And yet, it’s so hard to resist, because as humans we’re taught to assess our progress in life by checking out how we compare with our peers. We do it at work. We do it at the gym. We do it at dinner parties. And, apparently, we do it at kids’ birthday parties too. Stop. It puts unnecessary stress on both you and your children. I learned that comparisons add no value, meaning or fulfillment to our lives; they only distract from it.
Childhood isn’t a race to the top; children develop in their own way, at their own pace. There isn’t a set timetable for a child’s development, so don’t worry about when your child reaches her or his milestones. Kids do things in their own good time.
At the end of the day, your kid’s a kid. Let him or her be one. Give them the space to grow, because it’s quite likely, they will. Just ask Tiffany’s mom.
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