My husband and I are complete opposites. He is introverted, private, intellectual and a planner. I, on the other hand, am highly extroverted, open to a fault, a feeler and love being spontaneous. There is beauty in these differences, and we have found a way not to just make it work but to make it work well.
So, it should have been no surprise that we have two children at the opposite ends of the personality spectrum. My oldest is very much like his dad: serious, planned, cautious, mild mannered and thoughtful. My youngest is very much like me: life is a party and everyone is invited.
When we parent children that are either very different from each other or different from us, we have to be careful not to project ourselves or others onto them. I find this to be very difficult.
Fortunately, I have great friends who hold me accountable. I was teased pretty relentlessly as a child and have always had a fear that my children would walk the same path. I have over worried about this, to the point I started asking my children specific questions such as, "Was so-and-so nice to you today? What did he say? How did you feel?"
My friends finally, gently but firmly, told me to cut it out. My kids were fine and all of this insecurity I had was making them a little paranoid. So I stopped asking them the questions, even though I still wondered about it. Everyone seemed happier.
I talk to parents all the time who say things such as, "Well Suzy is just like me; she stinks at math." Or "Billy is a star athlete, just like I was." Or "Janey gets her bad attitude from me, she can't help it."
Our children are already little humans. And even when they are very much like us, they are still unique in their own ways. And, they're generally more wonderful than we give them credit.
I am the worst at playing the comparison game with my children. I try not to, and most of the time I don't even realize I am doing it. But it happens.
You know how it goes: one child is stronger, one child is faster, one child is better at math, one child is better at writing, one child is more outgoing, one child has a super funny dry sense of humor.
This is a trap, friends. We can compare each other until we are out of breath, but it serves no purpose. We KNOW there are no two people who are the same, so why keep bringing up our differences?
We were all created different on purpose. Can you imagine how boring it would be if we were all created the same?
Even when we mean well, if we compare our children to others, it is hurtful for them. All of us tend to focus on our flaws and not our strengths. This is true with children, too.
When we say something such as, "Your brother is tall and skinny and you are strong and stocky," what the child tends to hear is, "Your brother is thin and handsome and you are short and fat." Unfortunately, it is the way the brain works. Even when we say something we think is positive, when we compare them to others, they take it negatively.
I have found myself comparing my son to others recently. I have managed to be keenly aware of every single mistake he makes. So, I tried something new tonight; instead of watching my son and feeling the sting of his mistakes, I watched other people and tried to notice when they did something not quite right. What I discovered was that I am WAY TOO CRITICAL of my son. Everyone makes mistakes; I just hadn't been paying attention to anyone else's mistakes. In fact, I had never even noticed them before.
If we don't make mistakes, how will we learn? I don't know about you, but I am stubborn and have never taken kindly to someone who says, "learn from my mistakes." My ego won't let me do that. I almost always have learned the hard way.
Avoiding the comparison game is just half the battle. The other half is appreciating our differences.
There is a scene in the movie "Parenthood" with Steve Martin, where his young daughter is one of the Seven Dwarfs in the school play. His younger son somehow ends up on the set and ruins the whole play. At first, his character is horrified at the disaster happening to him, but then he treats the play like a roller coaster. It is full of ups and downs and that is what makes life interesting. By the end of the scene, Martin's character is laughing through tears at his children and loving them for who they are.
Of course, parenting isn't quite as neat. But being aware of playing the comparison game and embracing our differences not only takes the pressure off our children, it takes the pressure off of us to raise perfect kids.
Find someone in your life who will hold you accountable in this area. Maybe it is your spouse, your parent, a teacher, a friend, a pastor, a coach, a coworker or someone else. Let them know you are working on this area of your parenting and want some help. And then listen to them when they tell you what you are doing.
This won't change overnight for you, but it will improve. And when we work together, it makes everything easier.
We are in this parenting thing together. Thank goodness.
Michelle Sutherlin is a NewsOK contributor and a middle school counselor in Norman, OK, who works with students ages 11-15 daily. She is also a mom to two boys, Ryan (12) and Will (9). She and her husband have been married for 16 years. For more articles about parents and middle school, check out her blog.
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