We know we are not supposed to compare our kids.
Point blank, we’re not supposed to compare them, be it compare them with their siblings or compare them with their peers, we know we aren’t supposed to go there.
We’ve got that stuff about “every child being unique” coming out of our brains like steam out of a roiling kettle, but seriously. Does that change anything?
Can it even change anything, when we live in a comparison-based culture, when kids are assessed within an inch of their small brains, when we are hearing about how other mothers “do it”, when even inspiration porn has reign because “if they can do it, your excuse is invalid.”
I’ve got a 5 year old child (who will be 6 soon) who isn’t fully potty-trained, who can climb hills and trees like a bad-ass, who is learning to write her name, and who can reliably say maybe 20 words. Her auditory comprehension is awesome: she knows what we say, she just doesn’t have the language (- either spoken or signed) to respond the way she wants to. She gets pissed off about that; she rages. It is not easy for her.
I’ve got a 7 year old child (who will be 8 soon) who is scared to climb trees, has a vocabulary of an educated adult, and appears to have a photographic memory with film: he memorizes what he sees, instantly and nearly-completely.
He struggles with making friends, having a rough timing knowing how to talk to others, he talks too loud or too much, too often, and turns softer-speaking kids off. He is sensitive and his feelings hurt often. It is not easy for him.
On one hand with my daughter, I feel this intense pride in her physical abilities – that pride simply stems from her fierce strength and the way she has already surpassed anything I could ever do.
I’m proud that she’s the kind of girl that I would have looked at when I was a kid myself with envy-tinged admiration. “I want to be like her,” I would have thought.
And on the other hand… how many people see this the way I do? How many people look at what she can’t do as the litmus for who she is, what she’s about?
How many people interact with my son and his prodigious vocabulary, consider that while he’s technically still a second grader, completes 3rd, 4th and 5th grade work on a daily basis? How often is this seen as a litmus for what he struggles with socially, or will simply say that his academic prowess is who he is, what he’s about? Or that his social struggles are who he is and what he’s about?
It all rubs me wrong.
It rubs me wrong on so many levels: first, because we’ve all bought into this cultural chart of what is “successful” in some way, shape or form. We’ve all got this thing ticking around in the back of our brain that sees the kid who struggles socially (like my son) and the girl with Down syndrome who can’t string a sentence together and those hard pieces for them become WHO THEY ARE. Those hard pieces for them become aspects of what they are known for. They aren’t commonly recognized as segments of the full fruit of their being, with the other pieces being universally celebrated.
Now, we are making the active choice to live in a really small community.
We made that choice partially on the knowledge that our kids can be known here. It’s so small that our kids have a better chance of not slipping through the cracks of assumptions, comparisons and cultural bias. But I still see it, and I still feel it! It’s impossible not to, through no fault of any one person – because the people in our community are outstanding! I simply see and feel it because these comparisons are a living, breathing part of our culture, and this community is still rooted in US-American culture. The school still abides by US-American public educational standards.
Comparing my kids to other kids, or my kids to one another. I know I shouldn’t do it and I don’t do it often, but it can slip in. When it does, it hurts. Because I don’t know how to help the hurt that I see my son feeling when he tries to make friends with certain kids or gets excluded on the playground. I can’t create an environment that sees his total package – his smarts as well as his friendliness – on my own. I don’t know how to help ease my daughter’s frustration with language or bathroom use in a way that eradicates her struggle, I can’t create an environment that sees her total package – her smarts and skills as a fundamental part of who she is – on my own.
So I come on back here to the blog, because maybe, just maybe, writing about this can keep stirring the pot.
The more we talk about it, the more aware all of us can become about intentional cultural creation. Maybe the more aware we all are of what we do, how we think, what we say, then the more time we will take to try and get to know a child (or adult, for that matter), and try and see the pieces that we compare them to others with as merely slivers of their total pie.
Better yet, maybe we’ll stop comparing people once and for all.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.