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The Comparison Trap: How to avoid comparing your child to others

12/06/18
Reading Time: 4 minutes

When did you last compare yourself to someone? Who did you compare to? Someone as awesome as your good self, I hope! 😀 Not a fake genre celeb like Kim Kardashian and her skinny lollipop. Comparing ourselves to others is natural. We all do it. Chatting to a fellow mammy, you might compare your life to hers to find common ground and make a genuine connection. “Yes, I’m experiencing this too!” It’s an intrinsic part of being human. Comparisons also help us to form a baseline, a starting point, to benchmark our progress. For example, you might develop a new talent in photography, kick-boxing, interpretive dance, ukulele, whatever it may be. Then use the bar others have set to assess your own performance. This is sound logic, right? For sure, but a word of caution…

The Comparison Trap

As a novice mammy, it is near-impossible not to compare your scrumptious bundle to her/his teeny peers. You’re so desperate to understand how well your wee one is developing and to reassure yourself that you’re doing a good job. Sometimes the easiest way to do this is by assessing similarities and differences to other children. Growth charts and milestone check-ups, both important medical supports, can indirectly encourage this. As I got to grips with my new job in Motherhood Inc., I recall checking-in with my mammy circle for a heads-up on when to expect (or hope for) tiny o to sleep for more than a couple of hours, when his colic might pass and so on, based on the experiences of their offspring. 

Hayley Mills in the original Parent Trap, which can be more like the 'comparison trap' for twins. No two children are the same even if their appearance is identical. Nor should we want them to be! Photo: fanpop.com

These comparisons emerge from healthy curiosity. But they can also make us feel anxious. If your friend’s child is doing something that yours is not, what does this mean? Is this a cause for concern? Comparisons outside of our control especially those made by others can fuel this anxiety. Like when your grandmother tells you that all seventeen of her kids uttered their first word by three months. Recited The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats by 4 months. Legged it down the local GAA pitch, sliotar in hand by five months. And of course, was toilet trained before their Irish twin arrived ten months later. And you there wondering about your little Hugo with his delightful babble and not a sign of those pork chop legs holding the weight of his chub for him to take his first step. 

We only see the tip of the Iceberg

The comparisons we draw are often subjective and based on our own assumptions without a full panoramic lens i.e. all the facts. Social media is the obvious poster-child here. It lures us to compare our entire existence to a minuscule and carefully curated snapshot of someone else’s ‘perfect’ life. Or, even more sinister, a life they’ve fabricated.

Similarly, comparisons between children tend to focus on the specific. “She has more words.” “He is a stronger swimmer.” “She is better at maths”. And so on, and so on and so on… (Comparisons have mileage, eternal mileage if you don’t put a stop them). If you zoom out, you might see that your child has advanced in their development in another way. But, really who cares?! On our imaginary Hugo’s first day of school, will his teacher ask what month he started to crawl at? Or if Hugo struggles with maths, will this determine how fulfilled his life becomes?

Each child is different and develops at a pace individual to them. If you’re genuinely worried that your child is not reaching a milestone or developing a skill, seek advice. Otherwise, if you find yourself wading into the comparison wasteland, get out STAT! Instead, focus on celebrating how awesome a human your kiddo is.

My Awesome Kid Mind Map 

The photo below is from 2016 when tiny o was nine months old. I realised that he like every other human on this planet was going to spend his life being compared to others. I could either get sucked into this vortex which made me feel overprotective and anxious or I could take control. I drew this mind-map listing everything I loved about my gorgeous boy. Then I asked myself, “Do I want him to be the same as everyone else?” Absolutely not. Comparisons begone!

My first mind map listing all the things I loved about tiny o at 9 months old 

For months, I used this method whenever I caught myself worrying about his development or being drawn into the comparison trap. This immediately re-orientated my anxiety and turned it into gratitude. I’m so grateful that tiny o brings these wondrous gifts to the world and is his own little person. He is nobody else but him. And I don’t want him to be anyone else but him. It also enhanced my confidence as a mammy. I’ve developed this idea into a tool, which you can download here or follow the steps below:

  1. Draw an outline of a body

  2. Think about your child and the person s/he is

  3. Now write down your responses to each of these questions in the corresponding section of the body:

HEAD: What do you love about her/his personality? What makes them unique?

HEART: How does s/he make you feel?

HANDS: What things does s/he like to do? 

FEET: What do you hope for her/his future?

I plan to build a healthy pile of these maps over the years to share with tiny o when he’s older. I want him to see all the things that have brought us immense joy at each stage of his life. Why not try this for your awesome kid(s) too?!

Download your Awesome Kid Mind Map

What do you think?

Hey Mama!

I’m Jen Murphy, award-winning blogger and wellness advocate for working mothers. I created Working Mother Wellness as a platform for mums to share our wellness experiences. Sign-up to build your own Working Mother Wellness toolkit. You will receive updates on Kundalini yoga practices, wellness tips, and info on upcoming workshops and programmes.