When I became a parent, I prepared for having a baby; buying the essentials, reading about what to expect, sorting out our house in order to accommodate another little human. By the time our due date rolled around, I was as ready as I could be to be a parent. What I wasn’t ready for was the competition that came with it.
You know what I mean when I say that. The conversations that start innocently but quickly plunge into the details of the whens, the hows, the whats of your child’s development. Perhaps you were discussing how much they’ve grown only to hear that it’s not quite as impressive as next-doors baby. Maybe you were divulging the appearance of a first tooth, only to find that your friends baby has a mouthful already. Surely you’ve talked about how your child sleeps, only to hear another that sleeps better. We’ve all been there. Trust me.
But who wins when parenting gets competitive? Do you, as the parent, benefit from holding yourself (and your child) up like a yardstick to measure others against? Do your days brighten when your child sits/stands/walks/talks faster than the rest of their cohort? What about when they don’t? Do you look at them and feel an aspect of failure?
The problem with parenting is that you inherently want the best for your child. You want them to be happy, be comfortable in their own skin, to do well. You pour minute after minute into them as they’re growing and developing, helping them, guiding them, supporting them. It’s inevitable that as part of this you’re invested in how they’re doing and it’s only natural that you want to share this with the rest of the world.
You don’t want to do this, only to be met with the comment that their child did that months ago; better, for longer, faster. It feels like you’ve let them down, like you haven’t done enough, like you’ve somehow failed at being a parent.
I can say this because I’ve caught myself doing it. I’ve found myself willing my son to cut a tooth because ‘all the other babies have one’. I’ve let him cry longer than I want to because ‘baby X can self-soothe’. I’ve marooned him frustrated on the floor because ‘baby Y can already crawl’.
By comparing our children like this we’re reducing their milestones into tick boxes to complete rather than actions to be celebrated. We’re dimming the excitement of a first word, a first tooth, a first step. We’re stealing our own joy.
But I have an announcement to make. I’m officially retiring from competitive mumming. I don’t care if he’s the slowest to walk, if he’s still gummy at 30 or wakes every two hours for the rest of his life*. I don’t want to compare my child to anyone else. I don’t want to resent his development. I want to enjoy him.
*okay, this is a lie. If he continues to wake every two hours for much longer, I’m sending him back.