Comparison was stealing my parenting joy
It’s time for a confession: I have always had a problem with comparing myself to others. From a young age, I’ve been very conscious of how my achievements have matched up with others.
Even though I knew it was not healthy, I let silent comparisons sneak into my parenting. I started to feel anxious that so many other children younger than our son were writing their names, or knew all the letters of the alphabet.
Instead of observing my child with wonder over what he loved to do, I was letting comparison over what he hadn’t done yet weigh me down.
Copyright: airdone / 123RF Stock Photo
Our 4 Year Old’s Resistance to Writing His Name
I have seen the following advice so many times: if you want to get children interested in writing letters, show them how to write their names. Everyone loves writing their names, right? Umm, apparently not, if our 4 year old was any indication.
He attends Montessori school, where children ages 3 – 6 are in the same classroom (or environment as it’s called in Montessori.) As a three year old, when he had work he wanted to keep in his permanent folder, an adult would write his name on it.
As a 4 year old, his teachers expected him to write his own name. His inner perfectionist (which I’m pretty sure I gifted him with) was upset because when he wrote his name it didn’t look as good as when the teacher did it. Reassurance from his teacher and from me that it didn’t need to be perfect didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
While he would begrudgingly write his name at school, no amount of begging and pleading would get him to do it at home. After a couple of months, I realized asking him to do it was just making him more opposed to the idea. I dropped it.
Meanwhile, on Facebook, I saw friends showing pictures of their three year old’s writing their names for the first time. I tried to quiet my comparison anxiety, but it was still there.
Waiting For His “Sensitive Period” to Begin
One of Dr. Maria Montessori’s most interesting insights into how children learn relates to what she calls “sensitive periods.” These are stages that a child enters only once, when they are uniquely suited to learn a skill without forced effort. Children will become intensely interested in something when they are in a sensitive period, repeating a task over and over again as they master it.
I had observed our son during sensitive periods for various skills, and it was fascinating. As a toddler, during his sensitive period for order, he loved arranging things by size. He would often have what we called his “work face” while he did this, with his lips poked out in concentration.
When I felt myself becoming anxious about his lack of interest in writing, I reminded myself that he hadn’t fully entered his sensitive period for writing.
I noticed the things that he did love to do and marveled at those. I made myself stop and watch him more (when he didn’t know I was looking.)
He can build imaginative, complex structures for long periods of time, murmuring to himself all the while. He began drawing more and more. I could actually recognize what his drawing were, without him having to tell me!
Learning and growth were clearly present. That mattered more than what an internet search told me about the milestones he should have achieved.
Trusting Things To Unfold In Their Own Timing
I also took time to process my need to compare myself to others all the time. Because at its heart, that’s what comparing my child to other kids was about. Am I a mom who’s measuring up? If he’s not doing stuff “on time” or early, it must be because we haven’t practiced enough at home right?
Theodore Roosevelt once said that “comparison is the thief of joy.”
Marie Forleo extrapolated on this, calling comparison the “Hamburglar of Happiness.” That particular image helps me realize just how ridiculous my need to compare is.
I suffered a lot during my adolescence because of continually comparing my grades and accomplishments to those of my older brother. Things seemed to come to him so effortlessly, and I felt like I had to work twice as hard to get similar grades and test scores.
Meanwhile, I under-valued the creative gifts that I had because I sensed that these were not as prized in school or in the world.
As an adult, I’ve realized that I can’t go back and change my experience as a teenager.
But I can recognize my unique gifts now. I can stop the never-ending game of comparison. I can help my son celebrate his unique gifts and let his milestones unfold when they should.
In my business this year, my comparison-stopping mantra has been “everything is unfolding in perfect timing.” When I thought about it, that was a darn good parenting mantra too.
The Joy of My Child Enjoying Writing
So, back to our son writing his name. I had generally stopped asking him to do that at home. I knew he was getting practice at school.
Then came Valentine’s Day and the requirement of his school that the kids send homemade Valentines. His teacher said to him, “be sure to write your name on them!”
We started four days early (in hindsight, I should have started at least a week early!) I wrote “to a friend” on each envelope, and he wrote his name inside the card. One particular time, he stopped and looked at what he wrote and said “that looks really good!”
There was still complaining after a few cards had been completed each day, but somehow he got it done. He even made a few extra for grandparents.
Just a couple of weeks ago, he made a monster drawing he was particularly proud of. He asked me to write his name on a card so he could look at it and write his name on the picture.
Then, he asked me how to write the word monster and he copied that as well.
I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. Our child wanted to write! Voluntarily!
He’s even willing to write now in cursive (which is how writing is taught at his school, but he’s always said “that way is too hard.”)
Everything was unfolding at just the right time for him, and it was beautiful.
Do you struggle with comparison in your parenting? Share your thoughts in the comments!