The Comparison trap, it’s real folks….you all probably battle with this in some form everyday, as do I. It’s an inward struggle that drives us to sometimes extreme measures to become what we think we need to be based on what other people are or have. From comparing our houses, our cars, homemaking skills, and behavior of our kids, to those of our friends; the struggle seems endless. You may go visit a friend and take a look around her house and wish you had as much space or had half the decorating talent she does. Or wish you had your life organized and pulled together like other friends appear. Sub-consciously, this can drive us to envy, then possibly bitterness and can cause strain within a family because of all the pressure we put on ourselves and our loved ones to change into something we are not. It can be a downward spiral that does nothing but cause emotional pain and depression.
Those of us with kids may feel this even more. The minute your baby is born, there is a “chart” of milestones they should accomplish. Can they hold their head up? Are they able to roll over by 6 months? Are they babbling? Did they walk “on time”?
Firstborn children are the worst…we all have such high expectations and work so hard to make sure our kids meet those goals. Should they start nearing the date they should have mastered the skill and are still not getting it, we take them to therapy because we don’t want them to fall behind (nothing against therapy…all of my kids have gone!)
You may go to visit a friend so your kids can play and you hear and see all the things their child can do that yours is not quite doing yet and the thought comes to your mind, “what is wrong with my kid?” Then your kids get older and you hear what a great athlete their kid is, how awesome their grades are, that they learned to ride a bike at 4 years old (while your 8 year old still is too afraid), or awards they earned and you again think, “what is WRONG with my kid!” Then we go home and put undo stress on our kids to be something they are not. Nothing crushes a child spirit more than feeling like they aren’t good enough, especially in their parents eyes.
(There is nothing wrong with sharing great news about our kids, kids love to hear that you are proud of their accomplishments, please don’t think you shouldn’t share the great things your kids have done with others. I am just asking that you try to be sensitive if someone’s child isn’t achieving the same things as yours whether they are typical or developmentally delayed)
I will honestly admit my biggest comparison trap involves my kid’s milestones. John needed speech at 3 because no one could understand him and even Abigail needed physical therapy to learn to roll over cause she was way past due for that milestone (by time she came around I didn’t have time to look at the chart and only knew she needed therapy when the pediatrician mentioned it), but neither of those bothered me as much as Joshua. When Joshua was born I was so adamant that we were going to keep up with the “Jones’ kids”. I worked so hard with him, I feel like I did brief physical therapy sessions all day in order to help him keep up. Every time he had therapy, I would question them in regards to where he was at developmentally in comparison to the typical child. Eventually, there were areas he started to not be able to keep up in and I would work even harder with him. Poor kid probably thought he was in boot camp! Sadly, this was my way of making my son be something he wasn’t ready for but my pride wanted him to look like everyone else.
The other part of this was taking Joshua out in public. I knew that people were going to look at us differently. I would dress him really nice so he didn’t fit the stereotypes and hope people wouldn’t notice a difference. It also didn’t help when people would ask if he was actually mine and when I would claim him, they would say how I looked too young to have a child with Down Syndrome. I was very self conscious for a long time. I hated the stares. (Now we get even more stares cause he likes to yell and hear his voice in the store…at this point I can almost tune it out so it doesn’t bother me anymore)
When Joshua was about 3, I went through a check out line at a local store. The cashier was friendly and handed Joshua a sticker. I told him to say thank you, and since he didn’t talk, he signed” thank you” to her. I interpreted his sign and she gave me a lecture that he should learn to use his words and it was rude that he did not verbalize it since he was old enough to talk. I thought it was pretty obvious that Joshua had Down Syndrome, but I didn’t feel like I needed to explain myself and my son’s condition to her so I let it go and left. Times like those, made me ever so aware that Joshua was different and would make me start comparing him to other kids and start feeling a little bitterness towards him and his disability because we weren’t a “normal” family….
When Joshua was in preschool I found myself fighting the comparison trap again. Now we were surrounded by kids his age and I was getting a glimpse of what I thought he “should have” been like. These kids were talking, jumping, playing with friends, coloring and writing. Joshua couldn’t jump, talk, or hold a pencil correctly. When other kids were having play dates, we were going to therapy. We skipped every birthday party he was invited too because he’s a danger to people’s property and I didn’t want to have to buy new decorations for everyone’s houses.
Now Joshua is in kindergarten, and his 2 year old sister is starting to be able to do some things that he can’t. I love that she helps him and often she will tell me what Joshua needs as if they have an unspoken language. I’m trying to not compare my own kids and allow this to sadden me, but to simply enjoy the fact that, at this moment in time, they love to play together and act more like twins than regular siblings.
At 5, Joshua still isn’t potty trained although we’ve been working on it for a year (I will honestly throw a party when he has finally used his last diaper), doesn’t talk, gives no heed whatsoever to safety, still doesn’t sleep through the night and is a complete handful. But inside that little 5 year old is a super smart little boy. He can sign anything he wants/needs, navigates an IPAD like it’s no ones business, can sign the whole alphabet, knows his colors and shapes, and has an incredibly memory among so many other things. He loves Curious George and I love how he giggles when George does something funny. He knows when his siblings get things he doesn’t, insists he should get the same thing and gets frustrated when he can’t communicate his feelings.
I’ve learned to accept Joshua for the little boy he is and know that he will eventually hit his milestones, just in his own time. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have moments where his disability hits me suddenly and I have to have a good cry, but then I put on my big girl pants and do my best to help him reach his goals.
As parents we want what’s best for our kids. Society has a set of guidelines to follow and although these are a great tool, we have to remember that no child is alike and they will learn things in their own time. We need to give our kids the space and time to develop on their own. Adding extra pressure and stress to their lives and making them feel like they aren’t good enough, isn’t going to help. Your child wants to know you are so proud of them, even though they may not be as talented as the kid next door.
Every milestone Joshua hits is so special to us. We all cheer for him and praise his accomplishment, and he gets so proud and happy knowing we have seen what he is able to do. Seeing him happy to accomplish something means more to me than making him frustrated by trying to do something he isn’t developmentally ready to do.
Hopefully this year I will be successful in not caring what people think and just enjoy the everyday moments and let my kids know that I’m proud of them regardless of where they fall on the charts.