I find myself guilty of this all the time. And before I became a parent, I swore I would never, ever do this. But I use my kids as a baseline in comparison to other people’s kids. I know it takes a real (wo)man to admit that.
But I do.
And what I find most alarming about this, to be honest, I usually end up feeling like I am failing as a parent. I believe children are born with the need to be taught good and right from wrong. I do not believe that children were born as little cherubs and have no wickedness in them. I challenge anyone who has a toddler to disagree. Toddlers don’t share, they push, they smack, they shout, they throw tantrums, they poop in the wrong places and wee in their pants, they scream at three am, they disobey. That’s not goodness or cherub-ness.
Yes, I may only be speaking about my toddler, but experience has taught me that usually, when it comes to parenting, you are not the first person to experience any weird behaviour and your child is generally not the only one to do these things.
Toddlers have moments of unbelievable adorability. When my toddler tells me that she loves her sister with her whole heart, I simply want to hug her to death. When she cuddles up next to me and we lie and play iPad together, I cannot get enough. When she falls asleep next to me while watching her favourite movie, I want to freeze that moment forever. The fact that she screeches at that same sister when she tries to touch her toys, or that she won’t let me touch the iPad at all while she is playing with it, or that she threw a temper tantrum of note in order for me to turn my tv show off and put on her favourite movie instead, well. That’s besides the point.
Then we take a look at our benchmarks. The so-called milestones each child needs to accomplish. Some three-year-olds (or so I am told,) can sing our entire quadro-lingo national anthem. Some three-year-olds can read. Some three-year-olds can man a rocket ship expedition to Mars. Mine can’t.
As for almost-one-year-olds. Well, mine doesn’t really like food much; she prefers boob. And given the option, I guess most babies would too. She also isn’t walking, or clapping hands, or talking, or tap-dancing. She crawls beautifully though, and waves nicely, (when she wants to,) and smiles all day long. Well, mostly. She used to sleep through, but stopped that. Unlike her sister who cut teeth without me even noticing they were coming, little one teethes miserably. And has been doing so since she was seven months old.
If I were to compare my two kids: First born (1st) and second spawn (2nd,) 1st didn’t crawl, 2ndstarted at nine months. 1st cut her first tooth at a year, 2ndwill have seven teeth by her first birthday. 1st was walking at thirteen months, 2nd seems happy as larry on all fours. 1stwould eat anything I put in front of her, 2nd is a constant battle. 1st was never happy to take a bottle, but sucked a straw at eight months and loved tea in a sippy cup. 2nd, well, she reluctantly takes a bottle, won’t take a sippy cup and still chooses breast above all. Let me assure you. Same parents, same birth procedure. 1st is a brunette and 2ndin a ginger, (how the hell that happened, I don’t know.)
So my life, I guess, should teach me that comparing two kids is in an exercise in futility. But I don’t learn lessons that easily. I still look at kids around me and when a baby claps hands, wonder, “Why doesn’t mine do that?” Or when a toddler mumbles out a sentence of three words, inwardly I puff my chest out at my extremely verbose daughter who can string full sentences together including words like, ‘dangerous,’ ‘wonderful,’ ‘delicious,’ and ‘perculiar.’ And the pride only continues when she sings the ABC song perfectly and counts to twenty-five.
Must be such a brilliant mom, right?
That’s the next mistake. Attributing success or failure to the parents. When other kids are good, we feel like we have fallen short somehow. When kids behave badly, it must be the parent’s fault, surely? Why aren’t they being sterner/firmer/stricter with them? Why aren’t the kids getting more hidings/time-out/punishments? Why aren’t the kids being reprimanded/corrected? Why are they letting the tail wag the dog? Why? Why? Why? Surely the parents could do more to control that child?
Yes. Even I think those thoughts some times. And then I see mine smack her puppy or splash her sister in the face or bite the head off a doll. And I am that parent who hasn’t done enough. Just last week, I lost it in a store after Toddler temper tantrum number three and marched out with my daughter under my arm like a rugby ball, telling her in a loud voice, “You are three-years-old, you are NOT the boss of me and your will NOT tell me what to do.” Some mothers gave me knowing, sympathetic nods. (They’re the ones who were gloating on the inside that it wasn’t their kid.) Others glared at me like I was Jeffrey Dahmer or Charles Manson. (They’re the moms who were judging my parenting skills.)
I used to fuss over Toddler’s meals when she was little, make sure each meal included ever single nutrient known to man and that she didn’t choke, didn’t eat rubbish, followed each guide book’s developmental steps. With baby, she happily ate an adult portion of fillet steak last week and last night ate half of my spaghetti Bolognese. I don’t know the nutritional value of either but she loved it. And for her, the fact that she was eating anything was amazing. I was once that mother who reprimanded a friend, who is also a stay-at-home-mom for feeding her child pre-made food that came in jars in stores. “What do you do all day, if you’re not cooking meals for your child?”
I am so ashamed of that opinion now.
My baby only ate ready-made-jars of food for her first three months of solids. And worse than that, she only liked the pumpkin flavour that tasted more like arse than pumpkin. What an insult to a culinary-wanna-be like me. She didn’t even like the more upmarket ‘fresh’ ready-made meals. At least she chose the organic variety, else I would have had a coronary.
Kids will be kids. And God knows it’s hard enough to raise them without comparing ourselves, or them, to those around us. We will always find ourselves lacking or falling short. Or, if you are lucky, you will find yourself with reason to boast and grow pig headed. But wait. Your turn will come. Because all children aren’t created equal, (thank goodness!) and all children have their quirks and peculiarities. They are our greatest joys, but also our greatest frustrations. At the end of it all though, they will be, undoubtedly, our greatest accomplishment – regardless of how they turn out.
Thank goodness kids don’t remember the bad times with Mom and Dad as vividly as we do. They seem to accept that once in a while Mommy loses it, and move on. We went back to that store the other day, the one where I practised my rugby skills, and Toddler simply said, “I be a good girl this time, Mommy. They have wonderful sleepy dresses in this shop.” What I hope against hope she realises is, to me, she is always a good girl. And inwardly I puff out my chest at the beautiful sentence she just uttered and the remarkable fact that she remembered it was a pyjama shop we were entering. And it will stay puffed out, until the next meltdown, I guess.
This parenting thing is a minefield. I suppose, ultimately, we need to rest assured that we are doing the best we can. Someone on Oprah Winfrey’s show a long time ago, (I’m pretty sure it was Maya Angelou,) said, ‘Do the best until you know better. When you know better, do better.’ And what more than that could any kid ever ask for?