Have you ever been embarrassed by your kids' wild behaviour compared to all the other "angels" at playgroup or kinder? Or seen the calm, happy family in the park and wished your family was like that?
You could be suffering from Comparisonitis!
Today I’m going to give you 3 reasons why avoiding Comparisonitis will make you much happier, and 3 ways you can cure yourself of it.
So why does comparing our kids and our parenting to others make us unhappy? Why is it not helpful - isn’t it useful to learn from other parents!?
#1 Comparisons are not realistic.
Firstly, you rarely see the difficult parts of other families’ lives. Sure, we all see the occasional child tantruming at the supermarket but mostly we see calm, happy kids out there in the world. What you miss is the meltdown on the way home in the car or the 3am waking.
Secondly, your mind has a habit of noticing what’s wrong with your kids or your life, and what’s better about other people’s.
The inherent negativity-bias of our minds (where we’re more likely to notice threats and problems than good things) means we are more tuned into our own problems, not others’.
We then exaggerate our problems in our mind (for example, the rude and stubborn behaviour of our child) so it then seems like our child has been ‘a nightmare’ all day long – when in fact there were 5 or 6 short episodes of naughtiness throughout an otherwise calm day!
Many people also have a tendency to feel inadequate or not good enough deep down (mostly due to how we were raised), and this can be triggered by our children when they won’t do what we ask and are naughty.
We then assume that other parents must be doing much better than we are (since we are struggling so much). But, of course, the reality is that all parents struggle at times.
#2 Don’t compare apples with oranges - all children have different temperaments
When we compare our kids to other kids, we are forgetting that other children are nothing like our child! Every child has a different temperament.
For example, my daughter is a highly emotional child who reacts to things in a big way. So we get a lot of crying, upsets and stubborn resistance. Being easily stimulated, she also woke a lot as a toddler and struggled to get back to sleep. If I compared her to a more placid child, I would create a lot of stress for myself. Of course she will get upset more than another child, why resist it?!
#3 Comparing also assumes that obedient, quiet children are best
Usually when we feel down about how much more ‘difficult’ our child is than ‘all’ the others, we are feeling the expectation handed down over generations that kids ‘should be seen and not heard’.
So, if your child is not obedient and quiet, you feel like you’re failing.
This old-school idea is dangerous: it tells us that our children’s emotions are not wanted and they are not free to be a learning child, who is naturally boisterous and reactive. This is how they learn to cope with their emotions.
If we can all just accept that kids are, at times, noisy, emotionally-reactive, stubborn and irrational, then we’ll all feel a lot less inadequate about our parenting! We’ll realise we have a typical child and we’re not doing everything wrong.
So here are three ways you can cure yourself of Comparisonitis:
#1. Notice when your mind starts having negative thoughts comparing your kids, your parenting or your family life to others.
And stop right there! Remind yourself that this train of thought will only make you feel inadequate, and that we are all different. Then move on.
#2. When comparing-thoughts come up, remind yourself of the great things about your kids and your family.
(In fact, even before those thoughts come up, think of the things you’re grateful for – every day if you can! Here’s my recent blog on this.)
Sure, the neighbour’s kids may be much better at coming when they’re called than your child is – but do they cuddle (or laugh or tell funny stories) as well as your kid does?!
#3. When your mind starts thinking how much better other kids or families are, remember that you aren’t seeing the full picture.
You don’t know what their lives are really like or how their kids behave at home! All young kids have meltdowns at times - even the most placid children (and parents!) have their moments.
It’s still good to learn from others and try to improve things.
I’m not saying that we can’t learn from other parents though! If there’s something you want your kids to learn and your friends or siblings have had good success with their children, it’s great to find out what worked for them. Then, if you like the sound of what they did, you can try it out with your kids.
But just remember that your child is unique so what they did might not work!
And, lastly, I’m all about skilling yourselves up as parents to help your kids learn to handle their emotions and become easier to be around. So, of course, let’s not just accept every challenge with our kids as a fait accompli. We can definitely improve things!
All I wish for you is that, when your kids are challenging, you don’t beat yourself up by comparing them to an unrealistic “ideal child”.
Help your kids learn to handle their emotions and reactions and, beyond that, allow them to be kids. Or, as I like to say:
I recorded a Facebook Live video all about this very topic just a few days ago in the Feed the Parent Facebook group - check it out there (it's a private group so if you're not already in the group, just click 'Join' and I'll approve you ASAP!).
If you like the sound of these strategies to be a calmer and happier parent, you might like to join my 6-week online course, Parenting with Joy. Head to this page to join the waiting list and you’ll be the first to hear about the Early Bird price when the course opens for enrolment!
Go well in your own special way (no comparing!).