Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tales from the Trenches: Comparative Parenting

What do I mean by comparative parenting? You know the parents. They have the children that are God's gift to anything that they touch AND they must tell you all about everything that Little Jimmy has accomplished, including reading right as he was emerging from the womb? Oh, we've all had those experiences.

This is something that has touched me from day one as being a parent. Given K-'s birth status, I've always been a bit more hyper-aware about her milestones, tracking achievements and so forth. Let's face it, having been born cocaine positive isn't something that people generally yell and say, "That's so great! I'm glad for her."

I've always had to kind of laugh to myself when I encounter parents who feel like they have to put their child on stage to show off their latest tricks. I mean, grant you, we all do it to an extent when they are babies, but still.

I remember one time we were at a park program for kids aged 3-5. K- was 3 1/2 and sitting at a table coloring a page when the little girl across from her says, "Mommy, WHY is she scribbling?" [Add in snotty Nellie Olson tone.] I said, "Well, my guess is that you are probably a bit older than she is. She's just three." Mom says, "Well, she JUST turned 4." I couldn't help it but to say, "Then I guess your kid is just better than mine." I think that the mom realized and started back peddling. It's fine, but I had the same type situations with K- from about birth.

For so long, I felt as if K- was behind. I had friends who had babies that were doing great and wonderful, far-advanced things. I wondered if K- was okay. Every doctor's appointment we had, we would discuss things and she would tell me how great K- was doing. She understood my worry, but she was and still is on track. Just when you have kids that are on a different track, you wonder if you are doing it all right. The words gifted and high-spirited got tossed around a lot, but never the word average. The word average in some contexts almost seems dirty or settling. It's not to say anything is wrong with children who are far and above their age level of the average standard. It's not to say that it is wrong to have those children encouraged to keep excelling. It's also to say that there is nothing wrong with a child that is plodding along at average speed. Even average speed isn't the speed for every child. Each child is at their own pace of learning and we just need to foster that within them. Each one has their own story and their own way of doing things. That makes them unique. It makes them the great little beings that they are. We can't compare them because that's just not fair. Even siblings born to the same parents differ wildly in achievements.

It's something that has bugged me for a long time. In the classroom, I saw it when I was a child. In first grade, we were to read our vocabulary words aloud to the teacher. I was a rather timid child, but knew the words by heart. I said each one, but she acted as if she was struggling to hear everything I was saying. Then, when it came time to reward us at the end of the week for our hard work, I was excluded. I was made to watch the children enjoy their treat although I was permitted to participate in its creation as if I were able to take part in the eating of it later. The kids felt so bad for me. They all said that they heard me loudly say my words. The teacher's response? "Well I didn't hear her!" I remember sitting, with my head down and crying.

We did things called SRA's, my friends were at a higher reading level than me and I felt bad about that. I wouldn't have felt bad, but the one "friend" was so nasty about it.

In seventh grade, my best friend and I were put in a remedial math class because-- well-- our math skills weren't quite up to par. Our parents never told us. We were never prepared. We found out when we got there. We were the math rejects. Great. Oh, there are far more stories, but these are just a select few.

I know it is going to happen. I would love to put K- in a bubble and keep her from being hurt by people who compare her to other kids. I just don't want her not to feel good enough. I want her to know that she is my smart bundle of little girl and we love her to death. I don't want her hurt. I can't keep that from happening, though. We can teach her though that she is "good enough, smart enough and gosh darn it, people like her." (Hubs, I put that in there for you.)


ChupieandJ'smama said...

Hi, I'm a slacker mom. I stopped checking milestones after walking. Are there milestones after walking?
Jason gets the scribbling thing all the time, poor guy. Yes, he's 4 but he colors more like 2-3. Hence one of the ways I noticed he needs occupational therapy. That and the fact I worked with him ALL.SUMMER. to hold a pencil and he still couldn't get it. He's not too behind on motor skills but behind enough that I figured we better get him help. But he's smart as heck so (IMO) he's too busy developing brain power to be bothered with motor skillz;)
I hated SRA too. Way to pit kids against each other, huh?

melanie said...

i so appreciated your post. i have always struggled with this because my kids are always behind in something (and they never seem to be first in anything). right now my 1-yr-old is almost two and still isn't talking (they say he is at the level of a 9-mth-old). it gets hard.

Jamie said...

You know I have felt sometimes that people are comparing my parenting skills more than my children.

When B was three years old, she broke a 7 foot tall grandfather clock in a furniture by pushing it over when she was angry. It took us by surprise because there she was one second sitting peacefully in the cart, the next second she was standing up, raging and knocked that thing right over. You should have heard what people said: "What a bad mother". "That woman needs to get control over her child". "She shouldn't take her kid out of the house if she is going to act like that". It was a blow to my self confidence as a parent but made me think twice about taking B out for fear of getting judged like that again. Once I came home and had time to think about it, I realized I wasn't letting strangers control me.

We spent 6 years with Bailey having tantrums in stores and boy did we get the looks and comments. I've learned to let the comments and looks slide because I refuse to acknowledge ignorant people. Sometimes it is necessary to fire back a comment, but most times that adds fuel to the flame.

I will even let a mom whose kid is tantruming in public know that I've been there and I know. That somehow reassures them that they aren't being judged.

Rach said...

I have a cousin who is a HUGE competitive mom. She drives me CRAZY. :eye roll:

Having had two little girls who are quite different, and having taught for so many years (Sp. Ed and gen. ed), I have to say everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.

I've often said God balances us out. I can't begin to tell you how many "gifted" people I've known who seemed short-changed in the common sense and athletic departments. Same goes for "average" kids. I've seen great amounts of common sense and nice athletic prowess.