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Please Stop Comparing Your Parenting With Others

Written by: Kari Kling, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

It is said that ‘comparison is the thief of all joy,’ and this couldn’t be more true when it comes to our parenting. Whether the comparisons that we feel come from social media or in conversations on the soccer field, they can feel unsettling and make us feel inadequate.

Parenting may be the most important and rewarding, yet challenging, role any of us may ever have. It’s also the job that none of us may ever be totally prepared for no matter how much we want to be. Parenting doesn’t come with a manual and our culture may give us the impression that once we are a parent, we are magically supposed to know what to do.


We simply cannot predict the joys and hurdles that will develop on our parenting journeys. Feeling shame or ‘less than’ because we compare ourselves with others may leave us feeling guilty, followed by the stigma that our children will somehow fall short because of our ineptness.


There Is No Perfect Family


Many moms and dads look at other parents and think that ‘they have it all together,’ as they watch other children listen and behave, do well in school, seem to be more responsible, engage in less conflict, etc. You wonder where you went wrong and why your children aren’t as whatever as the family that may look perfect from afar. I promise you that in every family, there are hurdles to overcome and problems that need to be worked through. Just because we may not see evidence of this in public, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening in the privacy of one’s home. Most families only allow others to see the highlights.


Many times, comparisons with others about our parenting is unspoken or unintentional. Engaging in conversation with another parent and only focusing on the latest A+, award, or accomplishment can easily make the other parent feel that their child may ‘be behind’ and that ‘they’re not doing something right.’ These feelings of incompetence and shame are hurtful and don’t do anything constructive, except perhaps to make the mom or dad sharing to feel better about their own parenting.


Here’s another type of parenting pressure and unspoken comparison. You may be visiting extended family that you don’t see often and feel enormous apprehension that your children must behave in exemplary ways so that your relatives will ‘approve’ of how you are parenting. You may be comparing your children’s behavior to the expectation of what you think your relatives may want to see.


Being a parent has always been filled with making constant decisions about how to respond to our children, how to guide and shape their behaviors, figure out how they best learn, what school they should attend, what to do when they are ill, try to get them to do something without nagging, yelling or losing our minds… and the list goes on and on and on. No wonder parenting can feel so exhausting!


Parenting in 2023 may be even more overwhelming and pressure-filled than ever before. We can all read about the post-pandemic studies telling us how behind so many of our children are in various areas and the rise in childhood depression, etc. Pressure on parents intensifies as we take in all of this data and try to get it right. It may feel like the more we try to do for our children, the more our worry and self-doubt skyrockets.


We cannot go back and change what happened in our world over the past three years. We may not be able to wave a magic wand and take all of the demands and expectations away from what our children may need at this time.


But that is a theme to focus on for another time. My focus and goal for this article is that it is vitally important to stop comparing ourselves to other parents resulting in feeling shame, guilt and inadequacies so that we can relish our time with our children and celebrate our role as a parent.


Parenting Is Stressful


Life is stressful. Parenting is stressful. So many parents are in survival mode and just trying to make it through the day. A sample daily routine for some families might be enough to take others down.


Parenting is overwhelming enough without creating unintentional situations to compare one’s parenting with others. We may look at various families from the ‘outside,’ and think they have the ‘it all together and everything is perfect.’ None of us, including me, have it ‘all together, all the time.’ We are all human and we become tired, overworked, overwhelmed and may not always react to our children with a picture perfect response.


I don’t want to believe that any mom or dad would say or do things to other parents with the intention of being hurtful. But sometimes, as parents we are only focused on our own situation and how it impacts our family, that we don’t realize that we are unintentionally creating comparisons for others.


As a mom of 21-year-old twins, and an educator, counselor and parent coach for 40 years, I’ve seen and heard many stories where conversations transpired and left a parent feeling deflated and filled with self-doubt.


We may look at a friend’s social media and see all of the smiles, awards, incredible family vacations and wonder why our children don’t receive as many accolades and wonder if our kids may feel deprived because we can’t afford to take extravagant vacations. Or, we may look at how other children behave in public and wonder why our own children aren’t as well-behaved. Are those parents better parents? What am I doing wrong?


When we constantly compare our parenting, we create situations where many parents may begin to doubt themselves, their decisions, and the lives they’ve created for their children as somehow being lesser.


Examples From Real Life


I’d like to give you a couple of examples from my years of parent coaching to illustrate my observations. Please know that I pass no judgement about these situations that have transpired.


My first example relates to Jill, a mom of a 9-year-old son, who I’ll call, Jeff. Jeff was having some severe and complex digestive issues. To look at Jeff, one would not have any idea that anything was wrong.


Jeff’s mom was working with nutritionists and doctors to help him eliminate multiple foods from his diet in an effort to heal his gut and turn this problem around. Jeff also felt embarrassed about his condition and didn’t want the other kids to know anything was wrong with him. He just wanted to fit in.


Jill took great care in preparing nutritionally sound lunches for Jeff daily and if he ever had a ‘playdate’ after school, Jill would either give Jeff a snack that met his dietary needs or ask the other parent if she could drop something off for him. None of the other parents had any idea what was going on with Jeff’s health and that was how Jeff wanted it.


Not too long after Jeff had been at one of his friend’s homes for a ‘playdate,’ Jill received a phone call from the friend’s mom. She told Jill that “several of the moms were concerned that she was being way too overprotective of Jeff’s diet and that she should just let him be a kid.” She also mentioned to Jeff’s mom that “Jeff was probably going to end up with eating disorders because she was so strict with him.”


Even though Jill knew that she didn’t have a choice in how she was preparing meals and snacks for Jeff based on his dietary requirements, this comment rocked her and she began to doubt herself. Jill felt guilt at many levels. Maybe she should have told the other parents more about what was going on with her son and gone against her son’s wishes to ‘fit in’ or perhaps she should have handled the situation in another way. Again, second-guessing and feelings of self-doubt filled Jill’s soul, even though there was an underlying medical condition that was unknown to the other moms.


None of us may ever know what is really going on in the lives of other families, nor should we. The personal issues of what may truly be happening in another family is not our business and we most likely will never know all of the facts anyway.


Another example that I encountered in my parent coaching included two moms, Lucy and Sarah. These moms were acquaintances and both had sons who were juniors in high school. One day after being at school for a meeting, they walked to the parking lot together and started talking. Their conversation quickly turned to their sons, current class schedules and future college plans.


Lucy proudly told Sarah that her son was in an Advanced Placement Literature class and could receive college credit for it. Lucy also mentioned that it would probably be very difficult for any student to get into a great university without an AP Lit. class. Well, Sarah’s son was not in one of these advanced classes and she began to feel that she had been kicked in the stomach.


Although Sarah’s son was a very bright and gifted reader, he had decided that he didn’t want to take the AP Literature class because he loved to read so much. He explained to his mom that if he took this class, he would have so much assigned reading, that he probably wouldn’t have any time to read the books that he wanted to read.


Sarah believed that preserving her son’s love of reading was more important than taking a specific class. But Lucy’s comment, “it would probably be very difficult for any student to get into a great university without an AP Literature class,” really rattled her. Sarah second-guessed her decision with her son and wondered if she should have just made him deal with it to give him a better chance of getting into a great college with the hopes that his love of reading wouldn’t die. Sarah began to doubt herself and felt guilty that she supported her son’s decision to want to have time to read for enjoyment, but the fear she felt about making the wrong decision in that moment was enough to make her feel sick to her stomach. (By the way, Sarah’s son never took the AP Literature class, still loves to read for pleasure, AND got into an excellent university where he is very happy!)


From Comparison To Support


I believe it’s time that we raise our level of awareness regarding our conversations with other parents and family members from comparison to support. I’m advocating that when we are talking to another parent, that we ask about how their child is doing and give our best effort to give a verbal pat on the back of support before we finish our conversation. It could be a simple as ‘How’s Joey doing in baseball?’ and then after the response to offer a supportive statement such as, “I bet it takes a lot of flexibility to figure out your schedule to be able to get Joey back and forth to baseball practice. Wow, doing all of the things we do for our kids as parents can really be a time management challenge.”


If we have knowledge or a concern about something that we are seeing with someone’s else child and believe that providing specific information with them may shed guidance to improve a situation, I think that is an important gesture and should be attempted.


But instead of just blurting it out in a declarative fashion or making predictions as in my examples above, my suggestion is to gently provide an invitation to do so.


Reflecting on the first example above, the other parent could have easily called and instead ‘invited’ a willingness to help; “Because Jeff brought his own snack to eat after school, I wondered if he could possibly have special dietary needs. I just wanted to let you know that if you’d like to let me know how I can help, I’d be happy to try to accommodate the situation with an after school snack if you’d like to tell me what he is able to eat.”


Or, simply mention a statement of support such as, ‘you’re doing such a great job and going out of your way to make sure that Jeff has the kind of food choices he needs at this time. Please let me know if there is anything I can do when he is at my home.”


Parenting shouldn’t feel like a contest where we are silently comparing ourselves to other parents and their children. Perhaps by increasing our awareness regarding our conversations with fellow parents, we can transform our parenting culture from one of comparison to support. By doing so, every parent may experience more joy, laughter, and confidence while finding greater happiness in our most valued and important role in life… being a parent to our children.


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

Kari Kling, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Kari Kling, M.Ed., Parent Coach


Kari’s 40 years of experience as an internationally recognized educator, counselor, parent coach, and author/speaker has given her the expertise to guide thousands of parents to reach their parenting goals. Kari’s solid understanding of how we behave and learn is grounded in neuroscience.


Kari is a sought-after keynote and featured speaker for national and international conferences. She loves to meet and work with parents and their families in her home state of Arizona, nationally, and globally.


Kari states that her most powerful learning experience about parenting has been being the mom to her 20-year-old twin boys, as they have been her greatest teachers.


You can email Kari to learn more about her parent coaching services at: kari@karikling.com

or check out her website and social media.

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