In the ideal world, the job of parents is to raise their children in a safe, happy and loving environment, to accept the child they have and to raise them in a balanced and conscious way. Like all human beings, your child has their own individual mix of likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, talents and difficulties. This is a really complex area and brings up the nature/ nurture debate: were you born the person you are or were you made into the person you are by your upbringing and experiences?
What did your parents want you to do or to be when you grew up? How did they communicate this to you and did you match–up to what they wanted? I also wonder whether you found yourself pleasing them by becoming who they wanted you to be, or choosing a path based on your wants and needs. Or perhaps it is the case that your parents wanted for you what you wanted for yourself and supported you in your quest to become that person.
For many (if not all) parents, these issues are further complicated by the comparisons that they make between their own children and other people’s children. Parents note the age at which other people’s children first roll, sit-up and walk. Parents will notice and compare their child’s spelling list to others in their class. Parents observe, discuss and compare their children to their peers all the time. This is one of the ways that we check the effectiveness of our parenting but it is also one of the ways in which we introduce the element of competition into it. Many people feel good when they feel equal to or better than others and feel bad when they find themselves or their children to be ‘lacking ‘or less in some way.
But how can we feel superior or inferior when we compare the achievements and milestones of our children to those of other children? We are not comparing like with like. Even your own children differ markedly from one another. For example, there is a range of six months in the ages at which my three daughters learnt to walk, and two years difference in the ages at which they learnt to ride a bike without stabilisers.
Children already compete with each other and compare themselves to their peers. Teachers may call the maths or spelling sets in their class after colours or topic words but you can be sure that your child has a clear picture of who is in the top, middle or bottom ability groups.
Give yourself and your child a break from the level of comparison and competition that they are subjected to. Parenting is not a competitive sport. The question is not “How does my child compare to other children?” There are many much more important questions to seek answers to. Is your child happy? If not, how can you help them to be happier? Do they have activities they enjoy and talents that they are developing? If not, what resources are available for you to help them find things that they love to do? Are they able to make and keep friends and get on with people around them? If not, what social skills do they need support to learn? Do they know how to learn new skills and to bounce back from the inevitable failures and mistakes that occur during all learning experiences? If not, remind them of how a baby learns to walk; they fall over a great many times and try again when they are ready to.
Childhood is not just a preparatory phase of your child’s life that they need to get through faster and better than everyone else. This is their actual life, happening right now.