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Thrive Blog

The Comparison Trap: Stop Comparing Your Child and Start Building Self-Esteem

Everyone knows that all children are different. They do things in their own time and in their own way. So, if we know this, why do so many parents get stuck in the comparison trap? You know, when your friend’s six-month-old is sitting up, and your seventh-month-old is still floundering through tummy time. Or when your daughter’s best friend is playing varsity soccer and yours is warming the freshman bench. And don’t get me started on college acceptances.

Comparing your child to anyone but themselves says more about a parent’s insecurities than their child’s “inadequacies.” Did I spend enough floor time with him? Why didn’t I make her go to soccer camp? I should have made them study more. The misconception is because my children didn’t best your children, people will think I’m a lazy-unattentive-ignorant-self-absorbed savage who should be raising cattle instead of kids. Instead of what’s really happening: you have convinced yourself that this child is yours. But they are not. They are simply in your care. They don’t belong to you, they belong to themselves. It’s our job as parents to observe them. Listen to them. Support them. Guild them. Love them. Be the flashlight, not the path.

My son Jordan has Down syndrome. His twin brother does not. When raising a child with special needs, steering clear of the comparison trap can be extra challenging. Many of his milestones are delayed and comparing him to anyone could keep me stuck and focused on what he isn’t doing.

Those memorable moments that have parents fumbling with the video feature on their phones didn’t happen as spontaneously for Jordan as they did for his peers. There wasn’t a pull-to-stand, “Honey, quick, start recording, I think it’s going to happen,” time for Jordan. Jordan’s first step happened during a physical therapy session and was written up in a report.

One summer the boys and I were at a local county fair. The fair had those rickety rides that kids can’t wait to climb into. Jordan’s twin brother, Ben, spotted the train ride and toddled straight for the engine car. Jordan called out, “Train!” Which was his way of saying, “I want to go too.” I put Jordan and Ben on a ride together. I waved and smiled as I backed away only to find myself rescuing a hysterical Jordan before the ride had even begun. It happened all the time.

“We’ll wave to Ben from over by the fence,” I said as I scooped him up. To which Jordan unexpectedly replied, “Train. Me on train.”

It turned out, Ben left no room for Jordan, so I put Jordan in the next car down. I hovered, waiting for the inevitable, “Uppie Mommy. Off. No train.” But not a word.

I buckled him in and waited, giving him another chance to back out, but I got a huge smile instead. I slowly backed away. The ride began.

Jordan was in his own car, all by himself! I watched and cheered and beamed at my child’s accomplishment. And then I yelled out, “Honey quick, grab your phone!” Not because I was ready, or his brother was ready, or his friends were ready, but because Jordan was ready. Which made the timing perfect.

When we tell our children how they “should be” they hear, “I’m not good enough the way I am.” But by focusing on what they’re not doing, we miss what they are doing. And those milestones, no matter how small, are the real wins. Not because they are catching up to others, but because they are surpassing themselves.

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