My faraway friend sent me a text the other night:
Do you ever get caught up in the rat race of comparison when it comes to kids and learning? I’m just struggling/stressing with the humble brags by other moms at pick-up or in passing. The moms in my daughter’s class are meeting up this weekend to basically brag about how smart their kid is, and I just can’t go through it again. They’re constantly talking about reading levels–asking each other what their kid’s level is, talking about how stressed they are that their kid might not get to a certain level before June. I’ve always tried to see the bigger picture and focus on the real success–kindness, happiness, etc. but SHIT these moms and their white noise, man. Help!
Let me guess. Do they sound like this? “Oh my God, I HATE that Chelsea’s in the gifted program. I totally wish we weren’t in it because it’s, like, so stressful. Be glad your kid’s not gifted.” Or maybe this? “I can’t sleep at night because I’m so stressed about my kid not being challenged. She’s getting all A’s, complaining that she’s bored, and no matter what we give her, she’s acing it and asking for more work. How’s your kid doing?” Or how about this? “What’s your kid reading these days? Charlie just finished War and Peace and Dr. Zhivago, and we’re having trouble finding harder books for him because he’s just such a voracious little reader!”
I quickly texted back. YES! Yes, yes, yes, I do get caught up in that race sometimes. You’re not alone. You’re never the only one who feels a certain way, promise.
We texted back a few fake sarcastic responses we’d love to get off our chest: “Ugghh. That’s so weird because I’ve been losing sleep too. Our DVR will only record two shows at a time, and I can’t figure out whether to dump Paw Patrol or Curious George. I’m just sick about it.” Or how about, “How’s my kid doing? He ate glue today and wiped six boogers on his math book. How’s that for a harder book?”
The truth is, we forget a lot in parenting that our kid’s journey, personality, learning style, reading level, talents and interests are incredibly unique–just like our own. And when raising our kids is the most important job we possess, it’s easy to see another child doing really well in an area that our child is still working on and take it personally. “I must be doing something wrong” or “my kid must not be working hard enough.” And when those insecurities are scratched, it’s even easier to take out our feelings on the moms of those other kids. They’re bragging. They’re annoying. They care too much. They’re ruining their kids with pressure.
I like to remind myself of a few things when I feel these comparisons creeping up or when I’m about to snap back with “Oh yeah, well my kid drew a butt today! And colored it IN THE LINES! And labeled it with “b-u-t-t” IN CURSIVE. Talk about gifted!”
1) Share the Celebration
Underneath a mom’s seemingly braggadocious comment is just a mom, like you, feeling really proud of her kid. We’ve all felt that, and it feels really good. She wants to share that love and pride but doesn’t really know how to get it out, so it’s coming out it in the form of a comment that feels competitive or fake humble or whatever (and that could be our insecurities, not their intent). I’m going to keep my kid out of it and make it a point to be happy for this mom whose child is accomplishing something that’s really important to her. It feels good to celebrate other people without comparing their celebrations to my own family’s successes, and the more I practice celebrating others, the more natural it comes.
2) Calm Your Reaction
Whatever the case, I am not going to go home and book a tutor, send an e-mail to the teacher requesting a conference, order the Harry Potter series and casually drop to my kid, “You know Madisyn just finished reading a 400-page book. Wouldn’t it be cool to read big books like that?” I repeat, I am not going to do that. Because Madisyn’s 400-page book accomplishment has NOTHING to do with me or my kid.
3) There Are So Many Ways to Be Smart!
I will remember the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In conversations about learning or smartness or school, we talk a lot about reading, math and science and their respective test scores, but did you know there are at least 9 types of intelligence–all equally valuable? Did you know interpersonal intelligence–your child’s ability to recognize and respond to other people feeling sad or scared or in need of a friend–is a recognized form of intelligence in childhood psychology? I wish every classroom in the country displayed Multiple Intelligence posters and made as big a deal about kinesthetic intelligence (my kid can dance!) and intrapersonal intelligence (my kid’s so aware of her feelings!) as they do about state-tested smarts. It’s much easier to hear about another child soaring in reading if my child is struggling when I remember that the dance she performed last night with the music and the moves and all the feels was indicative of learning and growth and her unique intelligence GIFTEDNESS.
4) Welcome to the Garden
My sister recently told me something her daughter’s kindergarten teacher said years ago when she expressed some worries that her youngest wasn’t reading as quickly as her older two had. “I look at my class like a garden,” the teacher said, “Everybody blooms at a different time.” Turns out, years later, her latest reader now spends the most time in her room with her nose in a book and does very well in school. I was a teacher and I still ask silly questions that I know better to ask. Last year, I asked my friend if I should be worried that Lainey still preferred picture books over chapter books. “She’ll read them when she’s ready,” my friend reminded me. “If she’s doing well in school and her teacher’s not worried, don’t you dare push her.”
4) Remember Your Childhood
The example I know best is always my own. My mom cared more about what kind of cookies she was going to bake for us after school than what our reading test scores were, and I’m happy today and doing what I love. My kindergarten class did a lot more playing than reading, I secretly switched the Trigonometry videos I was supposed to be watching to Saved By the Bell far too many times when I was homeschooled, and we did way more plays, art projects and learning field trips than rigorously preparing for a test. And hey–I’m not living in a van down by the river. I’ve learned to foster the areas of intelligence I know are my gifts, and that’s what makes me fulfilled and successful. That’s what I want for my kids too. More than making it to Level Z by June. But if another mom doesn’t feel the same way, that’s okay too. We can be different, and that’s cool.
5) Honesty and Curiosity
Even if another mom is truly bragging and provoking comparison, it often feels good to just respond with honesty and genuine curiosity. “That’s so great Josh is doing so well in math. We’re not quite there yet, but I’d love to know if you’ve found something specific that’s worked for you guys. Have any tips?” With that kind of connection, most likely any fronts that were put up will be immediately torn down, and that mom will love the opportunity to share something with you. And with your honesty, she might feel less inclined to keep bringing up how great her kid is doing.
6) Remove Yourself from Negativity
If I’ve tried all the above and I’ve attempted to steer conversations elsewhere, and I’m still feeling icky with someone who continuously makes child comparison remarks or brags about reading levels, maybe it’s not the best relationship to be investing in. I certainly would never want my child to be picking up on those feelings, and one of the most valuable things we possess is control over who we spend our time with and what we talk about.
And if all else fails, go ahead. Grab a pen. Write all those sarcastic things you’d love to say in a notebook that won’t be shared. It might feel good to get them out before you move on in the most mature and graceful way.
Ever felt this way? Have a tried and true response that works for you? Please share!