Seven days into 2017 – The Year of the Daughter” as I have dubbed it, and I am brimming with ideas about how I can be a better parent. At the same time, the practical side of me is reminding me that being overly ambitious with new year’s resolutions means less than satisfying results at the end of the year. So I am trying to be selective about what to focus on this year so that I can make the most progress.
One area that I’ve deemed highly important is to avoid comparing my children to anyone else – and to help them do the same. As someone who has had first-hand experience with being compared to a sibling when growing up, I feel strongly that when we compare our children to others – consciously or subconsciously, directly or indirectly – we do them a grave disservice. As a result of my childhood experience with this, I have remained very committed to not comparing them to others – at least consciously. I have been very open with Margaret, my 12-year old, that I will not compare her or her sister to each other or to others. But I will admit, I am guilty of making comparisons (as Margaret is adept to point out), subtle as they are. In my defense, it is extremely hard to be a comparison-free parent. But not impossible.
Let me give you an example. For the last few years, Margaret has wanted hair streaks. Her frequent requests have been consistently met with an emphatic “No!” Without getting into all the reasons I am not a big fan of hair streaks for Margaret at her age (I can expand on all these reasons in another blog post), that is my current stance. And it should be sufficient that I am opposed to it (at least for now, perhaps that will change in the future but let’s not tell Margaret). Essentially, no means no. What happens is that I fall into a comparison trap. I should just say”no” and leave it at that. Even when she b-tches and moans and whines about it. But of course I don’t. For reasons completely irrational, I feel the need to substantiate my position. So I interject a statement like, “Your friend Acura doesn’t have hair streaks.” (For the record, Acura is a fictitious friend. It is a real car, however, with no hair.) And so that one sentence that I momentarily believe will bolster my position is neither necessary nor helpful. It is, however, a comparison. I’m essentially telling Margaret that because Acura doesn’t have hair streaks, she doesn’t need hers streaked either. When really, my decision not to let her get hair streaks has absolutely nothing to do with what Acura does or doesn’t do to her hair.
In addition to being more aware about making even subtle comparisons, I’ve realized that helping my daughters grow up to not compare themselves to others really starts with me. When I compare myself to others, even if in conversation with another adult, they are listening and absorbing. And since I am their main role model (scary at times as that is), they will model my behavior. It’s not so much that I make direct comparisons; as with the hair streak example, I find myself making more subtle ones out loud that have a much greater negative impact than I would ever have imagined.
And then there’s the matter of social media. While there are many benefits we are all aware of by now, social networks like Facebook has made it much easier for people to draw comparisons to their family and friends. I suspect we’ve all been there but I can only speak for myself. For example, I’m having a bad day at work or dealing with my kids and there, on LinkedIn is a post about a former colleague who just landed a shiny new job at a brand-name company with a lofty title and fat salary to go along with it. My mind doesn’t go to how much I would hate that job and want to commit suicide on a daily basis if I were in that role working that many hours and traveling on business away from my family. Nope. In my moment of misery, my mind creates this delusional, overly dramatic 15-second movie enumerating all the mistakes I’ve ever made in the workplace, starting with my first job at age 16 at a shoe store and why, despite my academic and professional accolades, I am not in that role. All because I am dealing with a high-maintenance client that day.
A recent article discussed this tendency to compare ourselves to others when on Facebook, citing a study that suggests that social networks might actually fuel symptoms of depression. Another article highlights that social media can be anxiety-inducing for teens, causing them to sum up their momentary self-worth depending on the number of “likes” they receive in a given social media post. In other words, teens are actually basing their self worth on a superficial and unreliable form of perceived praise. This is definitely not a mindset I want my daughters to embrace. Ever.
So here are some things I will be doing to stamp out the temptation to make comparisons, whether the comparison be about test scores, getting cast in a show, sports, physical appearance, job title, income level, family vacations, automobiles or fill-in-the-blank. :
- Admit openly when I make the mistake of comparing them to others rather than trying to defend myself. This way, my kids can learn, too, from my mistakes.
- Be more aware of what I say to my husband and friends when my kids are within earshot.
- Refrain from going onto social media networks when I’m predisposed to making comparisons, such as when I am not feeling at my best
If these techniques don’t work, here’s plan B:
- Get a cordectomy
- Move to a no-Internet access country
Do you compare yourself or your kids to others? Is Facebook fueling your temptation to compare or making you depressed? You’re not alone. Here is a great article written by people who actually know the psychology behind this growing trend.