Thoughts & Reflections
Parenting is full of extremes. No one could possibly feel as much love as I feel for this child in this moment. There’s no way I could feel more love, more pride, more joy, and then a sibling comes along, and my heart is even more full.
There is no child more beautiful, more funny, more joyful, more affectionate, more intelligent than mine. There is no behavior more exasperating, no night so dark or so long, no more persistent teeth or fever, no cry more heart-stopping, no sympathy pain felt so deeply.
Just like the learning the child does, parenting is something that’s done alone. No one can do it for you, but we can certainly keep one another company.
Parenting sure is tricky, isn’t it? Every parent has made it through childhood, and yet we’re not experts by any stretch. We can have multiple degrees or a wealth of experience, and children will still have lots to teach us.
Social media adds another dimension of difficulty. We see someone else’s joyful easy life, or how they creatively made a meme out of what, for you, could be a huge trauma, and we compare our own moments against it.
“… if there’s no love bigger, no challenge harder, how could anyone ever understand?”
Who am I to be happy with this macaroni necklace when this child is making leis in Hawaii? Who am I to be stressed and googling “how to get gum out of dog fur” when this child is in the hospital?
They say comparison is the thief of joy but really comparison is just a thief.
Just like experts can be wrong and the only voice that matters is our own, the noise of someone else’s experience does not need to impact our own.
Those starving children who were called upon when I didn’t want to finish my dinner? They can have this cauliflower.
Looking at photos of someone having a worse experience does not make me feel any better, it just adds guilt. I just feel ashamed because in addition to feeling frustrated and tired and at the end of my rope, I also feel poorly because someone else has it so much worse off and shouldn’t I just feel happy that my children are healthy and have the energy and ability to argue with me, that we’re well-off enough to have things to be stumbling over, that I have grandparents engaged and well-meaning to be annoyed by?
It’s been shown that the happiest people practice gratitude every day. It’s also been shown that ignoring emotions, telling feelings to be quiet, pretending a situation doesn’t exist never makes it better or go away.
Sometimes we have to acknowledge: yes, that stinks.
Ugh. We’re just trying to get through the grocery store, could you please just let me pick up this one thing so that I can make you dinner because the whole reason you’re upset is because you’re hungry??
Comparing this moment to the experience of the parent who is enjoying a quiet shop alone with coffee in hand, or the parent who is making ends meet with the help of a food pantry and working three jobs, isn’t helpful. It doesn’t actually make the crying child stop, it doesn’t give me more energy, or make this line longer, and why do they insist on keeping the candy here???
We just had a wonderful day at the beach, no, there isn’t a gift shop.
If, in this moment, I remember a friend who is spending the next three weeks renting a house in Turks and Caicos, I steal my joy. If I remember a friend who has never been able to take the afternoon off to spend with her children at the beach, I also steal my joy.
I understand that your friend comes with a homemade cookie every day, but that isn’t happening in this family.
In this family, those cookie ingredients make someone bounce off the walls, or sick, or just mean more to clean up. That “maybe just this once” and “should” of it all often leads to regret and “I told you so,” which is less effective and much less satisfying when I’m the one telling it to myself.
Comparison doesn’t help. It doesn’t make us more realistic or more grateful or improve the situation or keep us grounded. It just keeps us from living in the moment, from enjoying or from taking it one step at a time.
No one can do the learning for the child, and no one can parent for us. We have to decide how we want to parent, where we will have conviction and where there is wiggle room, and not let comparison steal our joy, our discomfort, our experience. We’re the only ones who can figure out what’s going to work for us.
Parenting isn’t always easy. It isn’t always fun. Another parent might address a situation or challenge or joy differently, and that’s okay. Their circumstances, their experience, their family expectations all are unique, and there’s not one way to address something.
Just as there’s no value in comparison, there’s no value in judgement. Again, there are different situations, different experiences, and different expectations. The precise reason a decision is the most effective for one family, is exactly why it doesn’t work for another. It’s been said, “stop comparing your behind-the-scenes with someone else’s highlights reel.” In the same way, it’s less than helpful to compare our best case scenario to someone else’s worst day, or to evaluate without ever knowing the story.
“Comparison… just keeps us from living in the moment, from enjoying or from taking it one step at a time.”
Every parent is hard-wired to be their own child’s best advocate, to be their own worst critic, to worry and keep up at night, to feel emotions deeper and bigger than previously imagined. All these superlatives are incredibly isolating. After all, if there’s no love bigger, no challenge harder, how could anyone ever understand?
That is what is so special about parenting — it’s singular and unique, it’s universal and timeless. Every child is perfect and the only one, yet there’s no experience that’s ever been experienced by only one parent. In fact, most experiences are shared — the heartbreak of a hurting child, the wide-eyed panic of a sleepless night, the sidelined-coaching, the from-afar cheering, the backstage hand-clasping, the waving at a your heart walking away.
This is perhaps why it’s so easy to compare or to judge, to feel guilt or disappointment, to feel you’re walking a knife’s-edge of too-much-not-enough.
It’s alone together. Just as the children in the classroom are on their own path of development, just as there are universal truths and experiences of childhood and yet those milestones are achieved at just the right time and with a level of ease or difficulty particular to you, such is parenting.
So we keep each other company. I’ve been here before, or I haven’t; I understand, or there’s no way I could ever understand. Sometimes you don’t need advice or to share or to pull yourself up out of the muck or rejoice, you just need to feel not so alone.
Written by:Charlotte Snyder